Some of the most common questions I get from readers are about marriage and money. The questions range from low-stakes ones about getting a joint checking account to far more serious issues, like hidden credit card accounts and financial infidelity. And I’ve had readers go as far as to tell me that their finances were causing their marriages to fall apart.
I’m not a marriage counselor by any stretch of the imagination, but I’ve been married for seven years, and my wife and I have been broke before. We’re not anymore, and building our relationship on open communication and transparency around money helped us during those financially stressful times.
For most marriages, things are obviously easier when you’re making better money, able to pay the bills, and set some aside — it gives you some peace of mind. Being able to cover your basic needs and plan for the future often eliminates a source of stress and tension, but the reality is that if you and your partner don’t have a healthy relationship with money, no amount of money will ease that strain.
Every relationship takes work, no matter where you are financially, and here are the things that have helped my wife work as a team as we’ve progressed on our financial journey.
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To have a successful marriage, you need to have good communication — that’s a no-brainer, but it’s still harder than it sounds. If one person in the relationship is worried about money and the other isn’t, it’s pretty easy for things to fall off the rails, especially if no one is willing to admit that they have concerns.
I’ll give a personal example: After I quit my steady teaching job to run my website full-time, money was really tight. There were many months when I worried the business wouldn’t make it and that I wouldn’t be able to give my family that life I wanted to build for them. It was a terrifying time, honestly.
For too long, I refused to say anything to my wife about my fears because I didn’t want her to worry. Eventually, I’d get really stressed out, which would lead to an argument over something silly that had nothing to do with money, even though money was the root of the problem.
My wife was smart enough to realize that I was holding something in, and we decided to start checking in more often to talk about how everything was going. The first couple of check-ins were honestly terrifying, but the relief that followed made them worth it. These conversations prevented either one of us from going too long with unspoken fears or concerns about our finances and letting that stress affect the rest of our marriage.
Having regular, and sometimes uncomfortable, conversations about money is much better than holding it in and making it worse. As I’ve made more money, communicating has still been important and always keeps us on the same page. You and your spouse will both feel vulnerable during those conversations, but marriage is about being there for one another during those moments, and that’s how you build a life together.
If you’ve never held money meetings with your spouse before, it takes a little time to get into a cadence with them. You can start on a weekly basis by talking about what bills are coming up, if there are any changes to overall spending, and even plans for the weekend and how those fit in with the rest of your finances. You’ll find a routine that works for your partner once you get started.
Tracking your finances isn’t something that everyone is good at, but it’s an important step to building a financially healthy relationship with your spouse. Fortunately, it’s really easy if you know what to do!
My first piece of advice is to find and immediately start using some type of budgeting software. Mint is an easy-to-use free option, and it tracks bank accounts, credit card balances, loans, investments, and more. If you’re a little more old school, that’s okay. I know plenty of couples who really like to get hands-on and manually enter their information into spreadsheets.
Either way, it’s important to know what’s coming in and going out every month. Once you know, you can do something about it rather than wondering why your money never seems to quite make it to the end of the month.
Tracking your spending helps you and your partner make a plan to pay off debt, save for vacations, build up your savings, buy a new house, or whatever your goals are.
Once you’re a little further along financially, then you’ll also need to start tracking your investments in one place. This helps you and your partner get on the same page for retirement and long-term wealth planning.
You can use your regular money meetings as a time to look over your accounts and see where things are at, and honestly, the more often you look at what’s happening with your money, the easier it is to make a plan to rectify issues and work towards goals together. You’ll look at your balances and realize they are just numbers, and together you can change those numbers and your overall financial situation.
Speaking of plans! After you know where your money is going every month, it’s time to create a plan to move forward. For example, my wife and I have noticed that our spending has been increasing lately. We’ve both been busy with work, and we also have a two-year-old. It’s not uncommon for spending to increase as your life gets more chaotic.
Lifestyle creep is incredibly common as your income increases. I don’t mind those increases, and honestly, treating ourselves to the occasional luxury reminds me why I’m working so hard. But we also want to make sure that we’re prepared for any setbacks that might come along the way.
Because we track our spending, we were quickly able to notice that food is the main area our spending has increased. Seeing those numbers showed us exactly where to make improvements, so we created a meal plan, got back into the habit of grocery shopping, and started to buy in bulk.
If we weren’t tracking our spending, we’d have no way to create a plan. And this concept extends far beyond your food budget. If you realize that your credit card balances have gone up (not uncommon after this past year), you can start checking out side hustles that make it possible for you to quickly destroy your debt.
You’ll see how making an extra $500 to $1,000 more each month will have a positive impact on overall financial health, and once you’ve taken care of your credit card debt, you can funnel that money into an emergency fund to prevent future debt.
It’s more than okay for you and your spouse to have your own life goals, but my wife and I have found that, ideally, you are on the same page with bigger money decisions. For us, this has been prioritizing travel, and we’ve both started talking about a new house in the near future.
Compromise is an incredibly important part of goal setting. You and your partner won’t agree 100% of the time, and sometimes their goals will hinder yours, which is why you have to create an open line of communication. And sometimes, you need to offer full-out support for your spouse’s life goals.
Being open about what you both want out of life and how you want to spend your money is the key to making your marriage work. Talk about things like travel, kids, retirement, where you’ll live, college planning, new cars, job opportunities, and more.
Be willing not to agree on everything right away, and someone’s individual goal may have to take a backseat while the two of you work on something else. But again, supporting one another through healthy conversations is how you build a life that reflects what you both want.
Historically, my wife and I have been pretty terrible about celebrating financial wins. We spent the majority of our 20s living far below our means and were almost afraid to spend money sometimes.
Now that my business has taken off and hers is growing, we’ve learned that it’s really cool to celebrate successes. It doesn’t have to be an extravagant vacation or brand new car — I’m talking about smaller things like a nice bottle of wine or going out to dinner.
If you hit your budgeting goals or a certain debt-payoff milestone, go celebrate! Do something special; you earned it. Celebrating your wins brings you together, helps you stay on track, and reminds you that the struggle is worth it.
Wrapping it up: It can be easy to forget sometimes, but marriage is a partnership. Not to diminish it, but in some ways, it’s like going into a lifelong business partnership with your best friend, and this means all money decisions affect both of you.
As with any partnership, good communication is really the biggest asset you and your spouse have when ensuring that money doesn’t wreck your marriage, and it’s the basis for all of my advice. Money will always play a huge factor in your relationship. It can add stability, cause stress, and even cause for celebration, and that’s why money can be incredibly hard to discuss.
Money talks shouldn’t be interrogations (you’re on the same team, right?), but if you are feeling that way, you need to address the negative role money might be playing in your marriage before it’s destroyed. All it takes is one good conversation to get started, and there’s a good chance your spouse is just as nervous as you are. The payoff is creating plans and goals that work for both of you while making it easier to manage your money.
The extra bonus of this is that when it’s done well, you and your best friend get to reap the rewards.
Whether you’re planning for your retirement or your family’s future, Byline Bank’s Wealth Management team is ready to provide customized solutions for your financial needs. Get in touch.