6 guidelines for maintaining financial harmony

It’s true: financial problems are one of the LEADING reasons behind divorce.

Often the shared management of money is a practical issue that isn’t really discussed or fully considered by a couple before they get married.

But soon enough, it can become a major issue in the marriage, which can put strain on the relationship.

Why is money such a big deal in a marriage? Because with money, there comes power. Power to spend, power to save, and power to achieve success.

When couples aren’t in sync with their financial values, this can lead to a power struggle – a great big build-up of tension, conflict and resentment.

For instance, when one spouse earns more than the other, when one spouse wants to control the family’s finances, or when one spouse spends a lot more than the other.

Resentment poisons the marriage, and eats away at the love spouses once shared.

But don’t let money come between YOU and YOUR spouse.

Today I’m going to be giving you some real-world, practical advice that will give you strategies to deal with having shared finances - in a way that will HELP rather than hurt your marriage.

Guidelines for maintaining financial harmony in your marriage:

1. Communicate about your finances and budget as a team.
Whether you like it or not, your finances are an integral part of your life. Therefore, you and your spouse are going to need to have regular financial discussions throughout your married life.

The best way to stop resentment build-up is to communicate openly and respectfully with your spouse and come up with a financial plan which accommodates both of your needs.

Agree to have a weekly, fortnightly or monthly discussion about your finances. In these initial discussions, communicate about your ideas around spending and saving. Work out if you have any financial goals as a couple, such as something big you want to save for.

Once you have identified each person’s needs, come up with a realistic budget together that satisfies each of your needs and puts you on track towards your long-term goals.

In each discussion with your spouse, check to see if you are meeting your saving and spending targets and negotiate these when needed.

2. Show respect for one other at all times.
Often our beliefs about money and how it should be handled are programmed into us through the culture or family we grow up in.

When these deep-set belief conflict with our spouse’s, it can be easy to see theirs as being ‘wrong’ and ours as being ‘right’.

Instead, try to understand that you and your spouse have come from different financial backgrounds and there will be individual differences in your inclinations towards spending or saving. And neither of these is the ‘right’ way of doing things.

It’s also important to maintain respect for each person’s job, income, and unique contributions to the marriage.
Often tension arises in a marriage when there is an inequality in spouses’ income or working hours.

The spouse who is earning more and working longer hours can sometimes feel taken advantage of, or feel that they should have more control over how the money is spent.

However, what spouses need to remember is that they are not competing AGAINST each other, they are sharing their lives and working for the benefit of the team. Anything that each person brings to the marriage is valuable and should be appreciated.

A higher income or coming into the marriage with greater financial assets should NOT equate to having power over the other spouse. Neither should it mean that the higher earner should have the ‘final say’ in decision making (financial or otherwise).

As long as one spouse is not taking advantage of the other (such as spending too much money or deliberately choosing to work less than they could be), then each spouse should feel valued by the other for what they bring to the table.

In the case of one spouse working more than the other and feeling put-out by it, it is possible that the couple could come up with a plan where the spouse who works less contributes more to the family in other ways.

For instance, they could spend more time doing housework, childcare, or week-day errands. This way, each person’s contribution to the marriage can still be seen as ‘fair’.

However, it’s important to raise any topics such as this with your spouse in a gentle, loving way. When you come into it with a loving approach, they are much less likely to take offence and will be more willing to take your suggestions on board.

And always keep in mind that there is a lot MORE to marriage than just financial support.

3. Come up with the best money management strategy for you as a couple.
When considering how to manage your financial accounts as a couple, it’s important to acknowledge that each person deserves to have some financial freedom – that is, the ability to each have a certain amount of personal money to spend, guilt-free.

In terms of having joint versus separate accounts, there are a lot of benefits to pooling your income and assets.
With a joint account, you have an increased sense of ‘togetherness’, lower account fees, greater saving power and it is easier to pay for joint expenses.

But with separate accounts, you have more financial freedom and can spend without feeling that you need to ‘run it past’ your spouse.

To reduce any tension around spending, what I recommend is having the best of both worlds.

Open one main joint account (to pay expenses, save for big financial goals), then two separate accounts in which you each transfer the same (realistic) amount to spend each week.

This way, you both get a bit of financial freedom, but are also able to save together and pay all of your expenses from one account.

If you need to, you can also see a bank advisor to get educated about money management (i.e. find out about interest rates and account options).

4. Be completely honest with each other - do not hide any spending or debts.
Be honest with one another about your spending habits, goals and financial expectations. Live within the limits you have set in your budget and consult each other before making any expensive purchases.

No debts (apart from investments like mortgages or student loans) should be accumulated during your marriage if possible. To make sure this happens, only spend what you have and avoid using credit cards if you don’t have the financial resources to pay them off.

Remember, each spouse is responsible for sticking to your agreed-upon budget. If one of you goes against the budget, you are letting the team down.

5. Support each other and work through financial hardship as a team.
At some points in your marriage, you may have financial troubles arising from situations such as job losses, business declines, or unexpected expenses.

You and your spouse need to be there for one another when this happens and be able to be flexible about your situation. For instance, to pick up more hours while your spouse looks for another job.

Another important point is that when you are married, individual debts become shared debts, so you need to treat them as such. Paying off debts is the first step towards achieving financial stability and security.

Therefore, it is in your best interests to work together to clear any of each other’s debts as a team before you start saving as a team (especially those debts which are being charged interest).

6. Make each of your needs a priority and reward yourselves for sticking to your budget.
If you and your spouse have agreed that saving is important to both of you and you are working hard towards your goals, this is great.

However, it’s important to still be realistic when you are budgeting.

Because if you and your spouse start to deny your own needs in order to save a little extra money every week, this can do more harm than good.

For instance, denying yourselves things such as clothing (when needed), grooming essentials, or the occasional night out or social event. Or at a more extreme level, denying yourselves health needs such as doctor visits or medications.

It’s important to make sure that even when you are saving, you are still meeting your own needs.
For your own life satisfaction, you and your spouse also need to be able to treat yourselves every once and awhile.

For instance, if you save more than your monthly target, why not treat each other to a night out or to a new purchase to celebrate?

If you never get to have any fun because your spending is so limited, you may eventually become burnt out and resentful.

And remember, sometimes unexpected expenses come up and you won’t meet your savings target for that week or month – this is okay too. It happens to the best of us!

Lastly, break financial tension by finding ways to enjoy each other’s company.

Spend time together doing the types of things you enjoy doing as a couple. Have a night out, go on vacation, visit friends or family, or just relax together at home. The best things in life don’t often cost a lot of money.

Brooke Ryan

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