It’s hard enough for one person to deal wisely with money. But once you are married, dealing with money becomes an even bigger challenge. Money issues are the number one thing married couples argue about and are major contributors to divorce. If couples can learn to communicate positively about money, it can become an area of agreement, not conflict.
Here are 10 steps to start you on your path to marriage money merriment.
Start with a mutual goal of living within your means. You should both agree that each month your household will only spend money equal to your income that month. If one or both of you are of the opinion that you can spend more than you make, you are just making a bad money behavior worse.Set up a monthly meeting to discuss your available money and upcoming needs. This needs to be a regular event each month, like mowing the lawn or cleaning the bathroom. A lawn or bathroom that does not get proper attention is not a pretty sight, and the same thing goes for a family’s money situation.Come prepared to your meeting. Hopefully one of you is more inclined to crunch numbers. This spouse should review spending patterns for the past few months and come to the meeting with average totals spent on the various categories your family spends money on. You are going to need this base information to decide how much you plan to spend the next month.Focus on the relationship first. The purpose of this meeting is not to point out each other’s bad money habits. Your communication should work to strengthen your relationship, not damage it. Your spouse knows he is not perfect and you won’t win points dwelling on past money mistakes. If you don’t have a better relationship at the end of the meeting than before, you are doing it wrong. Redo and focus on the relationship first.Agree on a plan on how to spend no more than you will make this month. This spending plan must be determined together. It will take some give-and-take because, even if you are a millionaire, you can always find ways to spend more money than you make. Maybe you will need to cut back on the entertainment budget to spend more in the clothing budget. Make sure you include adding to savings in the first part of your plan. The amount you choose is up to you, but if you wait until the end of the meeting there won’t be any left to add to savings. Over time this built-up savings will be a cushion you can use to deal with emergency expenses.No victims, villains, or doormats. Make sure your conversation does not label you a victim or your spouse a villain. A healthy discussion will shut down if it becomes a blame game. And don’t label either one or both of you as doormats. You may be in a tough financial situation with expenses overwhelming income. Don’t roll over and play dead. If you work together you may find a way to overcome these big challenges. People do it all the time, and you can too.Facts, not attacks. Keep to the facts not the reasons you think are behind the facts. “Spending on golf last month was $300,” is a fact statement. “You’d rather spend money golfing with your buddies than spending time with me,” is an attack. In the future you can phrase an “I feel …” comment and own what you say instead of making it a blame statement. Ask your spouse to share her take on the situation and encourage safe speech. Each should contribute to a constructive — not destructive — conversation.Look for closing doors and open them safely. If your spouse is going silent or violent, your meeting is not going well and you will not end the meeting with a monthly money plan supported by both of you. If this is happening, take a break in the money discussion. You need to work on clearing up misunderstandings. You may need to explore your spouse’s feelings that are leading to her withdrawal from the discussion. A good tool for learning how to better communicate with your spouse is the bestselling book, Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High by Kerry Patterson.Implement your plan. Once you have your monthly spending plan, get together for mini check-in meetings to track how your plan is going each month. Maybe one of the kids had an unplanned school expense so you decide you need to delay a clothing purchase until another month so you can use the money for school. During the first month, expect to make a lot of mistakes. It’s like a kid falling off a bike. Just keep getting back on until you have the skill down. If you give up, you are going to have to deal with future money problems from a worse position.Do it again next month. Every month is different. Some months have more birthdays. Some months have vacations. Some months have more school expenses. You need a meeting each month to review the specific needs for that month. Also, by meeting regularly you have a great opportunity to talk about longer-term plans like preparing to save for a house, a car or setting aside enough for retirement. Hopefully, you are going to spend many delightful decades with the love of your life. Much of that success can happen by simply sitting down together and starting with Step One.
Don Milne is the Zions Bank Financial Literacy Manager. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org