Avoid Money Fights: Plan Finances with Your Spouse!
By Bill Schoonmaker (Schoon)
This is a guest post from “Schoon”. According to Bill’s FAQ, Schoon’s Place is a “personal journal, a product reviews database, a photo gallery and much more.”
With the national divorce rate hovering over 40% these days it often makes you wonder why divorce happens.
According to Associated Content the number one reason is Money! Distant runners-up are infidelity and poor communication. I’d say that poor communication and money problems go hand in hand.
I’ve got a little bit of experience in the marriage department as I’m on my second marriage and I can say without a shadow of a doubt that money was one of the main reason for my divorce. My first wife and I never really talked about money, we just spent it. Neither of us really had a plan, or goals, nor did we pay attention to the checking account balance. This caused us to go deep into debt and have to pay all sorts of bank fees due to late payments or overdrafts. This led to arguments about who was at fault but it never led to a solution; it led to our divorce.
Personally I wouldn’t wish divorce on anyone as it is one of the worst situations I’ve ever been through in my life but if it weren’t for that divorce I would have never met the love of my life, Susan, nor had my third child, Jake.
Susan and I will have been married for 5 years this June and things are going really, really well. I attribute a large portion of our marriage success to good communication. We talk constantly about nearly everything. We stay in constant communication and not much goes on without the other knowing about it.
Now I do the typical male stuff and forget to tell her things from time to time, but I am getting better at that. Susan handles the finances and is a stay-at-home Mom. We have weekly meetings about the finances so we both know where we stand and what the upcoming week is going to look like. If we have to park one of the cars because we’ve overshot the gas budget, we do. If we’ve blown the grocery budget, then we eat what’s in the house.
The important thing here is that we both know the status of the household budget. The files are open to both of us, we use Microsoft Money to track our expenses and our bank has an excellent aggregration service that brings all of our accounts into one screen. We both have the login accounts and check it frequently. If something looks strange, chances are one of us will notice it pretty quickly. Our system works very well and I wanted to share a few of the more important tips so maybe you can enjoy the same success that we have (and enjoy a happier marriage).
Important Tips for Financial Communication in Marriage
1. Understand each other’s money habits. If you are a habitual spender then let your spouse know. They can help you be more accountable and help get you under control. If one of you is a hoarder, the other can help that person to loosen up a bit. We all have to live a little.
2. Keep track of everything that goes out of your bank accounts. We do this to the penny. Yes it might be a little bit compulsive, but we’ve been doing it for over 5 years now and the data you collect is amazing. We can usually budget pretty well into the next year and be fairly accurate unless something really crazy happens.
3. Have weekly meetings with your spouse and kids, if they are older, to discuss the family budget. We talk about things like upcoming purchases, status of the bills, things that are going to be paid off soon and where that extra money is going, balance in the 401k, etc. The meetings don’t take long and some weeks we don’t even have them, but more often than not we do.
4. Set a spending limit for discretionary spending. Ours is $100, if you are going to spend over $100 on anything that is not in the budget then you must inform your spouse before making the purchase. My best advice is if you are about to buy something on impulse put it back on the shelf and walk out of the store and go home and think about it. Chances are you will not buy it at all because you really didn’t need it in the first place. From Clever Dude: We have a $50 limit, but it doesn’t mean you can go buy a bunch of $49 items without telling!
5. Allowances are an incredible tool, even for adults. I get $75 out of each paycheck deposited into an account that is my own. This is the only money that I get for things like lunches, coffees, video games and other small purchases. This is money that I don’t have to account for to my wife, fun money if you will. It’s important to note that Susan can see this account online if she wants. It might be helpful if you both had small discretionary accounts, but in our situation only I have one as I’m the only one that works outside the home.
6. Before using any kind of credit you must talk about it! This one is very, very important. When you take out credit, even it is in your own name, it’s important to realize that you are indebting your spouse in most states as well. It’s really rude to borrow a bunch of money without telling them upfront and giving them a chance to either say “don’t do it” or “we can do this another way”. Both of you need to make the decision to borrow money or use a credit card.
7. Prior to getting married and after getting married practice FULL FINANCIAL DISCLOSURE. There should be no financial secrets between you. No secret accounts, no secret debts, no secret money in a coffee can. This just breeds distrust and once your spouse finds out they will not trust you in the future when you have money discussions.
8. Plan together for major purchases like vacations, cars or computers. These items can be made into a sort of game. Open up an additional savings account at your bank (usually free) and start putting $5 or $10 here and there to save up for your goal. It can be fun to come in under budget on groceries and put the extra $20 into the bank for that new gadget that you want for the family.
9. Start and maintain a fully detailed budget! We budget for the upcoming year from January 1st to December 31st. My wife has an extensive excel spreadsheet that has our rolling balance and year end loss or gain. This isn’t as hard as it sounds just get all of your data together and do it. As new expenses come up, add them to the budget if they are recurring. Be sure to put things like new tires, oil changes, magazine subscriptions, etc, in there as they all add up quickly. Try to stay as close to this budget as possible and modify it if necessary.
10. If all else fails, use the envelope system for a while. Once you make up your budget, if you have $100 per check for Gas then take that $100 and put it in an envelope in a drawer. If you need gas you take money out of this envelope only, when it is gone, it is gone. Do this for food, eating out, entertainment, any budgetable item that you may have. This will help you set limits on spending, it’s very easy to go over budget when using debit or credit cards so try cash instead.
These are just a few of the things we’ve done in our household to help our marriage be successful around money. The house runs smoothly and we are happier for it. We still stumble from time to time and both of us make mistakes but at least we have a plan and try to stick to it as much as possible. I hope that these tips will help you in your marriage and financial life.