I strongly believe that one major key to a happy marriage or long-term relationship is to be on the same page financially.
Financial goals usually run deeper than black or red ink. They tend to spill over into your value set and how willing you are to compromise and work together as a team.
That’s why it’s usually best to set those goals and get on the same page BEFORE you make a long-term commitment like marriage.
However, that’s easier said than done. Love runs deeper than financials, naturally. And even if you start out with the same financial goals, values change over the course of your life. You may have been lock-step with your partner when you were married, but once kids come into play, salary changes, life situations, and the ticking away of time – your perspectives can change.
A Reader Runs Into Financial Value Issues with her Husband
A new reader to 20somethingfinance.com emailed me the other day with this plea for help:
“I just subscribed because I desperately want a simpler life and financial scenario. But what if my future husband does not appear to have the same goals? I am the breadwinner, so I’m trying to bully my way to these goals, but it hurts that I have to push this hard on my man. Any suggestions?”
I feel the reader’s frustration and pain. I’ve seen so many relationships turn south due to different values around money.
So far, I’ve been lucky enough to not run into this problem in my marriage. My wife and I share a common vision of working towards financial freedom so that we can spend more time living the life we want to live. As a result, we’ve made a lot of decisions that others might deem as sacrifices – we sold one of our two cars (and the other is paid for), we have cheap prepaid cell plans through Net 10, we don’t buy any of the latest tech gadgets, we rarely dine out, we paid off our debts, we’ve sold a lot of stuff online, etc.
I want to gather reader feedback, but I first have a few suggestions for the reader and anyone else who is running into this important issue.
Share Financial Responsibility with your Partner
A friend of mine recently told me, “Our financial situation vastly improved once I turned over the finances to my wife.” He said that before he did this he was in control of all the bills and she did not see what was coming in and going out. Her spending was out of control. Giving her that responsibility had a drastic impact on their financial situation. This is a counter-intuitive strategy that can have associated risks, but I think it’s a great idea worth trying out.
If you haven’t worked on a budget together, do it! Here’s a budgeting spreadsheet to get you started. (note: log in to your Google account to make and save a copy so that you can edit)
Discuss your Long-Term Life Vision & How Money Relates to it
Spending money on things you don’t need is a short-term impulsive action. In order to trump it, you need to have a long-term vision. Sit down with your significant other and come to an agreement on what that vision looks like.
Create a Mandatory Spending Cap
Try to get in the habit of making financial decisions together as a team. Create a mandatory spending cap of somewhere around $25. Any individual purchase above this amount needs to be agreed upon together. If you can’t agree, fall back on the long-term vision that you set together.
Discussion: How Have you Overcome Financial Obstacles in your Marriage/Relationship?
I might not be the best person to help the reader out because I’ve always shared the same vision and spending habits with my wife. That’s why I’m turning to readers who have been challenged by this:
- What financial challenges have you faced in your relationship?
- How did you overcome financial differences in your relationship?
- What specific techniques allowed you to get on the same page financially?
- Was it a gradual change or did you/they have a big ‘a-ha’ moment?
Great article! I couldn’t agree more! I have personally experienced what happens when your significant other doesn’t have the same financial mindset as you. I am pretty much a cheapskate; I agonize over every spending decision, never impulse buy, and focus on planning for the future. She always spent more than she made, made impulse purchases all of the time, and was only concerned with happiness in the now. Result? Divorce. Maybe if we had looked at how we eached viewed money, we would have know that we were incompatible.
Anyway, great article! Stop by my blog sometime at thethriftynation.com.
I’ve been in a similar situation with my fiance. When we were dating, I paid for the majority of our outings because I made more than him. When we moved in together, we split the rent in half, and I found myself paying the bills (utilities, internet, cable) and sometimes the groceries. We had a few discussions about it and it seemed that I paid them because I was the first to jump on it. I was also commuting an hour and 15 minutes each way to get to work, while he worked around the corner, burning little to no gas. I also had more credit card debt. It got rough.
The best advice I have is to lay it all on the table. You don’t have to combine all your finances and you don’t have to alert your spouse every time you spend money. Set a budget that you can both agree on where all of the bills are paid for comfortably. Then, set a spending limit as to avoid/get out of debt.
It’s all about communication. It’s good to settle those issues ASAP, as they will definitely lead to resent and eventually the downfall of a relationship.
20 and Engaged, I’m seconding this. Being really honest and having similar goals is what helped my wife and I get through shoestring budgets and debt. We ended up taking a Financial Peace University class through Dave Ramsey that really helped us see eye to eye on finances also.
By the way nice Budgeting Spreadsheet!
I agree. If the financial status of spouses differ then there are complications for sure.
Although me and my wife share similar spending habits and income, and agree on long term goals, we differ widely on how we’d like to spend our money on a day to day basis. I’m more into the electronic gadgets, she’s more into clothing and such. I cannot possibly understand why she needs more clothing, and she cannot likewise understand why we should spend money on new gadgets. If we were to have to approve each others purchases over $25 it would almost certainly lead to resentment and total chaos. So we keep separate accounts in addition to joint accounts for shared expenses and savings. This way we get to maintain a certain level of financial freedom. I can’t imagine it any other way.
I have only been married for 14 months so take this for what it’s worth…
My husband and I have different perspectives on money. I tend to be pretty frugal, but am guilty of making quick decisions on larger purchases without doing my research. He is much less frugal but is great at researching options for big purchases. We try to take advantage of both of our strengths to do a better job as a couple.
I don’t think that having different perspectives is guaranteed to result in an unhappy marriage. The key is in making sure that you are both willing to compromise. I try not to breathe down my husband’s back about every purchase that he makes and he makes an honest effort at trying to stick to our budget.
It’s not all gloom and doom if you’re both willing to compromise a little…
When my wife and I met, I was completely debt free. She, on the other hand, had over $27,000 in mostly consumer debt. Once we knew we wanted to get married, but before I popped the question, I made sure that we were on the same page (in other words, that she was committed to completely revamping her views on financing).
Two years after we met (and a year and a half after we married), we were completely debt free.
The best advice that I can give you sucks. Absolutely, positively, do not get married until you two can agree upon and consistently implement a financial plan. You don’t have to be exactly alike in how you want to spend your money, but you do need to at least agree in principle on your overarching financial goals and the means to achieve those goals. If you don’t, IMO, you’re starting your marriage out on a very shaky foot.
I recently wrote an article on my blog about an argument my girlfriend and I had regarding finances. It really wasnt even that serious, she was just looking at it more from an emotional point of view rather than a financial one. She makes a lot less than me, but has no debt, and I do have debt. It’s all a compromise, though I will say, my higher income and higher debt, is better than lower income and higher debt…at least this way things seem like they are on a more level playing field.
I guess I was lucky. When I married my wife, she basically didn’t have much when she came to join me in this country. We didn’t talk much about our future financial goals or how we would handle money together, but we have been able to work things out.
I still don’t carry any debt. We basically try not to charge more than I make.
Good advice folks, how does this all change if only one of you has a job and the other doesn’t?
We have to rent out our home we bought because now it is outside of our means to live in it with only one of us having a job.
I mean we could live there, but our accounts would dwindle overtime since we would be outliving the one salary. Do we live in the house because it’s a place to stay (and trust the other will get a job soon) or rent it out to balance the finances in the short run?
Too many life scenarios too fast!
Totally agree with the post. Sadly I have seen way too many couples who have split up because they didn’t see eye to eye on their finances and debt situation.
My husband and I are polar opposites in the finance arena. However, we realized that we each share the same hopes, dreams, and fears in the big picture of live. Focusing on those similarities have helped us build a budget we can both live with, and savings and investments are aligned naturally because we have the same ultimate goals for life. :)
Overall I’d agree with most of your points. The $25 financial cap seems a bit low, IMO… I’d probably say $100.
G.E., out of curiosity, what’s your opinion toward married couples having joint vs. separate bank accounts?
I used to work at a bank, and I saw married couples all the time with everything monetarily separated! Seems to be a growing trend, but don’t you have to have at least one account with the spouses name on it?
I could only imagine how difficult it must be. It’s funny that you say you’re the breadwinner, because in my years of marriage, my wife(who is an accountant) makes more money than I do. I kinda felt weird at first, but communication solves all problems. She never really thought she was better than me, and I’m sure you don’t either. I remember having a “goal setting “exercise” with her so we can save on a nice vacation to Hawaii. We figured that if we cut certain costs per month, we can use that money as a reward and go on an exotic trip. Maybe if you have a “goal” to achieve, it will help him? Best of luck! Remember, communication is key!
GE, I said it before and I’ll say it again: “Our financial situation vastly improved once I turned over the finances to my wife.”
We also have recently started to have dream setting/financial meetings. Basically we go out to lunch or coffee or whatever to have time away from the kids and talk about our goals and how we will achieve them. We are planning to do it every quarter at first and will probably back it down to annually or semi-annually.
A result of these meetings is that I have been able to get her buy-in to sell one of our cars for a monthly savings of about $225.
I’m fortunate enough to have a girlfriend who reads my blog and is totally on board with my financial outlook. We have a great time figuring out ways to spend less and enjoy things that cost less. Live life differently!
great article! I have found myself in a similar situation and can completely resonate with your reader. Its a tough situation as it can lead to a lot of friction in the relationship over minor purchases and amounts. I am planning to take the first advice. I am going to ask her to run the monthly grocery budget and purchases. We are a single income family so I will probably get her a debit card with a spending limit. I am hoping with this financial responsibility, she will see my way of thinking. I hope it goes well! Thanks for the article!