How to Have a Functional Money Marriage

Ok, I have a confession.  I don’t think my wife and I have ever argued over money.  At least I can’t recall a single argument.  That’s not to say we don’t disagree about things or talk about how to do things but the reality is we never raise our voices about it.

I just assumed for a while that most people didn’t argue about money, that is until I started discussing the issue with others.  I’ve been surprised by how most people I’ve talked to about this recall having some arguments over money.  Then I did some searches on Google and realized that arguing over money seems to show up on a lot of top five and top ten argument lists.

So what the hell makes a marriage functional about money?  Well here’s what I’ve noticed seems to work in my marriage.

  1. Address Imbalances.  The reality is your income situation will likely be off balance.  One of you will make more than the other.  In my case I take home now about ten time more than my wife.  Yet I don’t believe for a second that entitles me to anything other than half of the decision making power.  Just because I make more doesn’t entitle me to more of a say since money is only one input into a relationship.
  2. Play to Your Strengths.  I’m a long term thinker, so planning for an early retirement comes natural to me.  My wife on the other hand does not do long term well, but she is the short term expert.  She has all the birthdays on the calender and makes sure we start talking about next years vacation in order to book things.  She reminders me about swimming lessons for the boys and a visit with friends.  So I don’t try to do what she does well and she inputs ideas on early retirement but let’s me do all the math.  We respect what the other one is good at and let them take the lead on some things.
  3. Address Emotional Issues.  Money isn’t just money.  It’s also got memories, hopes and fears attached to it.  You have to recognize that fact with your spouse and deal with these irrational moments that come up.  Also you need to address both of your dreams with money over the long term.  You might want a new car and your spouse may want a new trip, but you need to plan for both.
  4. Set Common Priorities.  You have to have a common set of priorities to really excel together.  I know, for example, we both value our kids more than my account balances.  Should an emergency come up I won’t even pause to drain every savings account and max out my line of credit.  I’ve already did it once when our first was born ten weeks premature.  So we don’t ever argue about the big items in life.  We know what the answer will be.

Well that is what seems to work for my marriage, what works in your relationship?

4 thoughts on “How to Have a Functional Money Marriage”

  1. Well, works is a strong term, but our setup seems to be that all of my money goes to supporting the spouse so that the spouse can spend all their money on fun things and enjoying life. Since they don’t make enough money to pay half the bills it just seems that all the bills come to me.

  2. I think you’re missing one “money issue” which is one half of a couple unilaterally taking over the financial planning. I’ve seen that lead to arguments and resentment in at least one family.

    What works for us is keeping our chequing accounts separate. We’re both grown-ups so as long as we contribute our agreed target amounts to our (shared) savings and investment accounts the rest is anything goes. I don’t want to be one of those couples that call each other for “permission” to exceed some notional entertainment budget or buy a cool toy or whatever. We also have separate priorities beyond our common ones – my husband supports his mother to a large degree, for example.

  3. Traciatim,

    Works?!? Mmm, I won’t have guessed on that one for a relationship, but what the hell.


    Oh, good point. That is a common problem of one person doing all the planning. That would create a lot of possible resentment.

    In our case, I do a lot of the planning, but my wife still involved and frequently changes shorter term objectives for us. Case in point once the mortgage is gone she wants some more cash to travel. I said: ok and we worked out a rough number.


  4. In our family we’ve agreed that I’ll do all the short and long term planning. I regularly update my husband so he’s in the loop on our progress, but he isn’t interested in micro managing the daily details or doing all the “what if” scenarios I like to run. He’s happy knowing I have it under control, but I also make sure he knows where I keep the memory stick with our backed up budget, financial files etc, and has reviewed the instruction document I wrote on how the whole process. Yes, it sounds excessive, but since he doesn’t take care of any of this on a daily basis, in an emergency he would need to know all the account numbers, passwords, contact names, links to online accounts, and the process for managing the spreadsheets.

    Our salary split is about 65/45 with my husband earning more, however all the cash goes into one account. We’ve never done the his/hers/ours division. For many couples that works, but to us money kept separately would feel odd. When we first married I was still in university with virtually no income so pooling our resources just made sense. Perhaps couples who merge finances after being independent for many years are more comfortable keeping things separate. I think our completely merged finances are having a positive impact on our early retirement plans. Every week I determine the maximum I can transfer to our RRSPs or to make an extra mortage payment. If we each contributed a fixed amount to savings, any extra we happened to have would be hidden from view in personal accounts and enevitably consumed with personal spending. This way every dollar that wasn’t required for basic expenses is plainly visible and as a result our savings are considerably higher.

    Perhaps the reason our system works well for us is because we’re completely on the same wavelength about how we spend, or don’t spend, so there’s no feeling of “getting approval” for spending or resentment about the things we chose to do without in favour of our real priorities. I have no need of a special hidden stash so I can spend without him being aware. Frankly I rarely spend on anything that isn’t groceries or gas. We put $60/wk in our budget for planned miscellaneous spending. In 2009 that totalled $3120 (52x$60). We actually took out the planned amount in 16 weeks, or $832. I often have a $20 sit in my wallet for a couple of months before I have a need to spend it. We just aren’t spendy people. We stay our of stores unless we need something. Our gas, groceries, phone, cell, internet all go on our CC to get the miles and I pay it off weekly to stay on top of tracking everything. Clothing is normally received as gifts and doesn’t get a line in the budget. We reuse, buy second hand, and generally don’t buy anything that isn’t a replacement for something that is broken. We’ve achieved a weird balance that works for us. We completely skip things others consider basics (cable, new vehicles, giant TVs etc) and instead live simply, save for early retirement. Our one splurge is to travel extensively with our kids now, rather than waiting for retirement. For us frugal living on a daily basis followed by month long trips to Europe is just a reflection of our priorities and a refusal to keep up with the Jonses.

    It’s a good thing we don’t all value the same things otherwise there would be no marked down produce when I get there and my favourite destinations would be even more crowded! Here’s to all of us recognizing what’s actually important to us and not just buying in to what we’re “supposed” to do.

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