This is not a finance blog, but I spend a lot of time talking about marriage, family, and home life. The June/July 2016 Ameriprise study on couples and money revealed,
73% of individuals have money management styles that are different from their partner’s. [What’s more,] 31% of couples—even the happiest ones— admitted that they clash over finances at least once a month.
Since one of the foundational parts of family life is money, it’s kind of important to talk about family finances when talking about maintaining happy marriages. I learned this the hard way. It took my spouse and me 5 years to get on the same page about debt.
These are the 5 questions that helped us handle our financial scandal.
1. What do you think about debt?
So, after our first 5 years of marriage, the hubs and I realized we had two very different perspectives on debt. Every time I’d pay off a credit card, that zero balance would climb back up. It drove me crazy. After a lot of unnecessary arguments, I finally asked the right question. What do you think about debt?
me: What do you think about debt?
the hubs: It’s not so bad. Our debt is pretty good. It’s lower than the national average. Why?
me: That’s really interesting. I don’t think any debt is good. I want us to have zero debt.
the hubs: what? forever?
You can imagine how difficult it can be for a couple to move forward financially with such varying perspectives.
2. What are our financial goals?
We had a lot of personal goals but after we started our family, we realized we needed family goals. Once we started setting family goals, we realized how much more money we needed. We want to be able to pay for our kids to go to college—at least for their Bachelor Degree—without student loans. Since we live as expats and away from family friends, we want to be able to take family vacations once a year AND travel back to see friends and family. That’s essentially two vacations a year. We got really clear on what we wanted to do, create, and provide in the short run, medium run, and long run.
3. When do we want to be able to retire?
Right before our first child was born, we met with a financial planner and bought life insurance. That was the first time we’d ever talked about retirement as an actual date in time. Of course, we squandered that time with the financial planner by pretending we had a plan for retirement. We didn’t. Over the last 5 years, retirement came up again. This time, we actually looked at our retirement accounts and contributions. To retire when we wanted, we needed to save more and open up a few additional accounts to accumulate more funds a bit faster.
4. What luxuries do we value?
I realized that the hubs and I also had contradictory ideas about wich little luxuries were a must-have versus what we could live without. For instance, I don’t mind driving a car until it literally rolls off to the side of the road and dies. The hubs likes new cars. I love thick fluffy towels and professional-grade kitchen tools because…daily life. But having the best of everything just isn’t budget friendly. After a lot of negotiating, we compromised and determined that we should drive our car for at least 7-10 years before even considering a new car, and we could save to buy one new kitchen gadget (if needed) once a year.
5. What budgeting process do we want to use?
When the hubs and I got married, we were both working full-time. We didn’t budget. We just did whatever we wanted. There was always enough, and we were having fun. Once I left my job to accompany him abroad with his job, we started trying to budget. We were horrible with budgeting. (We’re better now but nowhere near great.) No matter what we tried, we always failed miserably. Then we had kids. I wasn’t working outside of the home. We still lived as expats and moved every 2-3 years. We needed a budget. We finally chose a cash budget that we managed with debit cards. We opened a new account and added money to it once a month. Those funds were our budget. If we overspent, we waited until we could add more.
After these five questions got asked and answered—it took a few months— we handled our scandal and our financial life is more consistent and our marriage feels less stressed and more focused on what we can create together.
How do you handle your marriage finances? Did we forget anything? Let me know in the comments.