Seven Habits of Financially Healthy Couples
June 12, 2010
This week is our 10 year wedding anniversary and after writing about how to prepare financially to save your marriage from money problems I also wanted to share some habits that have helped us successfully manage our money together over the last ten years.
These are in no specific order and in case you’re wondering I’m not writing this just to earn points with my wife, these habits actually work.
The key here is finding out what the other person’s hopes and dreams are. There are probably one or two things they really want in their life that could drive your financial decisions over the next decade or two. For example, they might want to:
- Start their own business
- Have three kids
- Stay at home with the children
- Move to a different town
- Buy a different house
- Go back to school
- Change careers
- Get a big promotion
Listening to what the other person really wants and making a plan for how to achieve it is HUGE. This sets the expectations of what you both can and can’t afford and how you have to mange your money together in order to achieve your hopes and dreams.
You can think of listening and planning as the high level, strategic habit and communicating as the in-the-trenches, make it happen habit.
This is where you talk regularly about how you’re going to spend your money ahead of time. Life never goes according to plan, so as the need to spend money comes up, we clear any big expenditures with each other before we make them.
Trust makes communicating much easier. If you have a plan for what you want out of life and how you’ll spend your money to get there, being able to trust your spouse to spend accordingly makes life much easier.
Think of it this way, if your spouse had to call you each time they wanted to spend even 50 cents, it would drive you both crazy. If you can trust them to make 80–90% of their spending decisions on their own and only have to discuss the really big decisions then everyone is much happier.
A lack of trust is certainly a HUGE problem. Watching and questioning every penny your husband or wife spends is a recipe for regular and unpleasant fights.
Even if you both have the same end money goals, you’ll occasionally have a difference of opinion on whether a certain purchase is in line with those goals.
If there’s something big I don’t think my wife should spend money on, or something small that she spends on regularly, I’ll let her know. The delivery is important, I bring it up in a way that doesn’t put her on the defensive but lets her know it’s bothering me and I want to talk about it.
Or sometimes it’s something she’s been thinking about spending money on that she brings to my attention and I don’t think it sounds like a good idea.
The important thing here is to be open to discussion, to stay calm, and be aware you’re not always going to get what you want. There’s not enough space here to go over the best practices of negotiating and compromise but you can get a good handle on it with the book “Getting to Yes”.
Each of us specializes in certain aspects of money in our marriage. For example, my wife is awesome at finding great deals on kids clothes and toys at garage sales and places like Children’s Orchard. Since she’s the main spender in the family, she’s good at finding deals and making our money go farther.
Personally, I hate shopping and would rather be doing almost anything other than shopping so it’s a good fit for us that she has a knack for it.
On the other hand, I enjoy messing around with finances and creating systems so I setup our online bill pay picked the best online savings accounts, and found the best rewards credit cards for all the money we spend.
Of course, the way you split up things may be different but the important point is to find the things you and your spouse are good at and enjoy.
6) Hard Work
Both my wife and I work hard to make and mange money for our family. If one person is busting their butt and the other person is relaxing on the couch then I predict a fight. Of course, we all need time to relax and unwind, especially if it’s been a tough day, but if one person is consistently working harder than the other then sooner or later you’ll be fighting over money.
Working hard doesn’t have to mean working to earn money. For a while we both had full time jobs, once we had kids my wife switched to a part time job but she still worked hard even when she wasn’t at work. Even though my wife was laid off recently and won’t be bringing in any money, she’ll still be working hard to raise our two kids.
Hard work can take it’s toll physically and mentally, it’s important to be there to support each other when your spouse is having a rough day or a tough week.
7) Honesty & Forgiveness
Even if you listen, and communicate, and trust there will be times when you or your spouse makes a mistake that makes one of you mad.
The key here is to admit when you make a mistake, nobody is perfect. These habits are best practices; they’re easy to read about but harder to consistently put into action. You’re going to mess up and so will your spouse. If you simply apologize and move on then it’s water under the bridge and you can get on with your life.
If you are stubborn and won’t say sorry, or if you get hung up on your spouse’s mistake and won’t let them live it down, then you’re in for a nasty day or nasty week. It’s much easy in the long run to forgive them for their mistake.
Of course, if it becomes a regular thing you’ll have to go back and work on the listening and communicating but give them the benefit of the doubt at first and don’t turn every mistake into a big money battle.
Happily Ever After
Hopefully you find some or all of these habits useful in your marriage. Money can’t make you happy in your marriage but if you handle it poorly it can certainly make you and your family unhappy. Personally, I would prefer happily ever after : )
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