When you’re married, you may feel that avoiding the topic of your finances seems easier at times – especially if it leads to arguments. Most couples genuinely want to be on the same page when it comes to money. But the challenge is that when it doesn’t happen naturally, it can be difficult to know how to proceed. First and foremost, you’ll need to be willing to get involved with your finances and talk about money with each other. With that in mind, here are six different ways that may help you and your spouse to get on the same financial page.
Split Financial Responsibilities
Oftentimes, there is one spouse who manages the cash flow and bills for the household. This is perfectly normal and it doesn’t need to change for every couple! However, when one spouse is in the weeds every month and the other spouse isn’t, there’s a possibility for division. It may feel like the spouse who isn’t as involved is more out of touch with the money patterns and habits that are occurring in the household.
If this feels like something you’ve experienced, then consider splitting the responsibilities. For example, one spouse could manage the spending plan and keep track of the big picture money patterns while the other spouse could pay bills each month. There are many ways to split responsibilities. The point is to keep both spouses involved if you feel that you aren’t on the same page with the status quo.
Schedule Monthly Check-Ins
Plan ahead and schedule monthly check-ins to discuss and review your finances. Scheduling monthly check-ins is another way to ensure involvement. It also creates a space for money conversations. Some couples approach this by having a date night dedicated to talking about money. This may help your monthly check-in to be something you look forward to. The goal is to have uninterrupted time devoted to your joint financial picture so you can stay on the same page over the long-term.
On your money date, assess your expenses together. Are they what you expected to see? If you’re unhappy with what you see, remember that this is a time for problem solving rather than blaming. What changes may help you to be more successful for next month’s check-in? How will you evaluate if the changes are successful? You can also utilize this time to talk about goals and big picture topics. Do you feel like you’re making progress toward your goals?
Prioritize Goals Together and Work Toward the Same Ones
It’s very common for couples to initially have a difference of opinion about which financial goals are most important. It takes discussion and sometimes compromise to solve this. If this step is ignored, you may find that you’re both working toward different goals without realizing it.
One exercise for this is to write down your top four or five financial goals separately. Before discussing, prioritize your goals in order of importance (write 1 next to the most important goal, 2 next to the second most important goal, etc.). After the goals are prioritized separately, compare with your spouse and discuss. The outcome of this exercise is to jointly prioritize your top three goals as a couple. This is instrumental so that both spouses are rowing in the same direction toward agreed upon financial goals.
Where there are differences, discuss your thought process and why you prioritized the goals a certain way. Perhaps, your spouse thought of something you hadn’t considered. Compromise may be necessary if you don’t agree after discussing each other’s perspectives. For some couples, it may be helpful to work with a financial planner if you can’t agree. A financial planner can illustrate different goals and scenarios with you and they may be able to add another perspective (but they should never decide for you or take sides!).
Set a Threshold for Maximum Spending Without Discussion
Another way to stay on the same page is to determine a spending threshold where you need to discuss and agree on a purchase before moving forward with it. For example, if a purchase is over x dollars, you agree that both spouses need to be ok with the purchase before the money is spent. The amount you choose is totally up to you and your spouse! This is a way to respect your spouse’s involvement in money decisions.
Some couples start with a lower amount and then as they learn each other’s comfort levels and blend their financial habits, they build trust and increase the amount. Other couples are comfortable with a lower amount long-term because they enjoy being more involved in managing cash flow. Just remember that this is meant to involve each other and respect each other’s thoughts – but not to take away from building trust.
Talk About Your Money Backgrounds and Beliefs
Having different perspectives about money based on your background is one of the most common reasons for money disagreements. It’s critical to recognize that your background can influence your money decisions. Additionally, your experiences with money and the lessons you learned from family (good or bad) are different than your spouse’s – so your approach, attitudes, and habits around money are likely different. It can be really difficult to blend your decisions with your spouse’s and to stay on the same page financially if you don’t discuss and uncover these differences.
To start, reflect on your own attitudes and habits with money. What were you taught about money? Do you see yourself as a spender or saver? What is it about spending or saving that is more natural to you? Do you have any attitudes toward money that could negatively impact your financial decisions (for example, do you feel that there will never be enough money or that there will always be enough money)? Reflecting on these questions may help you to discover how you can grow in your own financial decision making.
Next, take the time (possibly during your monthly money date) to discuss this with your spouse. It’s incredibly helpful to understand your spouse’s thoughts and experiences with money because you gain insight and compassion about where they’re coming from. Then, you can begin to see where your perspectives differ and how to bring them together. Open dialogue is the key to this step. Don’t forget that both of your points of view can be helpful when it comes to making good financial decisions as a couple.
Using Multiple Bank Accounts May Be Helpful for Some Couples
Before I expand on this, I want to emphasize that it won’t be right for everyone. Some couples prefer to have only joint bank accounts and that’s completely fine. Other couples find that having one joint account in addition to separate accounts works better for them. This is a personal decision and the best way forward depends on what you and your spouse are most comfortable with.
There are several ways to manage multiple bank accounts. One way is to have a joint account and a separate account for each of you. The money you allocate to entertainment (or discretionary spending) is divided in two and half goes to each separate account. Money for bills, household management, and savings goes to the joint account.
The reason some couples prefer this is that they can spend their fun money how they want (within the agreed upon parameters of their marriage). So if one spouse wants to spend through their fun money each month and the other spouse wants to save for a larger expense, both are happy. And the spouse who tends to spend more quickly doesn’t spend through all the fun money. This helps to reduce judgement or resentment because each can spend their fun money according to their preferences. It also helps to define what is available for fun spending and what isn’t.
Please note that maintaining multiple bank accounts works best with transparency and open communication. Expenses shouldn’t be hidden from each other.
Money can easily invoke emotion but it doesn’t have to pull you apart. Rather, it can bring you closer together as you jointly achieve your dreams. While each and every couple is different, its safe to say that being on the same financial page with your spouse is the best path forward. If it would be helpful to discuss this further, feel free to contact me.