How To Manage Money in Marriage

March 21, 2013

It’s almost tax day, have you finished yours yet? I don’t like dealing with taxes so I tend to put it off until the last minute. We just submitted ours to the accountant today, narrowly hitting his deadline for getting them done by April 15th.

My wife Crystal and I have long sought after the best way to manage our personal finances together. It wasn’t automatic and is an area that we’re continually striving to do better with. Loaded or broke, money is one of those things that kills marriages. I’ve read some places that money problems are one of the most cited reasons that couples get divorced. Maybe you’re not headed for divorce, but are you stressed out, anxious, and constantly arguing about money in your marriage?

Part of the reason I wrote the book Money: God or Gift was to continually remind myself of how we’re supposed to manage it and what its proper place should be in our lives. You can grab a $2.99 copy of the kindle version on Amazon.

Two (Financial Lives) Become One

Coming into marriage we carry with us a lot of habits and assumptions. I grew up in a family that was very good at spending money…more money than we should have. My wife on the other hand was part of a much more financially conservative home…which seemed so boring to me. A spender had met a saver.

As our two lives became one, we had to figure out how this was going to work. We’ve had ups and downs over the years but have learned a few things that have helped us a ton.

Here are five of those valuable lessons:

1)   Keep it simple. We don’t need Peachtree or QuickBooks. It’s not that complicated. Most programs I’ve seen are more in-depth (and complicated) than 95% of what people need or want. (The best one online might be Mint.com). A simple spreadsheet goes a long way. I use Excel and Crystal uses google docs so she can track things on her phone easily. The technology should not get in the way of keeping things simple, organized and easy for both of us to use.

2)   Be consistent. I don’t want to think about my budget every day. I don’t want to stress about a new bill that comes in the mail. I want to have a routine. For you, this could mean one night of the week you sit down together to map out spending. Maybe even one day every month. For us, it means every payday. Twice a month, we sit down and plan ahead for the coming weeks. Because we’ve looked ahead the last time I paid bills I can put the mail in a slot and save it till the next payday. This saves us a lot of time and stress as things are planned out. Put it as a date on your calendar, pour a glass of wine and have a little fun with it.

3)   Decide who is good at what. There isn’t a black and white formula for who should do what in the marriage. Who’s more organized? Who has the time? Who likes the long-term planning? These types of questions will help dictate who should do what. The important thing though is that both need to be involved. Don’t abdicate your involvement and then when something goes wrong blame your spouse. This is cowardly, especially for you husbands.

4)   Responsibility = Authority. This has been the single most important lesson we’ve learned. Within the marriage, duties are distributed to one another. We each have responsibility. And with that responsibility comes (or should come) the authority to act. What hurt us early on was no clear understanding of who was going to manage which pieces of the budget. We over-spent consistently and ended up frustrated with each other rather than allies. It was a classic case of everyone is responsible which means no one is responsible.

5)  Organize your accounts based on their purpose. We have a few different bank accounts (but not different beds) and distribute our income accordingly:

  • Main Account – Everything gets deposited here, and it is used to pay for major fixed costs and distribute funds to other accounts. We don’t use a debit card for this account so everything is either checks or online payments. I hate receipts so this makes it easy to balance the account without having a George Costanza wallet.
  • Savings Account – Money is transferred to this account to reach our short term saving goals. We have other investment accounts but find it important to be intentional with putting the money into a separate account for savings needs. It helps us to keep from spending it on other things.
  • Crystal’s Account – This is for everything that she takes care of for our family. We agree on the amount based on her budgeted needs. Once it’s in her account, I don’t worry about it and she takes the responsibility of managing the spending. This is super helpful because it prevents a lot of miscommunication because we don’t have two people trying to balance the same checkbook.
  • Discretionary Account – The fun money goes into this account, to be managed like a college kid..not really, but kind of. We can spend it on dates, gifts, family nights or pull out cash to have at our disposal. I use a debit card for this account but again don’t keep the receipts because when its gone, its gone, until next paycheck. This may sound frivolous but we’ve found it super freeing as I know the money in this account isn’t impacting our ability to pay our bills or take care of the family’s needs. 

This is what we’ve found works best for us over the last 13 years. Your money is a gift and the opportunity to manage it well, aligned with your spouse, is a great opportunity. It should be something that builds unity in your marriage and not a place of constant stress and frustration with each other. If you’re not there today, how can you get there? How does your attitude need to change? Where does your system need to be rethought?