How To Handle Financial Problems In Marriage
I may not be able to quote exact research, but I know in my bones that financial problems in marriage are among the top reasons for arguments and maybe even for divorce. Lack of money, different sets of spending priorities and opposite views on managing your income are tough challenges to beat, even if you are crazy in love.
You can’t have a great relationship until you can communicate and agree about money. ~ Larry Burkett (Tweet this)
Handling money can be difficult even when you are single. Still, you would have that same freedom of making your own decisions that only single people have. When you are married though, and especially when kids are involved, you just don’t get that. When talking about achieving success in anything in life, there are two areas we want to be looking at:
- The psychology needed for success, and
- The strategy needed for success.
So if you and your spouse are striving to achieve financial freedom—which would positively affect your marriage and life as a whole—then adjusting both your psychology and strategy as a couple is imperative. Let’s take a look.
Financial problems in marriage: The psychology
In his book “The Secrets of the Millionaire Mind”, T. Harv Eker, shares the ways rich people think and how it differs from the way poor and middle class people think. In my experiences as a coach and a married woman I notice there are specific thoughts about money that cause couples to fight and lose their financial way.
1. What if you play to win and your spouse plays not to lose?
Handling money is a Monopoly game. You get it, you spend it, you invest it and at the end you either have a lot more than what you started with or a lot less. If you don’t play to win, you usually lose. Yes, luck can help for a while, but on its own, it can only keep you in the game for a bit longer. So do you play to win?
Eker says that being “comfortable” with money means choosing what you order in a restaurant by looking at the prices in the menu. Sounds about right, doesn’t it?
The way to financial success can be especially rocky if you play to win and your spouse doesn’t appreciate that. For example, you might be open to opportunities, but they just don’t understand that and any slight risk for you might look extremely risky for them.
What to do about it: Educate your spouse. They may not know about investing or about whatever it is that you are trying to do. The unknown is scary. Share your plans and your visions. Share your “Plan B” options, so that your partner knows your family won’t live on the street because of a bad investment.
2. What if you think big and he/she thinks small?
I wrote a novel that I am hoping will someday be made into a movie and win Oscars. My husband, while successful in his career, feels good where he is. It can sometimes be annoying for the person who thinks big that the other one just doesn’t and conversely it may be scary for the person who is happy where they are now that their spouse wants “too much” of life.
I recently attended a talk by Asel Sydykova—a successful coach and public speaker—and she asked us a great question.
- What would happen if your worst enemy dropped a sugar cube in your tea by mistake? Nothing. Nothing will happen, it’s just sugar.
- But what would happen if your closest person ever dropped some poison in your tea by mistake? Very often our closest people don’t realize they are stopping us from being great and through that, they are hurting us. They think they protect us, but it’s still poison.
What to do about it: Maybe it would be great if we could magically change people into what we want them to be, but we can’t. In this case, the best you can do is lead by example. Just do what you must in a way that is not hurting your marriage and appreciate your spouse for who they are too, as long as you don’t let it stop you.
3. What if you admire rich people and he/she thinks rich people are evil?
Sometimes a little balance is a good thing. Your feelings towards money and the ones who have it are an intricate part of your financial success… or your financial failure. If you think you will be evil if you have money, then you will never have money. After all, who wants to hate themselves?
It’s the same with your spouse. If they think rich people are evil, they don’t want you to be rich, even if they say they do. Psychology is funny like that.
What to do about it: Try to understand your partner’s reasoning. Maybe if they talk it out, it will be enough for them to see their feelings are not justified. Try to give positive examples of rich people who give a lot back to society. Maybe if your family sponsors a cause he or she cares about, it will inspire them to also become financially free if only to help more. If nothing you do seems to work, though, I’d recommend using a professional coach to help change that limiting mindset.
4. What if you promote yourself and your spouse is too shy?
There are confident people in the world, who don’t mind talking about their skills. Usually, these are the ones who get all the business or all the raises in the company. Then there are the shy ones, who see talking about themselves as useless and embarrassing. Sometimes those two types get married. What can I say? Opposites attract and this creates the balance in the universe.
While it may seem okay for you to sell yourself while your partner is quietly standing there, your partner may feel like this is too much. I have seen couples fight over someone “pretending to be a big shot.” I have seen wives cutting their husbands off, mid-sentence, because they were tired of listening to their self-promotion. It’s not pleasant.
What to do about it: The shy one among you needs to be explained the financial benefits of self-promotion. It’s not just empty talking. Often it’s people who believe in their abilities and in their services/products that promote themselves. The way they see it is “I know I can help, so I should help the most people possible.” Because of this devotion, they are also the successful ones. So if your shy spouse still doesn’t want to talk about themselves, maybe at least they won’t mind if you do.
5. What if you want to get paid for results and your spouse wants to get paid for time?
There are those crazy few people out there who work on commission or have their own practices and businesses. They don’t know how much money they will make this month or sometimes, if they will make any at all. Still, they are happy doing exactly what they are doing. The nerve!
I am like that. You see, I have a limited amount of time and I choose to invest it in what’s really worth it. And for me, the security of a paycheck is not worth it. However, my husband likes security. In fact, I would go as far as to say he needs security to be happy. That’s good. It’s a good combination, because his secure paycheck has saved us (more times than I’d like to admit) when my business endeavors didn’t go as planned. However, he and I both know that I am the one investing my time in our future peace and financial freedom.
What to do about it: The only thing to do here is be supportive of each other’s lifestyle choices. As long as you respect your spouse for what they want to do and they respect you back, this difference is actually a good one.
Financial problems in marriage: The strategy
Now that you have managed to change or accept your different views on money, you are ready to take action towards your financial well-being. So what would those actions be? Here are some great first steps.
1. Save up some cash
I can’t even begin to explain how important savings are. If you are old enough to get married, you should be old enough to manage your money well and save some of it. If your spouse tends to spend everything they have, then agree that you should be the one to do all the saving, while you live off the rest of both of your incomes.
In fact, many experts out there suggest its best you have different “buckets” of savings with different purposes. I agree. You can have a “play” account, an “investment” account and whatever else you like. There is one account that is extremely important though and it’s the “emergency account.”
There is always a certain minimum of money you should have easily accessible, available for real emergencies and nothing else. So if you can’t save anything else, at least save for emergencies.
2. Pay off your debt
I am from a small Eastern European country. People there are not rich, but very few of them have any debt other than the small debt on their home. Some don’t even have that and own their homes outright. It’s not that we are smarter than the average American. It’s just that we were always raised with the idea of “never, ever go in debt. It’s silly.”
While living in San Diego, I was extremely surprised to see that everyone has credit cards. I knew how much money I made as a ….drum roll… pool attendant and I knew I could save up and buy a Mac in just a few months. So how come all those people I met (who had way better jobs than I did) had theirs on a lease?
Talking to different people, I found out the reason is in the culture of “I want to have it and enjoy it now, why wait?” It all makes perfect sense, until you wake up in debt up to your ears. Then suddenly a stress-free life is worth much more than anything you can buy. If you want to ever be financially free, sit down with your spouse and agree to pay off all your debt and cut up (the majority of) your credit cards.
In his book “The Total Money Makeover,” Dave Ramsey advises that you list all your debts starting with the smallest one and focus on them one by one (in that order). Direct a part of your finances—as much as you can—in paying off the smallest debt, then proceed to the next, then the next. What he calls the “snowball effect” will soon catch up and in a couple of years you may even find yourself debt free (except for your home). Wouldn’t it be nice to manage to send your kids to good college with minimum-to-no student loans?
3. Make budgets together
When I first got into a serious relationship, I knew I had to keep a budget. Expenses grew and somehow changed. I had no idea what we were spending and on what we were spending it. This is a good way to confirm you need a budget. If you don’t know where your money go, things won’t get better all by themselves. In this day and age there is an app for everything, so I downloaded GoodBudget. It works like this:
- You enter your income
- Create a few envelopes for the main groups of expenses you have, and
- Start entering anything you spend in the appropriate envelope.
It’s pretty easy and by the end of the month you see exactly what you do, how much it costs and where you can cut back a bit without feeling too broke to have fun. We started eating out less, and as a result cooking at home more and spending more quality-time together.
I don’t do this every month, but it always helps as our marriage evolves and our expenses change. I did it again when we moved, then when I quit to start my own coaching practice and surely will continue doing it when something big changes. Just a little hint: don’t forget to factor in an “extras” envelope, because there is always something and you won’t know where else to put it.
4. Invest together
I am probably not the first person to tell you this and I doubt I will be the last. If you want to be financially free, you have to put your income to work. The reason most people don’t do that is lack of information. They don’t know what to invest in and when and they are worried they will lose money, instead of making money.
This is one of the greatest advantages of being married—you are partners. Talk out some potential investments. Choose two and each of you can start learning more. There is so much information out there and if you are committed, you will find a way to understand it. Gaining knowledge is the first step towards smart investing. After you learn more, have a chat again and decide what’s next. Don’t just read. Act!
Final Thoughts For A Happily Ever After…
Finally, I’d say don’t let money affect your intimacy and love for each other, and you can never let financial problems in marriage be the end of the road. If you follow these simple steps side-by-side, you will be able to live a calm, comfortable and maybe even, a truly rich life.
Have you and your spouse ever fought about money? Or do you always deal with financial matters calmly? We’d be happy to hear how you prevent money arguments in the comments below.
If you know of a person around you struggling with money, or worse, a couple in jeopardy because of financial problems in marriage, you can offer to help them by sharing this article. We’d be super grateful! For more advice on how to build and sustain a happy marriage, check out our Happy Marriage Series below.