Money can be one of the biggest stressors in a marriage, and fights over money can often lead to divorce. Don’t let your relationship be a casualty of money stress. Here are some money moves that can strengthen any marriage, in addition to helping your bottom line:
1. Get on the same page. People get angry with their spouses when they have unmet expectations. If you expect that your spouse’s big bonus this year will make a nice contribution to a retirement fund, while your spouse is dreaming of blowing the whole enchilada on a vacation to Aruba, it’s likely to cause some friction. So how do you combat the problem of differing expectations? Talk to each other, regularly, about money.
Set aside some time to discuss your goals, both short-term and long-term, including what you’ll do on future vacations, how and where you want to retire, what your career plans are, and how you’ll handle any money emergencies. This may sound like a total buzz kill, but it can actually be fun. In particular, having a conversation about things you enjoy that cost money — my husband and I love to talk about our top 10 travel destinations — can help put you on the same page when it comes to money planning. Since we know that traveling together is one of our goals, my husband and I are in agreement about how to handle day-to-day finances so that we can save up for those goals.
2. Pool your resources. No matter how independent each of you may be when it comes to money, it is important that you regard money as a shared resource, rather than mine/yours. This is especially true if there is an income gap between the spouses. Without some method of sharing money for bills, food, evenings out, childcare, etc, someone is likely to feel resentful about spending “their” money on a shared expense.
This does not mean that every couple needs to have a joint checking account. Each couple will find their own system, whether they share cash in envelopes for expenses, each have their own accounts plus a joint checking account for bills, or put everything together under both names. No matter what system you choose, remember that your resources are for the good of the marriage.
3. But keep some independence. It is important, however, to feel as though you have some financial independence, since no couple will entirely understand each other’s spending habits. For example, if you choose to spend $30 on artisanal beer, and your non-beer-drinking spouse can’t taste the difference between that and Bud Lite, it could lead to a fight if every single penny is pooled. So allow yourself some “me” money that is yours to spend however you choose. Both you and your spouse will be happier knowing that you can treat yourself to small luxuries without it affecting the overall finances.
4. Delegate. In many marriages, one spouse is a money nerd and the other doesn’t bother to balance a checkbook. Even if the differences between your money skills are not that great, there is generally one person who ends up taking over the finances. And that’s often a good thing. When two people are both trying to handle one job, things can be overlooked, done twice, or otherwise mismanaged. So go ahead and delegate bill-paying and money management to the spouse who is better at it or prefers the job. It will ensure that things are done to the satisfaction of the person who is more on top of the finances.
5. Keep the lines of communication open. The problem with delegating, however, is that sometimes the non-money manager spouse feels out of the loop. So even if only one person is handling bills, make sure that both are involved in decision-making, problem-solving, and budgeting. So the non-money manager spouse should feel comfortable asking about finances at any time, and the money manager spouse should always keep all financial information transparent. This is also crucial so that if anything were to ever happen to the manager spouse, finances would not then become an additional source of stress during a sad time.
Don’t let money get in between you and your sweetheart. It’s better to talk about tough issues and face them together than let them fester and breed resentment.