Making money work in your marriage
by Christie Browning
If you get around my husband for any length of time, you'll know he is a big fan of numbers, budgeting and getting out of debt. He's one of those weirdos who likes to figure our investments and retirements as a pass time. He literally finds joy in playing out our financial future through the time we retire. And while I am so thankful for his heart in this.... I am the polar opposite.
When it comes to numbers and money, I tend to take things day by day. I'm not a spender, but I also am not a natural budget-er or planner (when it comes to money). I don't really know what the thought process is here --- other than there isn't one. If there is no plan, how do I intend to prepare for retirement? But at the same time, retirement is a lifetime away so why bother right now?
You can see how two personalities, so different, might cause some friction. I have heard it said that in most relationships, one is a free spirit and one is a number cruncher with a plan. I wouldn't say that's 100 percent accurate for Mat and I but it's pretty close. As I meet and talk to couples, especially women, I find there are a few common responses to marriage and money:
1) "I take care of it all - my husband lets me handle it"
2) "I let my husband handle it - I trust him to do it all"
3) "I have my money and he has his - separate money is best."
4) "We don't talk about it....ever."
We've heard a ton that financial pressures and conflict are HUGE reasons for marriages dissolving. So if it's so vital to marital bliss, why are we so bad at it? There's just something about those Benjamins that create tension in a marriage. No matter how much you have, money is a touchy subject ... or it can be. I am here to tell you it doesn't have to be. But first, let me briefly touch on why the above four responses can be a recipe for trouble for your marriage.
"I take care of it all - my husband lets me handle it"
Marriage is a partnership. It's equal and it's shared. While your hubby may not be gifted with a checkbook, it is still important for him to be involved in the finances. Often times, husbands duck out on the financial chore because the wife has allowed him to do so. It's not fun, it's stressful and he'd rather dodge the burden or hide from reality. And... if you are doing it for him, why should he be tied to the table each month to create a budget or balance the account? However, I have seen first hand how this situation ends... he'll spend money, you'll get frustrated because you had a plan. You make your feelings known, he may throw back how hard he works and how much money he makes. He feels parented as if he needs to ask your permission before making a buy. You feel like a bully because you are controlling the dollars. Eventually, this can lead to his resenting you for being controlling. Because he bucks your system, you hold tighter, unable to trust that he will appreciate your efforts. In this scenario, fighting ensues.
"I let my husband handle it - I trust him to do it all"
The same thing goes here as it did in our last scenario -- partnership is non-existence and it can easily leave someone feeling left out. But in this situation, there is another issue to address. If the woman is totally relying on the man to make the financial decisions and plan for their financial future, what happens if the husband is no longer able to keep up with this responsibility. Statistically, men pass away before women and if that holds true for the couple in this scenario, a wife may feel overwhelmed to have to suddenly handle the purse strings. She may not even know where all the money, savings and retirement accounts are! I have seen this time and time again. It leaves the woman vulnerable for financial scams and fraud. But... you might be thinking, "We're young. I don't have to worry about this right now." Well, accidents happen every day and we are never promised tomorrow. Beyond that, what if your husband is out of town for work or on a trip? What if he is sick or laid up from an injury. You can't afford to be out of the loop by letting your hubby hold the basket with all your eggs in it! In this scenario, fear ensues.
"I have my money and he has his - separate money is best."
Again I come back to partnership. While I do think it is helpful to sometimes set aside separate spending money, individual accounts that are not joint with your spouse can lead to trust issues. While it may seem like a simple solution to keep money and bills organized, it actually drives a bigger wedge between couples and gives the couple more reason to NOT talk about money. I find that in these scenarios, intimacy is halted and the potential to dream together and plan a future together gets choked out. Walls get built and it is easy to declare "this is mine" instead of "this is ours." In this scenario, entitlement and ownership ensue.
"We don't talk about it....ever."
This statement is rooted in avoidance. It's the idea that if we don't acknowledge it, we don't have to fight about it. But at the same time, if you don't acknowledge it, bills can be missed, savings depleted and there is no intentional direction for your finances. While it may be more fun to be care-free with the finances, when it comes to major issues, expenses or emergencies, you may find that your only outlet is to turn to loans, credit cards, and other financing methods. This leads to a cycle of spend, spend, spend, debt, debt, debt. In this scenario, every financial crisis is a major one and panic ensues.
So what's the alternative? Lots of discussions.
Mat and I are far from perfect. We don't always make the right decisions with our money, but 99 percent of the time we are intentional. We have set goals as a couple and as a family for our finances and we all work together to achieve them. This didn't happen overnight. We've had to learn how to get good at this money and marriage thing. Here's a few of the lessons we've learned:
- I've had to learn how to get interested in something I'd rather not deal with. Mat's had to learn how to dial back the numbers to speak in a language I can follow.
- We've learned that having a detailed dollar and cents conversation by phone is not good for us-- I tend to get lost when I can't see it on paper.
- We've learned that having this discussion late at night isn't good because we are tired and cranky and our minds are shot at the end of the day.
- Through trial and error, we've learned that what works best for us is to have a budget/money meeting each week. We evaluate the current week's bills and spending as well as look ahead at the coming weeks.
- We tend to work best when our budget meetings at the same time each week. Most of the time this is early on a Saturday morning when the house is quiet and the weekend hasn't yet started. However, sometimes life gets in the way and we have to adjust our time to be on a Sunday afternoon or Friday night. The biggest thing is that these meetings get done...period. Even if it isn't ideal.
- We've come to realize that while we both look at money differently, we each have something to bring to the table. Mat is the numbers guy who can figure our paychecks to the penny, while I am super organized and at our budget meetings, I keep track of the plan we put in place, what bills we've paid, when and how much we've paid and I keep the calendar so we don't lose track of important dates, holidays, and weird pay periods.
- Now after a few years of doing this, we look forward to our budget meetings. We find that the conversation typically turns from just dollars and cents to wishes and dreams. It was at a budget meeting where I first learned that Mat wanted to visit each National park in the country, that we both agreed that tithing to our church was important, and at a budget meeting we planned and budgeted for birthdays, vacations, back to school costs and Christmas shopping.
All-in-all this approach to money had helped us be a team. We work together and we are stronger for it.... Mat's got his strengths and his perspective. And while my skills and ideas are different, they are equally important. I've even learned a thing or two from Mat while working on our retirement plans together. Working together is the ONLY way we are able to pay off debt and work our way to becoming debt free and financially secure. That has brought so much peace in our lives and in our marriage.
Take a moment to evaluate how you approach money in your marriage. What do you bring to the table that could help you be successful? What does your spouse bring? When would be a good time to start talking about getting on the same page with your finances? It may be a bumpy start, but in the end you'll find much smoother roads ahead!