Some alarming statistics I came across recently got me thinking about how handling finances well within a marriage is so important. For example, according to Dr.Phil.com, money is the number one problem in marriages and the number one cause of divorce. Jeffrey Dew’s paper titled Bank on it: Thrifty Couples are the Happiest, claims that the likelihood of divorce increased by over 40% when a spouse feels the other spends their money foolishly.
I sat down with my wife and we came up with some principles that we have found to be successful in helping us navigate income, spending, investing, giving, and saving. An important disclaimer to make here is that every person is unique, every relationship is unique, and every marriage is unique. Some marriages operate with one person “handling all the money.” Other marriages handle money separately. Your situation is undoubtedly different than ours, but hopefully one of these ideas can help you in your situation.
Principle 1: It’s Ours, Not Mine
We try to avoid the mindset of viewing certain cars, certain accounts, certain debts, certain income streams or certain spending as personally belong to one of us. We even try to avoid pronouns like “mine” and “yours.” Ultimately, the decisions we make affect both of us. We’re on the same team, so we win together or we lose together.
Principle 1a: It’s Mine
This is our exception to principle 1, kind of. We received advice early in our marriage to have discretionary money within a monthly budget for us to spend individually however we wanted. It’s our own personal allowance – a slush fund for each of us. For me, I take the phrase slush fund very literally. I really like happy hour at Sonic, and some days after work I like rewarding myself with a lemon-lime slush with Nerds. I like going to Sonic and not feeling guilty or having to hide the expense. Alli, on the other hand, would rather not eat for a week just to save up for a cute shirt from Old Navy. She can buy the shirt (or the leggings or the special hair product or the earrings) and I can buy the slush (or the Qdoba burrito or the Quik Trip pretzel or the Chick-fil-a shake) and we don’t have to worry about being judged or questioned by each other. This is all done within a monthly budget that we agree on each year.
Principle 2: Transparency Helps
Alli and I both bought into using Mint.com as our budgeting software of choice because it was easy to use and we both have access to everything. Some months I take care of all of the budget updates and categorization, other times Alli and I do it together. Either way, we always have access to see what’s happening to all of our money.
Principle 3: Have the Big Fight, Avoid the Little Fights
With something as big as money, there’s no way that a couple will see eye to eye on everything. In our experience, setting a monthly budget has helped us avoid ongoing conflicts. Each year we get away on a quasi-marriage retreat to talk about big decisions, decompress from the daily grind, and have fun. Setting the budget is usually a topic on this trip. Sometimes it goes smooth and we agree on numbers right away. Sometimes one of us feels passionate about changing certain things. Sometimes we argue about it for a while. Sometimes I want more money for slushies. Sometimes she wants more monthly money to cover hair cuts. We have the conversations in a setting where disagreement is civil and compromise and unity are the goals. After we reach a consensus on the major items like a monthly budget, we commit to doing our best to honor the budget. We also commit to not complaining or nagging about a certain aspect of the budget that we may have compromised on in negotiations.
Principle 4: Fund the Get-Away Account!
The retreat we like to take in principle 4 costs money – sometimes a lot of money! Nobody wants to be a tightwad on a get-away trip, so every chance we get to throw extra cash in a “get-away” account, we do it! Examples of times we put money into the fund…
- Cash back from credit rewards
- Unexpected gifts from family members
- Bonuses from opening new bank accounts (I do this about twice per year then close the account after I’ve fulfilled all requirements)
- Random extra income on top of a paycheck
Basically, if we’re wondering what money should go towards, we kick it to the get-away account!
Principle 5: The $100 Rule
If something costs more than $100, we consult the other first. This allows us to get out of sticky sales situations. “I have to talk to my husband/wife” has worked every time!
Principle 6: A Big, Shared Goal is Powerful
If there’s a big goal that you can agree to strive for, I can’t recommend this enough: go for it!!! Getting out of debt, saving for a new home renovation, or building wealth to a certain level for retirement are examples of this. When Alli and I together decided that we wanted to pay off our house at an accelerated pace, it was powerful to know that I had somebody else on board with me! The goal seems even more worthwhile and the follow through is easier when a partner is in it with you!
Principle 7: A Small, Shared Goal is Powerful
Can you make it one month on $150 worth of groceries? Can you go a week without spending a dime? Small, random goals like this can be fun if both people are up for it.
Principle 8: Gifts are Negotiable
Gifts can be a tricky situation. Alli and I have tried just about everything when it comes to gifting things for each other on anniversaries, birthdays, and holidays. One year we set a budget for gifts, one year we decided to not do monetary gifts for each other, and other years have been whatever we felt like that week. What I’ve found is that gifting is all about making the other person feel special and valued. Alli has done this for me with something small such as a bringing home a surprise Quik Trip pretzel or giving me the okay to buy shoes that were outside of my slush fund range. I’ve found Reese’s Eggs are are great gift for Alli, and the nudge to buy the nice dress every once in awhile makes her feel good. The big idea is this: generosity, thoughtfulness, communication, and not keeping score are more important than the actual gifts themselves, we think.
Principle 9: Always Say Yes
We’ve both decided to operate on the principle that if one of us feels an inkling to give, even if the other isn’t as excited, we’ll go with the giving. Whether it’s writing a check for a neighbor kid’s fundraiser, funding a missionary, or buying a random gift for a co-worker, we have given each other the permanent green light to spend if it’s for other people. We’ve never regretted giving to a person or cause that one or both of us felt good about.
Principle 10: Work Toward a Shared Vision
As Alli and I have grown, we’ve found that we have a similar vision in terms of money. First, we want to be known as generous people – generous towards God and generous towards people. Second, we want to be known as wise people – not as tight-wads or weirdos, but wise. When big decisions come up, we usually come around to these two principles to guide our thinking.
These principles have helped Alli and I live at peace with each other and our money. What principles or ideas have you seen work in your marriage when it comes to finances?