7 Tips for Money and Marriage

My wife and I never fight about money. I used to claim this was because we keep separate finances, but now I know it's because we share similar financial goals and dreams. Even during those years I was deep in debt, I never did anything that might jeopardize our financial future.

Our shared vision has helped us to maintain a successful marriage. We're not alone, however. Writing in last Wednesday's New York Times, Tara Siegel Bernard says that the key to wedded bliss just might be marrying someone who shares your attitudes about money.

Today, while most of us marry for romantic reasons, marriage at its core is still a financial union. So much of what we want — or don't want — out of life boils down to dollars and cents, whether it's how hard we choose to work, how much we consume or how much we save. For some people, it's working 80-hour weeks to finance a third home and country club membership; for others, it means cutting back on office hours to spend more time with the family.

[…]

Making those choices as a team is one of the most important ways to preserve your marital assets, and your union, experts say. But it's that much easier when you already share similar outlooks on money matters — or when you can, at the very least, find some middle ground.

If your partner doesn't share your financial philosophy, don't give up hope. Bernard shares seven ways couples can work together to increase their financial compatibility. These suggestions are based on conversations with “the successfully married and from experts on psychology, divorce and finance”:

  • Talk and share goals. Communication is key. Kris and will take a brief vacation next month. Besides unwinding, we plan to discuss our goals for the future. It's important for both partners to work together for the same purpose.
  • Run a home like a business. In the forthcoming How to Be the Family CFO, Kim Snider writes that there are many similarities between managing a successful business and managing your personal finances. Your goal should be to run a profitable firm!
  • Be supportive of careers. Help your partner pursue her dreams. When Kris quit teaching to become a scientist, I was ready to do whatever she needed to help her succeed. And when I decided to quit my job to blog full-time, Kris was my biggest supporter.
  • Enjoy, but within reason. It's okay to spend money to enjoy life (that's what it's for!), but don't get caught up in the rat-race, and be sure to save for the future.
  • Use a mediator. When you and your partner can't agree on a financial decision, bring in third-party help. If you disagree about how to invest, for example, then see a financial planner.
  • Maintain some independence. “Pooling resources is important,” writes Bernard, “but so is maintaining a degree of financial independence.” Many couples with joint finances also maintain separate allowances for each partner.
  • Invest in your marriage. Spend time and money on your relationship. Bernard says to consider this “dollar-cost averaging your marriage”, which is a clever. When Kris and I get grumpy with each other, it's almost always because we haven't been doing things together as a couple.

I'm really looking forward to our short vacation next month. Not only will it give me and Kris some much-needed couple time, it will also allow us to decide what we want to accomplish over the next five or ten years. It's a chance to plan our financial future together.

For more on money and marriage, check out these articles from the archives:

[The New York Times: The key to wedded bliss? Money matters, via reader Jeff V.]
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J.D.
J.D.
11 years ago

An anecdote that didn’t fit in the main post: I used to be able to claim that Kris and I had never fought about money, not once. That’s no longer true. When we bought this big, old house, we set up our first joint account, a sort of “house emergency fund”. We also use it when we do remodeling projects. We’ve now had one fight about money in the 20 years we’ve been together, and it was about this account. I can’t even remember the details, but I remember thinking it was hilarious that the entire time we maintained separate… Read more »

Wealth for investors
Wealth for investors
11 years ago

Excellent post.
I think you really need someone who will support you to go anywhere in life.
without people supporting working alone makes it hard to do anything

Clint
Clint
11 years ago

“Run a home like a business.”

Besides the Snider book you mention, Pat Lencioni has an interesting book out along what seems to me to be similar lines: The Three Big Questions for a Frantic Family http://www.tablegroup.com/books/frantic/

Tyelr @ Dividend Money
Tyelr @ Dividend Money
11 years ago

JD,
My wife and I also never fight about money and I do maintain that it is because we keep separate finances.
We do share some common financial goals, but she still likes to spend and I am big-time saver/investor!

leigh
leigh
11 years ago

we used to fight only about money. he spent too much and i was too stingy. it took us a while to find a common ground, but we’ve both come more toward the center and now it’s not an issue.

TosaJen
TosaJen
11 years ago

We rarely fight about money, but when we do, it’s really about underlying attitudes about living, like how to raise the kids. I think those kinds of issues come to our attention more readily when we’re dealing with money because there are numbers and records, so there’s no denying what’s happening. 🙂

Most of the 7 tips are perfectly good ideas to maintain a healthy relationship with two content people even when you decouple them from money.

Moneymonk
Moneymonk
11 years ago

New York Times always have the best articles.

The reason why most couple fail is because they don’t mention up front what they want. They are so anxious to get married they figuire to just ignore the important stuff

Rose Fox
Rose Fox
11 years ago

My husband and I have joint finances but we still rarely fight about money, because we share our goals as well as our bank accounts. We have pretty much identical priorities: there are a few things that matter a lot to both of us (travel, books, cooking, separate bedrooms), a few things that we like but can easily do without if money is tight (live performances, dining out), and a whole lot of things we really don’t care much about either way. We’re very willing to be flexible and compromise on everything except the big dreams, and those are dreams… Read more »

Nebula
Nebula
11 years ago

We’ve been married 25 years and I can honestly say we’ve never once had a single disagreement about money! At first, we really had no money to fight about, and it all went to basic necessities which were obvious. Since we started out with nothing, we’ve always combined our finances, and we’ve had no reason to separate them. I think the main thing is to have a shared vision of your future together and to have similar spending styles. We are both cautious by nature and conservative in our styles, so even though neither of us knew anything about money… Read more »

Kristina
Kristina
11 years ago

I don’t understand your comment that even when you were in debt, you never did anything to jeopardize the financial future of your marriage. Of course you did to the extent we can agree that massive debt, no savings, and little or no retirement are stupid and jeopardizing things. And even if your finances were/are separate, these old behaviors still affected your marital finances. One person being in debt jeopardizes joint assets if you die or can’t keep up on payments. A lack of savings affects the other spouse if anything ever happens and you need money. It also affects… Read more »

Ryan McLean
Ryan McLean
11 years ago

I wish I could say we never fight but me and my fiances SOMETIMES fight about money. Very very rarely though and it is only when I want to go against our financial goals and by myself a new ipod or a new computer or something.
This is a great post and I do think me and my finance share the same financial goals

Orange
Orange
11 years ago

I agree with her, and actually I blogged about her article yesterday. I do think that marriage is one’s most important asset or liability.

J.D.
J.D.
11 years ago

Kristina wrote: I don’t understand your comment that even when you were in debt, you never did anything to jeopardize the financial future of your marriage. Of course you did to the extent we can agree that massive debt, no savings, and little or no retirement are stupid and jeopardizing things. You’re right. You’re absolutely right. I was certainly putting our long-term plans at risk. What I should have said was that I didn’t do anything to put our short-term plans at risk (other than not having an emergency fund). I always paid my bills on time. I always paid… Read more »

Urchina
Urchina
11 years ago

I agree that being financially compatible with your spouse is vital to a marriage. Just before i met my husband I ended a relationship with a nice guy who had a completely different spending style and financial priorities than I did. Money was a significant factor in our breakup. So, when I met my husband and realized I was getting serious about him, I initiated a series of conversations about money. I asked what he thought it was for, how he chose to spend it, what he thought about debt (and the types of debt he considered bad as well… Read more »

lidia
lidia
11 years ago

This is timely; I was just searching the site for more information about couples and shared finances. My partner and I agree on big picture money issues and spending. The problems sometimes arise because he has long been in the mode of getting education and getting a business off the ground. I bring home a steady income and I’m supportive of what he does, it’s just strained when I’m having a bad day at work and feel like I’m locked into my job to sustain the both of us (the old, “when is it my turn?” situation). I’m not sure… Read more »

Rose Fox
Rose Fox
11 years ago

@lidia: I’ve seen a lot of couples in that situation and been in it a few times myself. Sometimes it pays off. My husband supported me while I was launching my freelance career, and now I make twice as much as he does. On the other hand, sometimes a bad job has such a high emotional cost that it’s more important to leave it and find another job, even if that means asking your partner to set back their goals a bit. Talk it over with your partner and decide under what circumstances you would feel that you really had… Read more »

Harold
Harold
11 years ago

What a sensible article. Even for those of us who aren’t getting married.

Double
Double
11 years ago

As the one handling the finances in our marriage I felt guilty and stressed out when I tried to get my wife to stick to the plan of saving, paying down debt, not spending more than we have when we first starting building our net worth. My wife would now grudgingly agree that our sacrifices in earlier years was worth it.

sandi_k
sandi_k
11 years ago

My DH and I have a “melded” approach. We each contribute to the joint account each month. I get a “break” because I have health insurance and retirement savings deducted from my paycheck, so he pays slightly more into the joint account, since my joint contributions have already occurred. He pays a lump sum into his SEP-IRA each year, the max allowed based on his SE income. We use the joint account for house, vacation, vet bills, cleaning, yardwork, groceries and utility bills. We also have a joint credit card. Our individual accounts take care of our personal care and… Read more »

Conrad
Conrad
11 years ago

Interesting post. At 18 I don’t think I can fully understand the entire marriage thing, but I get what you are saying financially :). Anyway….interesting blog, J.D. I read this regularly, and just a few weeks ago I started my own at collegiatefrugality.blogspot.com. Any young person – particularly college students – should check it out, leave a comment, etc. Collegiate Frugality is my response to what I saw as a lack of genuine financial information for college students, from college students, on the internet. I reccomend this site to my readers, and I’m a huge of Get Rich Slowly, as… Read more »

JackandJillsMoneyBlog
JackandJillsMoneyBlog
11 years ago

I enjoyed the post. I would add that couples should also read together – reading personal finance books has helped my wife and I develop our finance knowledge and shared goals together. We typically buy two texts from Amazon, read them, switch texts, and then talk about both books. We talk about takeaways, and how our new-found knowledge should impact our long term goals.

leigh
leigh
11 years ago

@lidia: i’ve found that support tends to go both ways. DH paid more than his fair share of the bills when i was in college. i got into grad school, where i have a reliable albeit small income. when his/our life was turned upside down and he went back to school, it scares me to death each month but i manage to support us both on one income. let me assure you, having been on both sides, that it’s not easy from either position. the supporter feels stressed out about the finances, about keeping the job, the health insurance, etc.… Read more »

No Debt Plan
No Debt Plan
11 years ago

I still don’t buy the separated finance deal. We do have our own free-to-spend-on-whatever-we-feel-like-it-funds… but other than that we work together toward *our* mutual goals. Teamwork together toward our goals, not separate work toward separate goals.

KC
KC
11 years ago

The best advice about money and marriage I got was from dear old Mom, “You can love a rich man as easily as a poor man.” She’s right – it’s a lot easier to love (and stay in love) with someone who has their finances together. I’ll bet it works the same with loving a rich woman, too.

John Egan
John Egan
11 years ago

Well.. We just never fought. I guess we understood that each of us had our own foibles and loved the other unconditionally. If she bought something that I didn’t understand, that was OK by me. Never could understand fighting with anyone..In particular your wife.. jegan 😉

Greg C
Greg C
11 years ago

I guess I’m pretty much in a situation where financial compatibility is never going to happen-unless one of us changes, and I would never be in a relationship with the expectation of “change.” Fortunately we are compatible in other ways that are overriding priorities. As far as the joint/separate finances thing, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Earnings, tastes, priorities, spending habits, talents, and other things all factor into it. And there is nothing wrong with differences. As much as marriage is a partnership, people are individuals and spouses are not going to be 100% the same (and how boring that… Read more »

Carrie
Carrie
11 years ago

I agree with Greg that the joint/separate finances thing doesn’t have a “one size fits all”. When my husband and I were dating, he was horrible about paying bills on time, even when he had the money. things were often 2-3 months late simply because he didn’t get around to it. When we got engaged and moved in together, he was happy to combine our finances and I do all the bills now. That way things are on time! =) We have a nice system worked out where any “big” purchases we discuss together, and most of the time we’ve… Read more »

Luke
Luke
11 years ago

I think we get an ‘F’ on pretty much every item. Our marriage is very difficult – in other ways as well – and I regret that I wasn’t clearer and tougher about having a rational attitude around money. I don’t even touch the topic with a ten-foot pole now, and when it comes up by accident, I try to change the subject. You might respond “but that’s a good opportunity to talk about it!”. One should think that, but I’ve learned the hard way that ANY opinion I have on the topic (like “we should have a budget…”) turns… Read more »

E
E
11 years ago

My fiance and I started out on opposite ends of the money spectrum: he lived only for the present and I lived only for the future. But even then, our money fights were more about expectations and communication problems than actual disagreements about goals. Since we’ve been together we’ve both moved toward the middle; I manage to save and still enjoy life now, and he has brought his credit score up and paid down debt, and we own a house together. We hardly ever fight about money now. I’m sure we’ll hit some new rough spots once we’re married, but… Read more »

quinsy
quinsy
11 years ago

Commenter #8 noted that they would like to pay off debt so that they could begin ‘investing in CDs and Kiva loans’ – I think what you meant to say was ‘investing in CDs, and donating to charities such as Kiva’. Kiva’s an awesome charity, but even though you get your money back, it is not in investment. It is actually an anti-investment, because by the time you get your money back, you will have lost a portion of its value through inflation. Plus if you re-loan the money that gets paid back (which I always do), you’ll never see… Read more »

Ben
Ben
11 years ago

I had so many friends and co-workers complaining and asking about money issues in their marriage that I put together a marriage money guide:

http://moneysmartlife.com/marriage-and-money-a-couples-guide-to-managing-money-finding-financial-bliss

Misty
Misty
11 years ago

Recently, I have had more conversations with women expressing they don’t know the financial status in the household. The husband manages it all and gives them an allowance. Scary! Never a good ending…

When I launched My Inspiration Lounge, an online portal for women to connect with useful, inspiring content on the web, I made sure to include a “Get Money Savvy” section! It is so important for women to take the steps to be savvy in this area and be financially independent.

BTW – I have the get rich slowly feed on this page 🙂

Misty, Founder
http://www.myinspirationlounge.com

Katherine
Katherine
11 years ago

I’m getting married next year. My fiancee and I never fight about money but I don’t think we’re always on the same page, spending-wise (or saving-wise). I think we should take a visit to a financial planner before we get hitched. Any good ideas on how to find one we can work with? I have an accountant, but I just don’t see us sitting down with him in a money-therapy type situation. So… how to find a financial planner? And how much do they usually cost?

Eric Hazen
Eric Hazen
11 years ago

Great post! I’m getting married in a few months and I’m the only one who is going to work. Anyways, making 50k isn’t a ton since I had around 80k in student debt. Anyways, lots to consider.

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