Money and marriage: how to peacefully talk to our partner about finances
It doesn’t come as a surprise when an article from Huffington Post cites finances as one of the top 10 reasons why married couples separate. And it’s not about the lack of money that causes the separation but rather the lack of compatibility in this area.
Before I begin, please note that I am not an expert in personal finance. I simply want to share what I learned along the way – how Jon and I discovered strategies to manage our finances and learned to feel comfortable communicating our thoughts about this matter.
I find it timely to write a blog on this topic as many of my friends are settling down and having kids. I also know that this is a subject that many couples worry and feel vulnerable about.
Learning how to peacefully talk to our partner about money is essential because it is very difficult to come up with concrete plans for our family’s future if this is a topic that is considered a taboo in our household.
Think of it this way, if we are running a business or have a corporate job, we start the year by setting goals and coming up with plans to reach these goals. Equally important would be to be able to allocate a budget to enable us to finance the cost of these plans or initiatives.
Now, what would happen if our co-founder or our Finance Department, refuses to discuss anything related to money? Or how can we move forward if we spend the majority of our time arguing with our team about which initiatives are more important and warrant financing?
The principle is similar when we are starting a family, only this time, the topic of money becomes even more sensitive. Why? Because more than budget allocation, the way we talk to our partner about money will expose our deepest values and beliefs. It will expose our priorities, insecurities and desires.
When do you know when money is a problem in your relationship?
You know that money is a problem when you are facing one or more of the following challenges:
- Avoiding the topic of finances
- Irritation over your partner’s spending habits (especially if one is a spender and one is a saver)
- Lying about finances or going on secret shopping sprees
- Secretly borrowing money from friends or relatives to replace spent cash
- Having a “secret” bank account
- Disclosing the state of your finances makes either one of you uncomfortable
Financial principles that have helped us
Before getting married, Jon and I candidly discussed our views on issues that we knew were important if we were to take our relationship to the next level.
It was vital that we saw eye to eye in the things that we value most – topics on faith, family, vision, goals, and finances were laid on the table.
Equally important was to be as authentic about our values as possible. During the many conversations Jon and I had about this, I consistently asked myself if my values were solely mine or were they merely to meet the expectations of others.
So when it came to financial matters, we concluded that it was important for both of us to manage our money together. It worked for us because in this setup, we were equally accountable for our expenses, savings and investments.
In addition, being married meant that we are now ONE. So all our assets and liabilities are now conjugal. Though we have set aside a small budget for discretionary spending (i.e. our own individual allowance that we can spend without consulting the other), all other expenses are discussed and agreed upon.
Jon and I also hold on to the truth that all things come from God and that we are merely stewards of His blessings. So although we have much work to do in this area, we agree on the importance of consulting with Him in all issues, including that of our finances.
Given our context above, here are some of the principles that have helped us have an open communication and work on any differences that we may have about our finances.
Money Principle #1: Agreeing on our values, AND our expectations of how these values will manifest during marriage.
I already explained this first principle in detail above. For those who are not married yet, I would suggest that you have this conversation with your significant other, before you tie the knot. It’s just so much easier to clear the air afterwards since you know exactly what you can expect when you get married.
Have a discussion of what money means to either one of you. What are your priorities when it comes to things that you want to spend on? Is there an expectation for both of you to continuously work? What will happen when you have children? Who will be in charge of budgeting?
These are important questions to ask because I guarantee that sooner or later, you will need to answer them in your marriage.
Money Principle #2: Deciding on our vision as a family.
“Where there is no vision people will perish” – Proverbs 29:18
What is your ultimate vision for your family? What is the purpose of your family? Deciding on your vision will also help you understand how to finance that vision.
Jon and I know that we are called to be entrepreneurs. Since we now have our son Nathan, we also know that we are called to be parents first before we are called to be entrepreneurs.
Being successful parents and venturing into a business will require a great deal of strategic planning and will also require that we may need to take some calculated risks when it comes to our finances.
Now if we didn’t have the same vision – say Jon wants to put up a business and I just wanted us to have a steady, corporate career, then I may not support nor understand Jon’s request to bootstrap by using part of our funds to finance his business.
So I cannot stress enough the importance of praying to God to give you and your partner a unified vision and the discernment to know how to best move towards that vision.
Money Principle #3: Coming up with a setup that both Jon and I are comfortable with.
Before the start of every month, Jon and I sit down with our laptop and we open our excel file that lists the details of the amount of cash coming in, our monthly expenses, and our end-of-month balance (if positive or negative). It also includes a projection of how we will be doing financially month by month for the next year.
We then discuss our priorities for the coming month. We assess our expenses and see if there’s a need to allocate more funds on certain things (i.e. groceries, transportation, etc.) and look at ways to save more as well.
We then evaluate the kind of investments we can make because how many of you agree that merely saving money nowadays is not enough? Inflation will hit us so it’s important to find a vessel that will give us a good return.
If you’d like to read more about investing and financial management, I would highly suggest Tony Robbin’s book, Money: Master the Game. You can get the Kindle version here.
Also, if you’d like to get a template of the excel tool that we use, just leave me a comment down below and I’ll send you a copy for free. 🙂
Anyway, the point is to establish a system that will make both of you feel secure and confident about your family’s future. Some couples prefer to let the one who is better in money management to be the person who will solely be responsible for budgeting. That’s okay too as long as you are both comfortable with this setup. The key is proper communication.
Money Principle #4: Having autonomy as a couple.
This principle comes from the idea of “leaving and cleaving” that the Bible talks about.
“Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” – Genesis 2:24
I know it can be difficult especially for couples who are starting out, but based on observation, couples who are independent financially from their parents, have less conflicts and find it easier to discuss money matters and make plans for their family. While this setup may not be feasible for all couples right now, it is definitely worth praying for.
The other side of the spectrum is when you or your partner is the breadwinner of your extended family. In this case, it maybe wise to sit down, discuss and agree on a budget for them, which you are both comfortable with. Again, the idea behind this is that everything that you own belongs to both you and your spouse. Any debts or liability will also be equally shared, so it’s best to be open about this even before marriage.
Money Principle #5: Practicing the envelope system.
I learned the practicality of this principle from a talk given by wealth and life coach, Chinkee Tan. The idea is to divide your expenses into categories and have a separate “physical” envelope (yes, like the ones that you received in the mail before email took over in the 90s) for each category.
For example, some of our envelopes have the following tags on them:
Entertainment (for our date nights)
Baby Nate fund
Our budget for each category is then placed on the envelopes on a monthly basis. The goal is to not spend more than the budget allocated for each category.
Jon and I find that this method is effective for us, compared to merely monitoring our expenses using a mobile app or using excel. It also saves us from the tedious process of listing down every single expense. If our funds run out in a given category that means we need to either reevaluate our budget or work on ways to save. So if our entertainment fund runs out, that means we may need to just watch a movie at home instead of going out to the movies.
Of course, Jon and I are far from perfect, so in the times when we have opposing views on certain expenses, we just keep in mind that we are a team and we move forward based on what will bring both of us peace.
Anyway, I hope the above principles helped. Jon and I are continuously learning so do share with us some of your tips as well.
Enjoy the rest of your week and I’ll catch you again soon!