It may be difficult to talk to your beloved about money, but it is a non-negotiable if you want a healthy marriage.
That’s because money problems are cited as one of the top reasons for divorce, just behind infidelity and communication issues.
Don’t let money problems hurt your happy marriage.
Here are eight tips you and your spouse should follow to secure your marriage (and your money) for many years to come:
Whether you are still in the midst of wedding planning, or you’ve already celebrated several years worth of wedding anniversaries, it’s imperative that you and your spouse share all of your financial information with each other. That includes any outstanding debt as well as assets like savings, retirement and life insurance accounts.
This conversation is important because it’s not possible to move forward financially if you don’t know where you are. In addition, keeping money secrets from your spouse—that is, financial infidelity—is a recipe for marital resentment. You and your spouse need to bring it all to the table.
Even if you’ve been married forever, this is something that’s worth going over every few years. Just like periodic weigh-ins can keep weight from creeping up on you, periodic net worth check-ins will keep you from losing track of how your money is faring.
Adopt a Team Mentality for Your Money
These days, the average age at marriage is 27 for women and 29 for men—up from 23 and 26 respectively back in 1990. While coming into a marriage with a few more years of maturity is definitely a good thing, it does make merging money a little more complicated since both partners have gotten used to solo financial management. In particular, it can be more difficult to adopt an “our money” view of marital assets.
But continuing to see money in terms of “yours” and “mine” is a good way to start arguments and bean counting. If you have different incomes or different financial priorities, keeping your money separate can cause each of you to resent the other. This is why it is important to find a way to look at your money as something you share—which also means sharing your decisions about it.
While some couples simply mingle all of their money in a joint checking account, others find that setting up a yours-mine-and-ours system works best for them. No matter how you manage the logistics, it’s important to start looking at the majority of your money from a team perspective.
Set Goals for Your Marriage and Money
One of the best ways to adopt the team mentality for your money is to make some life goals together. Not only will this help you both get on the same page, it is the fun part of the money discussion. Consider the following questions: What do you want to be able to do in the future? Pay off your student loan before you have kids? Retire with $5 million? Own a house? Start a business?
This conversation will help you and your spouse to determine what is most important to each of you. Don’t bite off more than you can chew with this exercise. Determine which 2-3 goals are most important to you and focus on them.
And revisit these goals regularly, so you can determine if you are still on track and if your goals still fit with the life you are building together. Checking in about once a year on your goals will help you to achieve them, and tweak them where necessary.
Maintain Some Financial Independence
It might sound like the complete opposite of adopting a team mentality, but it is important for each spouse to have some financial independence. No two people will entirely understand each other’s spending habits, and completely merged resources can lead to fights because of that.
For instance, my husband cannot comprehend the fact that I drop $75 each year on the perfect personalized paper agenda, while his regular purchases of artisanal beer leave me scratching my head. If we pooled every single penny, we would fight over these purchases because they sound insane to the one not making them.
Allowing each spouse some “me” money to spend however he or she chooses can help both spouses be happier. You will each know that you can treat yourself to small luxuries without it hurting your marriage’s bottom line.
Track Your Spending and Create a Budget
It’s all very well to know how much you are worth and what your goals are, but you also have to know what is happening to every dollar that passes through your hands. Without this information, it is nearly impossible to create a usable budget and start working toward your goals.
There are many tools available for money tracking, from good old-fashioned pencil and paper, to self-tracking online tools. Try different systems until you find one that works for you. No matter what system you use, track your spending for at least a month (and ideally for three months) each year so you have an accurate view of where your money goes.
Once you understand what your money is (and isn’t) doing for you, and you can put together a budget to help you reach your goals.
Many financial gurus like Dave Ramsey offer budgeting advice, in addition to the thousands of budgeting websites available online. Just as with the spending tracker, you will want to find the system that works best for you. The most important aspect of budgeting in a marriage, however, is consensus. Both spouses must agree to the budget or it will go unused.
Whether you have a joint checking account, separate accounts, or a mix, it is likely that one spouse will be the money manager in the marriage. Decide ahead of time who will be the one to pay bills, balance the checkbook, keep track of financial records and make day-to-day money decisions.
All financial work does not have to be made by the same individual, as long as someone covers every money decision. If you have decided ahead of time who will take care of each aspect of your finances, you won’t have a month where you each think the other has paid the mortgage.
Set Up Regular Money Meetings
Part of what makes money decisions so difficult is the fact that there is no natural time to bring them up. That’s where regular money meetings come in. Whether you hold your meetings on a weekly or monthly basis, you should plan a time for the two of you to sit down with your financial information to have a conversation. This is especially important when only one spouse is the delegated money manager.
Your agenda should include a discussion of upcoming bills, how the budget is looking, and where you are with various financial goals.
If this kind of regular meeting sounds about as romantic to you as his-and-hers dental surgery, try making a date of it. Look over your budget with a couple of beers and plan on watching a movie when you’re done. That way your money meetings can be something you look forward to, instead of a chore.
Plan for Emergencies
Unfortunately, married life is not always smooth sailing. It is important to have money set aside for when things aren’t going great financially. This starts by putting together an emergency fund. Most experts recommend setting aside a 3-6 month reserve of cash in case of emergency.
However, in addition to an emergency fund, you should also plan for the worst. No one wants to think about death, but it is important for married couples to make sure they have enough life insurance and an updated will. Think of it as the most loving thing you can do for your spouse.
The Bottom Line
Money and marriage may not be the most romantic combination, but being on the same page financially will strengthen your bond and keep your relationship healthy. And that is romantic.
If you are married, what marriage and money tips do you have to offer newlyweds?