Hey friends! Let’s welcome Matt today, from Mom and Dad Money, as our guest author. Thanks for joining us, Matt.
Marriage is something that’s still pretty new for me. My wife and I just celebrated our 2-year anniversary back in September, and while we’ve done a lot of things right and are very happy together, there’s still plenty we’re trying to figure out.
Money is one of the ongoing issues that every couple faces. It’s a big change to go from a life where your money is yours to do with what you please to one where all of a sudden you’re talking about “our money” and “our goals”. It can be a real struggle, but if handled correctly it can also be a source of incredible strength for your family and can bring you even closer to your spouse. So today I’d like to share some of the lessons I’ve learned on how to start your marriage off on the right financial footing.
Focus on joint goals, not small habits
This is my biggest weakness. I have a bunch of money habits that I’ve built through the years and I have a tendency to view them as “right” and other habits as “wrong”. You can guess how fun it is for my wife when I question why she’s doing something “that way” for the 100th time.
The reality is that we’re all individuals and you and your spouse are not going to have all of the same habits. Focusing on the little things and trying to get your spouse to do them the same way that you do them is not only going to be unproductive, but it’s likely to be harmful. Your spouse will feel judged and that can turn into insecurity and resentment, which can put a real strain on your relationship.
Instead, talk with your spouse regularly about the big goals you want to accomplish together. Maybe you have a date on which you’d like to retire. Maybe you’re trying to work your way out of debt. Maybe you want to buy a house, or save for your children’s education. Or maybe you just want a really cool family vacation. Whatever it is, prioritize those big goals and create a joint plan to achieve them. Focus on the big actions that get you there, such as setting up automatic monthly contribution to a savings account. Working towards these big positive goals will do much more for both your financial and emotional health than trying to micromanage each other’s daily behavior.
Along those lines, give each other “free spend” money
Joint goals are great. Those are the goals that will truly put your family in a place of financial strength and bring you closer to the day when you have full financial freedom. But again, you and your spouse are still individuals and it can sometimes feel a little claustrophobic inside the walls of a marriage. No matter how much you love your spouse, it’s still nice to be able to flex those “me” muscles every now and again and just do your thing.
With that in mind, I think it’s a great idea for each spouse to have some “free spend” money as part of the family budget. This is a set amount of money each spouse gets every single month with no strings attached. The joint goals are already handled, the groceries have been bought, bills have been paid, and now you each get a little extra to spend how you please. This lets you retain some of your individual freedom without sacrificing the things you’re working towards together. And it also gives you some space to make decisions without the other spouse’s approval, which can be nice from time to time. (Please note, I’m talking about harmless things like indulging a love of shoes, not, well, you can take it from there however you want).
Create a system that plays to your strengths and weaknesses
In the end, there’s no one right way to manage your money as a couple. I can’t tell you whether joint or separate accounts are better. You might be better off with one person handling most of the day-to-day financial decisions, or maybe having both involved will be best. There’s no definitive answer to these kinds of questions, and the truth is that you won’t get it all right the first time.
The best thing you can do is focus on the joint goals you made above and talk about your progress regularly. Talk without judgment about the things you’ve been successful with and the things that have been difficult. If you can stay supportive of each other, you will find through experience what each of you is good at and what you need some help with. The goal should then be to create a system where each person can focus on what they do well and have that be enough to keep your family on track towards its goals. That system will be different for every couple, so you have to be willing to find your own way together.
Expect the ups and downs
Getting the financial side of marriage right will be a journey. You will have plenty of disagreements, plenty of successes and plenty of failures. A key part of marriage is being able to navigate these ups and downs while always making sure that love and respect for your spouse is put above all else. If you can remember that, and if you can keep your sights set on your big goals, the rest will take care of itself.
About the author: Matt Becker is a proud father and husband and his site Mom and Dad Money is dedicated to helping new parents build financial security for their family. You can also find him on Facebook and Twitter.