Recent statistics show (and we all know anecdotally) that the more a couple fights about money, the more likely they are to head toward divorce. Money may not bring happiness, but mismanagement of money can bring a lot of unhappiness, especially when another person comes into the picture.
My husband and I were far from meant-to-be when it came to money. He’s a spender; I’m a saver. Needless to say, our different money philosophies brought us crashing down quickly from our post-honeymoon bliss.
But I have good news: We faced the challenges, fought them, and now, just a year later, money is an easy and sometimes even exciting point of discussion for us. We now see our different viewpoints on finances as a plus because we each benefit from the opposite perspective.
Maybe you and your husband are money wizards, have the next five years planned financially, and live in heavenly financial bliss. If so, congratulations, and read no further! For the rest of you mere mortals, here are the five steps my husband and I took to go from money misery to happily ever after as a finances team.
01. We combined everything.
In my experience, combining everything—debt, ownership of property/vehicles, savings accounts . . . everything—has been, by far, the most important step in getting over the finance hurdle. In fact, research shows that the more you pool your money, the happier you are in your marriage.
Sure, there are plenty of happily married couples with separate bank accounts. For my husband and me, though, combining everything has been an essential foundation of trust that has defined the character of our marriage.
In our first year after tying the knot, my husband and I delayed combining our assets because we didn’t feel the urgency to go through all the paperwork. But those months of maintaining separate accounts were the most difficult for our relationship. There was no getting past the “my money versus your money” feeling. It was driving a wedge between us; there was no “we” or “our” in the process. When we finally finished combining everything about seven months into our marriage, we felt that we had crossed a huge hurdle of trust. We still had very different ideas about how money should be spent, but at least it was “our” money, and we had started the process of learning how to compromise and accommodate each other. These skills have been invaluable in helping us deepen our relationship and really learn to love each other unconditionally.
02. We figured out where our money was going.
Everyone knows the most basic aspect of a good budget is to have more money coming in than going out. In my first year of marriage, I noticed that our stress would increase the closer we teetered on the edge of spending surpassing income. We knew we were spending too much, but we had no idea where the money was going, so we each blamed the other for the overspending.
Delving into our finances and finding what was what helped us to identify troublesome categories of spending instead of pointing fingers at each other. For example, before we really looked at the numbers, we each assumed that the extra spending was coming from each other’s “fun” spending (i.e., him going out with the guys after work or me catching up with friends over brunch). But when we finally did the math, it was actually our grocery budget that was out of control.
Doing the work to categorize all of our spending each month helped us find out ways to get our money under control together, to check in often, and to know exactly where our money was going every day, every week, and every month.
I use a budget worksheet I built in Google Sheets, which I share with my husband, to check in on our finances. Many of my friends use online platforms—such as Mint—that link to your bank accounts and track how much of your paychecks go toward coffee or dining out. Today, we rarely worry about money because in knowing where our money goes, we can predict rising problems long before they occur.
03. We established boundaries.
Dropping $100 at the mall without a heads-up might be no big deal for one person, but the other might see it as a huge breach of trust. It’s crucial to figure out basic ground rules ahead of time. Here are three important questions that helped us out:
1. What is the amount of money you can feel comfortable spending without asking your spouse first?
2. Are there particular types of expenses that really aggravate one of you (i.e., if someone hates seeing money spent on eating lunch out rather than bringing a bag lunch to work)?
3. What are your expectations of each other in terms of monitoring the budget? Does one person like to check your bank account or Mint account weekly whereas the other person checks in monthly?
04. We designated jobs.
Unless you married your identical twin, you probably have different strengths and weaknesses when it comes to numbers, money, and planning. My husband and I have fortified our financial planning by identifying those strengths and weaknesses and using them in our favor.
For instance, we figured that the person who is better at numbers should likely be managing the budget, and the person who is better at strategic thinking should be analyzing those numbers and finding out ways to improve them. In our family, I form the budgets and compute the numbers, my husband looks at the results, and together we come up with new strategies for the future month. This is what works with us, and I’m sure something completely different may work for you.
05. We overcommunicate.
I’ll never forget the time my husband, while discussing traveling and making the best use of space in our small car, offhandedly mentioned his plans to trade our car in for something bigger in the next few months. My jaw dropped, and alarm bells went off in my mind as I realized he had been planning to trade in our car without even discussing it with me. He was as shocked as I was that I wasn’t operating on the same philosophy that cars need to be traded in after a certain amount of time.
This may sound cliché, but we found out that we really can’t communicate too much with each other when it comes to money. We do everything in our power to make sure we are always on the same page.