Money problems are the #1 reason for a majority of divorces today. Find out how you can improve your marriage’s chances of success.
When young couples fall in love, they look for stars in each other’s eyes, not dollar signs. Consequently, many newlyweds or even long-time-weds have confused ideas about how to manage money, and even more importantly, the role of money in marriage.
All too often money management, or the family budget, becomes the source of major conflict for a married couple. Sometimes it happens when there are too many bills and not enough income. More often the couple has very different ideas of how to earn, save, and spend money. With a few focused steps, many couples can avoid conflict and build a stronger relationship.
1. Discuss money thoroughly before marriage: both partners’ experience, views, philosophies, and goals. Even new businesses write out a business plan to carefully guide the development of an enterprise, foresee and head off problems, and maintain financial integrity. Wise couples do the same. But romance and wisdom do not always keep company, especially before marriage! A professional family counselor can arrange for premarital sessions to address core issues like intimacy, budget, child rearing, in-laws, and others that frequently cause conflict in marriage. The couple may want to plot their income for five-, ten-, and even twenty-year intervals, along with financial goals, to see how closely their views agree. Putting ideas to paper can provide a clear illustration of similar and differing outlooks, allowing the couple to address potential conflicts before the big day. If differences prove too vast, they may even decide to postpone or cancel the wedding.
2. After marriage the couple should try to follow the budget that was arranged beforehand. Obviously surprises and changes can offset the best-laid plans, but contingency planning is a key part of the budget process too. Before making a major change, the couple should discuss the pros and cons attempt to reach agreement. If they cannot agree, it may be better to postpone major changes until such a time as consensus can be reached.
3. A healthy budget should include categories for monthly living expenses (house payment or rent, utilities, food, car payments and fuel as well as maintenance and repairs, clothing, entertainment, and medical costs. Additional expenses like pet care or hobbies must be factored in. Short-term savings should be set aside for household emergencies or special needs, while long-term savings can lay a foundation for buying a house, starting a family, planning education, or even preparing for retirement. Individual hobbies need to be discussed before marriage. Implement a “no surprises” policy so that both spouses consult each other before spending more than a set amount, say $50.
4. Unexpected adjustments may have long-term effects. For example, buying that cute puppy in the pet shop window for $200 is not a one-time expense. Rather, the ongoing budget should be adjusted for grooming and boarding fees, veterinarian bills, shots, food, and supplies. Some spouses get angry when the other brings home a spontaneous purchase. Know in advance what your spouse will or will not tolerate.
5. Discuss credit card use frankly and come to some agreement. One spouse who charges when the other does not can stir tensions when monthly bills come in, especially when accompanied by high interest rates.
6. If problems do arise, such as the loss of one partner’s job, diminished income, or unexpected expenditures, and the two of you are unable to come to terms, find a competent financial counselor who will work with both of you to address current concerns and plan for the future.
7. Don’t neglect to plan for the long haul. Women often outlive men, but not always. Leaving a spouse ill-prepared financially to raise underage children or manage a household on a reduced income without adequate life insurance or pension can be emotionally and financially draining. Prepare for the inevitable by making wills early in your marriage. Find out about job pensions and retirement accounts as well as investment options. Too many widows and widowers find out after the funeral that they will struggle for the rest of their lives.
In each of these suggestions runs the thread of needful communication. Discuss finances, along with any proposed or actual changes. Get professional assistance if needed. But don’t let a few greenbacks come between you and your mate.