Money can be a very sensitive subject for many people. And this can become even more apparent once you’ve said “I do” and joined financial forces with your spouse.
But finances don’t have to be a constant point of contention in your marriage. Like all aspects of a relationship, it requires intentional effort and open communication to be successful.
Here’s what I’ve learned throughout the course of my marriage about setting financial goals and working as a team.
We learned communication is key
My husband and I have different upbringings, different career goals, and very different views on many core issues in life. So, open communication has always been the backbone of our relationship.
Because we recognized our differences of opinion on most matters, we chose to have direct conversations about money from the get-go.
We set ground rules, such as:
- We don’t talk about finances (or any other trigger topic) when we’re emotional.
- If we have a big financial issue to talk about, we schedule a time to sit down together and discuss it thoroughly — rather than blind-siding the other person.
- We’re free to spend money on small, everyday things we want individually. But big purchases are always discussed together beforehand.
By acknowledging that money is a potential trigger — and then actively working to reduce potential conflicts — we’re able to discuss our finances without feelings of fear, embarrassment or animosity.
We learned what works for others won’t always work for us
We both had thriving careers when we met in our mid-20s. And although we had been in previous relationships, neither of us had been in a position where we needed to “answer” to someone else when it came to finances.
One of the first financial issues we ran into was, “Do we need a joint checking account?”
All of our friends and family had immediately combined their finances after getting married. And at the time, most of the information we were consuming supported the idea that joint finances upped your chances of a successful marriage. Because there was no more “his money” or “her money”.
But quite frankly, we liked having separate money. So, we chose what worked for us.
We divided up bills and other expenses based on our salaries. And we chose to continue being separately responsible for certain costs that existed before we got together.
For example, I had outstanding student debt that I wanted to pay off myself, while he had racked up some credit card debt that he didn’t feel I should be responsible for.
This model worked really well for us for years. Until I transitioned to being a stay-at-home mom who also worked on the side. Then, we had to reassess our finances and, again, figure out a solution that worked for us — not anybody else.
We learned what motivates us
Finances can be a dry subject. And watching your bank account dwindle down each month can quickly become disheartening. So, we found ways to make budgeting and financial planning more fun.
We’re both visual people. Therefore, we need to see our financial goals laid out in front of us.
We keep a detailed monthly budget. And we write down our long-term goals. By writing down our goals, we can refocus our attention if we lose sight of them over time. Plus, I’m someone that believes you can speak things into existence.
We’re also highly competitive with ourselves and each other. This means we’re in a constant competition to see whose credit score is higher. And we get extreme excitement from paying down debt. Because we feel like we’re winning.
We harness this competitiveness by using fun debt and savings charts. As we pay off a loan or add to our savings fund, we color in pieces of the chart.
While it may sound elementary, don’t underestimate the power of a quick coloring session with your spouse. It’s a fun way to tackle a not-so-fun adult issue. And isn’t that what marriage is all about? Making the most out of life with a partner by your side.
We learned finances are a team effort
Both of us have big life and financial goals. Some of which are joint goals, while others are individual. But one thing has become increasingly clear over the years: we can reach our goals faster together.
We’ve been able to reach certain goals earlier and with a lot more ease than we ever expected by working together. And our version of teamwork has looked different over time and depending on each goal.
For example, we decided we would pay off a home improvement loan early. Originally, our plan was to pay a little extra each month. But we quickly decided that wasn’t fast enough. So, we worked out our schedules and decided I would pick up more projects with my side business, while my husband spent more time with our daughter.
We addressed our financial goal, but we also worked together to meet other underlying needs in our relationship (which is often where money issues stem from). I was needing more of a mental break from being a stay-at-home mom, and my husband didn’t want to spend his time picking up extra shifts when he’s already under a great deal of stress in his job.
By working together, we found solutions to multiple problems without any arguments. And we’re both happier for it.
We don’t always agree on everything. Our marriage would be pretty boring if we did. But we try to approach financial and other common marital issues from a foundation of mutual respect.
We both work hard, and we both love hard. We ultimately chose to live this life together. And, for us, that means diving into the uncomfortable conversations head-first with the overall goal of making our marriage stronger.