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Do You Have a Financially Fit Marriage?

{ 26 comments }

The following article is by Kristi Muse, our staff writer. She is a freelance writer, blogger, police officer’s wife, and stay at home mom of two. To read more about how she tries to live a balanced life visit her website at Moderate Muse.

No one gets married thinking that their marriage will end. Everyone wants to believe that their marriage will stand the tests of time, that their marriage is one for the storybooks. Once the wedding day rush and the honeymoon period start to fade, though, the stresses of life, family, and finances can slowly chip away at your marital bliss.

financially fit marriageMost couples enter into marriage having seen at least a few of the statistics regarding money, marriage, and divorce rates. Knowing that money and financial matters can cause serious relationship problems is the first step to preventing them from doing so. Instead of letting your marriage become another statistic, preemptively take steps to protect your marriage from the driving wedge of finances.

There are endless reasons for couples to decide that their lives will be better spent apart. Don’t let finances be one of those reasons. Ask these questions and use these tools to help you and your spouse strengthen and build a financially fit marriage of accountability, honesty, and shared financial goals.

Do you have the same financial goals?

You can’t fix something if you don’t know that it is broken. Unless you have clearly outlined financial goals, how will you be able to work towards those goals as a couple?

Discuss your financial goals as individuals and as a couple. What are you working towards, and why are you saving? Do you want to retire early or do you enjoy your work enough that you want to keep working as long as possible? How much money are you and your spouse willing to set aside for retirement out of each paycheck?

Ask your spouse where they see themselves 5, 10, 25, or 40 years down the road. Are the money decisions that you’re making going to work in favor of accomplishing those goals?

Separate or joint accounts?

Some couples swear by having separate accounts, and some couples swear by having joint accounts. Just because a method worked well for a friend or family member doesn’t mean that it will work for you or your marriage.

Maybe you started your honey-moon phase of marriage blissfully joined in matrimony and money. After a few years though, a joint account may not work as well anymore. If you find that joint accounts are causing stress, arguments, and accusations, then separating your finances could be the key to preventing your marriage from separating. Maybe you’re the opposite, and you started your marriage with separate accounts. As time goes on, however, you realize that it would be best for your marriage and your finances to have joint accounts.

Whether you decide to have joint or separate accounts, know that your decision doesn’t have to be final. Your marriage will evolve over the years and so should your finances. Do whatever makes the most sense for you as a couple, and don’t let other people convince you that your method of dealing with money in your marriage is wrong.

Who will manage the budget?

Will you or your spouse be primarily in charge of the finances? Decide as a couple if one person will primarily be managing the budget. If one spouse earns the majority of the money coming in, then the other spouse might feel that their financial contribution to the marriage lies in managing the home finances. Perhaps you both want to manage your own money separately but sit down to pay the central bills like the mortgage and utilities together.

Whatever you decide works best for your marriage, make sure that you are on the same page with your spouse about financial expectations. It’s the breakdown in communication that leads to fights about who was supposed to pay the water bill.

Finance Dates

My husband and I have found finance dates to be an incredibly useful and empowering tool for getting on the same page financially. Once a month, after the kids are asleep, we pour ourselves glasses of wine and sit down to discuss our finances. We analyze our budget, look over the last month’s numbers, and try to set new financial goals together.

For us, finance dates are about accountability and honesty. It’s a time to seriously scrutinize our budget and spend quality time together. Finance dates require a lot of trust, patience, real communication, and dialogue.

If you have never had one, you should seriously consider scheduling a finance date. Confront your financial issues head-on by having a scheduled time to discuss money, financial goals, and budget issues with your spouse.

Use your finances to build a strong marriage

Thirty years down the line, your life, experiences, and goals will have changed both you and your spouse into different people than the couple that said “I do.” Instead of getting blindsided by the person your spouse became, try to change together. Be open and honest about your goals so that you can work towards achieving those goals together. Try to be flexible and willing to mold your marriage into something new. Instead of letting your finances drive a wedge between you, use them as a tool to make your marriage stronger.

How long have you been married? How often do you and your spouse discuss finances? What tools do you use to make money work in your favor for a stronger marriage?

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{ 26 comments… add one }
  • Michael Hall August 12, 2015, 12:46 am

    Wow, what a great read. This really resonated with me because I’ll be celebrating my 10th year anniversary with my wife tomorrow!! As you said, being on the same pages with finances with your spouse is critical. I was lucky enough to spend some time prior to getting married discussing each others’ views on personal finance and how we would work together. In our situation, she does a great job at handling the daily expenses and reviewing automated ebills, while I get to manage the finances on a broader level (i.e. investments, real estate, insurance, taxes, etc.).

    We try to sit down on a quarterly basis just so she can understand our overall cashflow (especially since I took an early retirement a couple years ago) and we will make some decisions together if needed. Thankfully we fully trust each other and are able to make executive decisions independent of each other. Although we do keep just a couple separate accounts for tax purposes (IRAs, etc.), we have consolidated all other aspects of our personal finances together at this point and consider it a completely joint matter. We typically use both Personal Capital and Merrill Lynch’s personal finance tools to review cash flow and net worth.

    • Kristi August 12, 2015, 5:29 am

      Congratulations and happy anniversary! Ten years is a huge milestone!

      My husband and I operate very much like you and your wife. He generally takes care of the investments, but I usually take care of the daily budget etc. Personal Capital is a great tool, for sure. Have you heard about the new investment app coming out this fall? It’s called Draft (http://draftapp.com), and you can sign up now to be one of the first to try it out when it’s launched. If your wife is interested in getting more involved in the investment side of your finances, this could be a great tool to share together.

  • Ernie Zelinski August 12, 2015, 1:48 am

    I am single so I can’t respond to your particular questions.

    Having said this, I like Number 6 from this blog post “Seven Reasons Being Single Makes You Healthier!”

    http://www.yourtango.com/2015277399/7-reasons-being-single-makes-you-healthier-says-science

    And these words haunt me when I consider marriage:

    “Someone stole my credit cards, but I won’t report it. The thief spends much less than my wife.”
    — Henny Youngman

    Time to work on my book “The Single Person’s Guide to Living Happy, Prosperous, and Free” that so many people have been encouraging me to complete. I self-published a book called “The Joy of Not Being Married” in 1995; it sold 10,000 copies even though it was put together in a haphazard way.

    There is no doubt in my mind that a much better written “The Single Person’s Guide to Living Happy, Prosperous, and Free” can sell over 100,000 copies in print alone and earn me over $500,000 in pretax profits. Sure, I won’t have a wife to help me spend the money — but my many friends, both male and female, and single and married, and rich and poor, who I treat to expensive dinners and celebrations will be there to help me enjoy the money. As I have said before, if you can’t enjoy spending money with the same degree of satisfaction that you experience while earning it, then your prosperity consciousness needs some serious work.

    Ernie J. Zelinski
    The Prosperity Guy
    “Helping Adventurous Souls Live Prosperous and Free”
    Author of the Bestseller “How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free”
    (Over 250,000 copies sold and published in 9 languages)
    and the International Bestseller “The Joy of Not Working”
    (Over 280,000 copies sold and published in 17 languages)

    • Kristi August 12, 2015, 5:40 am

      I always love your responses, Ernie! Thanks for commenting!

      I’d love to read any new books that you decide to publish. Single people do have a money advantage in the aspect that they are solely responsible for any financial decisions. Neither single people nor married couples are immune to debt though. There are definitely pros and cons to both lifestyles. You’re absolutely right when you say, “if you can’t enjoy spending money with the same degree of satisfaction that you experience while earning it, then your prosperity consciousness needs some serious work.” This applies to all people, married or single.

    • Frank August 12, 2015, 12:06 pm

      All I can say is “Wow”.

  • Tyler August 12, 2015, 5:08 am

    Thank you for this article. My wife and I are on completely different worlds when it comes to finance. Every time we do discuss it it turns into a match of who over spent the most (always her) and then her finding ways that it wasn’t her spending money on herself but instead her spending money on the “family”. It has truly been a struggle, we have been getting better over the last year due to open honest communication and a few rules we put in place, as in how much money the other can freely spend without having to get it approved. We also automated our savings so that it’s never even seen that way the whole checking account can be spent and we still saved money. Simple things but they work, this article will be one I save and come back to many many times thank you so much.

    • Kristi August 12, 2015, 5:43 am

      Thank you, Tyler!

      My husband and I spent too much time fighting over the same types of things that you mentioned that you and your wife were struggling with. It’s so important to set boundaries for both parties and have a system of accountability so that there’s no finger pointing or blame, just analyzing the expenses and knowing where mistakes were made and how you can be better next month.

  • Ali @ Anything You Want August 12, 2015, 6:09 am

    I am not married, but my boyfriend and I share some finances and have conversations about money regularly. Being a personal finance blogger, I would happily talk about money all the time, but that is just too much for him! I really appreciate these tips from people with more experience with money and relationships. I’d love to incorporate some of these strategies into my own marriage one day!

    • Kristi August 12, 2015, 12:27 pm

      It’s great that you and your boyfriend are having those conversations already. My husband and I never talked about finances at all before we got married. We would have saved ourselves quite a few arguments if we had. Good for you!

  • Steve Miller August 12, 2015, 6:29 am

    Great post Kristi — I think it’s important to have financial cohesion in a marriage. I love your idea of the Finance Date!

    My wife and I celebrated 23 years of marriage in April. Before we retired, my wife managed the finances. I love personal finance, so I took those duties on after I quit the daily work grind.

    We carve out our budget a year in advance and I use Quicken to track our finances. Each Friday, I run a report that shows how we are tracking towards the budget and I email that to my wife. She loves it because it allows us to adjust our spending based on how we are trending for the month.

    Here is an example of a recent report: http://www.WeBeTripping.com/PL.pdf

    All the best.

    • Kristi August 12, 2015, 12:30 pm

      I love the idea of a weekly budget report! That’s a fantastic way to head off any money problems early on in the month. I’m going to have to start doing something similar. Thanks, Steve!

  • retirebyforty August 12, 2015, 10:34 am

    I’m pretty lucky because we both highly value financial security. We have similar financial goals and we both work toward them. The finance date is a great idea! We don’t have them, but Mrs. RB40 is our chief editor so she knows how our finance is doing. That’s one advantage to having a blog. 🙂

    • Kristi August 12, 2015, 12:33 pm

      It sounds like you and Mrs. RB40 have great financial cohesion in your marriage! With your level of financial security, I’m sure that you don’t need to have finance dates nearly as often as my husband and I do.

  • Bryan @ Just One More Year August 12, 2015, 10:59 am

    Having a financially fit marriage might be the biggest factor in becoming FI or reaching early retirement. A divorce in this journey will set your progress back by years.

    It cannot be ignored when you see the statistics reflect over half of marriages will fail. The number one reason for this failure is typically disagreements over money.

    I liked your statement: Be open and honest about your goals so that you can work towards achieving those goals together. I think that you need to be mostly aligned in your goals to be successful in your marriage. BTW – we from the combine our finances camp!

    • Kristi August 12, 2015, 12:38 pm

      Knowing and supporting your spouse’s goals is so essential to having a harmonious relationship. If both parties don’t feel supported and validated in their goals (and the work they need to accomplish to get there) anger and resentment problems could start surfacing.

      And yes, you’re absolutely right! Even the most civil of divorces will be a tremendous blow to your financial security and ability to retire early.

  • Stockbeard August 12, 2015, 11:51 am

    Great read! We’ve been married for 7 years, and I can totally confirm that we evolve, and are not the same people we were when we said “yes”. It’s frightening in a way, but comforting to know that we managed to stay together while evolving.

    We do discuss finances regularly, and are quite aligned on what to do. Interestingly though, the reasons we do it (why we’re frugal for example) are not the same. My wife comes from a family with low income, and a country where “investing” consists in having cash somewhere. So she’s very frugal. I, on the other hand, want to retire early, and invest aggressively, which is what’s driving my frugality.

    I’ll suggest one of those “finance dates” to see if our goals for 5 or 10 years are aligned 🙂

    • Kristi August 12, 2015, 12:41 pm

      It can be terrifying to see how much you yourself, your spouse, and your marriage has changed over the years. But I agree, knowing that you were able to evolve together is a huge comfort.

      I think it’s great that you and your spouse are frugal for different reasons. It helps keep a fresh perspective on your finances and why you’re saving. Good luck with your finance date if you decide to have one!

  • Pennypincher August 12, 2015, 3:12 pm

    Brilliant post. Finances are one of the major “agreements” married couples must make. I forgot the other 6, but one is agreeing on in-laws (visits?).
    The monthly finance date is a fantastic idea! Especially when couples are busy raising kids and no time to talk & figure out finances. This cultivates sound financial planning. Good to have a bit of your own “mad money” to buy whatever you want, no questions asked, sometimes. And total transparency w/the finances and spending helps.

    • Kristi August 12, 2015, 5:35 pm

      “Finances are one of the major agreements married couples must make” – I LOVE this. Yes, absolutely. Financial conversations don’t have to cause fights. They should be one of the biggest agreements!

  • Dave in Sunny FL August 12, 2015, 3:45 pm

    We’ve been married almost 23 years. Automating every possible payment has really cut down the paperwork; but what really makes finances work for us is the trust we have in one another. The comment I want to contribute to this discussion is that I prepare a one-page balance sheet every quarter, using the statements from the IRA, 401, DRIP, etc. companies. I keep those in a file, so we can track our progress by quarter or by year, as things compound. Also, when I submit our records to the tax preparer each year, I take the opportunity to do a cover letter, which I think of as being a Warren Buffet-style annual report missive. Not as long, and not as funny, but just to have an annual opportunity to record what we’re doing; and to have it be part of records that I know we will keep indefinitely. Thanks!

    • Kristi August 12, 2015, 5:37 pm

      Creating a quarterly balance sheet is a fantastic idea. That would be immensely helpful come tax time. Thank you for the suggestion, Dave!

  • Mike August 13, 2015, 2:59 pm

    Perhaps part of this can be made easier if spreadsheets or financial programs are used to help manage the finances, make it easier to look over how things are doing each time you sit down with your spouse.

  • Abigail @ipickuppennies August 13, 2015, 3:12 pm

    We’ve been married 7 years. But he’s been unemployed/on disability since a month before our wedding (and I work at home), so I joke that it’s been at least 10 in regular marriage years.

    His finances were a mess when we got together. He didn’t see any way out, so he was more than happy to hand the reins over to me. Over time, he’s gotten much better about not buying things, and I’ve learned to loosen up a smidge on the occasional purchase.

    All in all, I think it’s a pretty good balance.

  • Gopi August 14, 2015, 7:13 pm

    My wife and I are exactly opposite when it comes to finances.
    I give her $2500 per month for taking care of groceries and other expenses.(we are a family of 4)
    But she complains that’s not enough. Looking at RB40 comment and from others most
    of them spend not more than $500 per month on groceries.
    Fortunately I make a decent sum from my job, rental income and dividend.
    But my worry is that if my grocery bill stays the same, I can’t afford to ever retire.
    Any ideas?

    • retirebyforty August 14, 2015, 10:21 pm

      $2,500 for groceries seem really high. What are the “other expenses?”
      I guess it can get that high if you shop exclusively at Whole Food…
      You might want to talk seriously with her and see where all the money goes. Maybe she’s tucking some money away for the rainy days.

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