By: Malini Bhatia, Founder & CEO of Marriage.com
It’s cliche, but money is still the leading cause of stress, both for individuals and in marriages. This may never change, but today we have many more tools — both for money management and for partner discussion — to help minimize financial stress in a relationship. The good news is that there are many practical ways to approach money management and avoid relationship-damaging mistakes. At its foundation, a healthy financial life for a couple starts with good communication. The following eight tips can help you and your spouse avoid money mistakes — and in many ways, these tips can also help in other aspects of your relationship as well.
1: Be Completely Transparent
Both partners should be on the same page when it comes to having access to bank accounts, credit card statements, cash flow, etc. Don’t give into any temptation to hide selfish purchases (which are certainly allowed from time to time as long as it’s not hurting anything) or mislead regarding income just because it makes you feel better. Without a transparent view, it’s impossible to have a clear understanding of what your finances are — and without that understanding, you’ll never meet your goals.
2: Be Completely Honest
Transparency and honesty are two different things when it comes to money. Transparency may be admitting that you made a mistake or an impulse purchase. Honesty refers to the ability to discuss why you made that mistake or impulse purchase, especially if you realize that it was done for something you don’t want to talk about. Some people enjoy spending more than others, and this is a necessary discussion to meet a middle ground.
3: Set A Budget
The simplest way to get out of financial problems is to set a budget and stick to it. This has two halves to the equation; setting a budget will be one discussion and creating a system for sticking to it will be another. To set a budget, consider your monthly amount of income, then your complete list of expenses, then any bonus goals (saving, college fund, fun money). Line that all up and it should be pretty obvious what your budget is. As for tracking it, there are old-school ways (a notebook, a whiteboard) and digital-age ways (connected apps that sync up your credit card and bank accounts).
4: Don’t Hover
A marriage is all about trust. No one likes to feel watched or nitpicked. If you invite transparency and honesty into your financial planning while setting a budget, then you shouldn’t feel the need to hover over your spouse. Regular check-ins and discussions and budget reviews are fine (and encouraged) but don’t be a monitor for your spouse. If your spouse has a spending problem, the prior items will reign it in and provide consequences for breaking trust, so let things play out.
5: Stay Away From Massive Debt
We would all love to get a fancy new car or whirlwind vacation. But that’s just not something we can all afford. So while it may be tempting to say “let’s put it all on a credit card” massive debt is a bad idea as it puts limitations and strains on all other areas for a small amount of instant gratification. Don’t walk into regret; put your temptations aside and stay away from massive debt. Note that this is different from going into debt with a clear and reasonable plan for paying it off.
6: Discuss With Clear Heads
It’s bound to happen — one spouse is unhappy with the other’s financial decision. While it may feel good to give into the urge to talk about it in the heat of the moment, that’s probably going to get the conversation off the rails pretty quick. Instead, it’s important to take a minute and think things through, especially since nothing will change immediately. Keep your head clear and think about the points you want to discuss — and if you’re on the receiving end, don’t get defensive. Staying respectful in all situations is a way to avoid toxicity in marriage.
7: Zero Manipulation
If you’re thinking of manipulating your spouse through financial power plays, then your relationship has much bigger issues at hand. But focusing purely on this perspective, any sort of financial shaming, manipulation, or power play (“I’ll let you use this money if you do that”) universally builds resentment and poison into a marriage. That doesn’t mean you can’t discuss the how and why of things, but when ulterior motives or controlling schemes surface, it will only end badly — at best, a fight; at worst, a divorce.
8: Be Partners
Regardless of who’s the breadwinner — even in a single-income household — it’s easy for either partner to overreach and try controlling finances as a solo project. Don’t do it. This method will only invite criticism, resentment, and dishonesty. A marriage is the ultimate partnership, and that trickles down to finances. Instead, consider what each person’s needs are and their strengths; maybe someone’s better at organizing and someone’s better at crunching numbers. Play to each other’s strengths, set goals and make plans as a team, and acknowledge you’re on this path together.