There’s no doubt about it: combining finances can be one of the most difficult pieces of marriage.
Just look at the statistics. Recent research shows that money-related fights are better at predicting divorce than disagreements about splitting chores, spending time together, sex, or even in-laws! In fact, couples who fight about finances once a week are 30% more likely than those who disagree just a few times a month!
Seriously, money is a very big deal in your relationship. Which is why you shouldn’t combine finances completely until you’re actually married. It’s also why you should have a plan for handling money with your spouse or partner.
I’ve only begun to find financial equilibrium with my husband of five years. I’m a saver and a planner-of-things, and he’s a fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants spender. For the first few years of our marriage, I always felt like he wanted to spend way too much money, and he felt controlled by my death grip on the family purse strings.
Luckily, some wise counsel, a few financial crises, and years of experience as a married couple have taught us a few things about dealing with our money as a team. Here are seven things we’ve learned that might help you and your significant other avoid all those money fights down the road:
1. See it as our money
Whether you run all your money through a joint checking account or not, look at all of your money as our money – not his and hers. This means that you make all major financial decisions as a team. It also means that the person with the bigger paycheck doesn’t get more clout in the relationship.
2. Understand your financial backgrounds
It’s so important to talk about where you’re coming from on everything from chores to physical affection, and finances are no different. Talk about how your parents viewed and handled money, and about your own past financial decisions. While you’re at it, check out your credit reports together, if you’ve never done that before, so that your financial liabilities are completely transparent.
3. Be honest
Around 31% of people who share finances with a partner say they’ve been deceptive about something money-related. This is scary, since trust in a relationship is built on the bedrock of honesty, whether that’s honesty about splurges or about savings on the side. Yes, you do need to protect yourself from potential problems, but that doesn’t mean you should lie to your partner. Even if you feel you need a “mad money” stash, let your partner know. (Though it’s fine – and even wise – not to reveal specific details.)
4. Play to your strengths
Just because your parents split financial tasks along certain lines doesn’t mean you have to. In our family, I do most of the budgeting, financial planning, bill paying, and paperwork – mostly because I have an eye for detail and a penchant for planning. Some families split these things so that one partner does the investing and another balances the checkbook. The key here is to let your own strengths – and nothing else – dictate which spouse tackles which financial duties.
5. Set goals together
Goal setting has been the most effective way for my husband and I to get on the same page financially. He doesn’t naturally like to set goals, as a go-with-the-flow sort of person. I tend to set lofty and unrealistic goals. Together, we balance out and can set reachable financial goals for our family. Now that we have the same goals – and a spreadsheet to keep track of them – it’s easier to work together on our finances.
6. Set up allowances
I strongly believe in mutual accountability when you’re sharing finances with someone else. But having to run every, single, solitary purchase by your spouse before you spend money is exhausting, and often makes one or both partners feel manipulated and controlled. “Allowance” sounds so third-grade, but in our family, our allowance is money we can spend without consulting the other person first. It gives us a bit of financial freedom, without busting our budget.
7. Talk about finances regularly
In any area of your life together, consistent communication is essential. Some couples just work these talks into everyday life. We used to do that, but now that we have a toddler, setting aside specific times for post-bedtime money chats is most effective. Figure out what works for you, but do make a point to talk about your budget, financial goals, spending, and other financial topics on a regular basis.
How about you? Have you ever fought about money with your spouse or partner? What tips would you give a newlywed couple struggling to manage their money as a team?
Abby Hayes is a freelance writer specializing in all things personal finance. She writes for Dough Roller, and enjoys hanging out with her family and reading fantasy novels in her spare time.