July 31, 2012

Love and Marriage (and Finances)

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You know that game everybody makes you play at weddings and showers where you give couples marriage advice? I’ve contributed advice on several occasions, and in fact, my wife and I asked others to pass on their relationship wisdom to us at one of our wedding showers. Either way, I’d say the most frequent tidbit is probably “Don’t go to bed mad.” While I often try to follow that piece of advice, I must say that occasionally going to bed mad might help prevent an "ant hill" from becoming a "mountain," if you know what I mean. In the end, though, I think the best piece of advice I was given was “When you’re wrong, say you’re sorry; when she’s wrong, say you’re sorry.”

All kidding aside, I’m a very happily married man for many reasons. Part of this has to do with my wife’s Toll House Pie, but part of this also has to do with the way my wife and I handle our finances. According to divorceguide.com, “Money” is the #2 reason for divorce, so today I thought I’d share 5 tidbits that might help your wallet or purse, while also strengthening your relationship with your spouse.
  1. Communicate. Communication is actually the #1 reason for divorce, and I’d be willing to bet that a lot of those communication problems had to do with communicating about money! When you get married, your separate assets will most likely become commingled with your spouse’s separate assets, whether you like it or not. From that point forward, it’s important for both spouses to realize that there is “yours,” “mine,” and “ours.” If both of you take the time to define and enforce these boundaries, you will likely save yourself and your spouse a lot of unpleasant emotional and financial surprises.
  2. Set a mutual spending limit. You may think that’s crazy, but I have personally seen this work in my marriage and with many of my friends. There is no discussion needed for our utility payments, car maintenance expenses, or grocery bills, but my wife and I have a $50 discretionary limit. If I want Braves tickets, we discuss it before I order tickets behind home plate. If she wants a new pair of shoes, we discuss it before she goes on a shopping spree. We trust each other when it comes to gifts for one another, and we don’t wage war when the $75 expenditure that one of us couldn’t pass up occasionally happens, but we usually talk first. $50 may not be the right value for you, but the limit amount isn't what matters - the working together does.
  3. Talk about vacations. I can tell you that you will have a more relaxing vacation if you are spending money you both saved in advance as opposed to worrying about how hard you are going to have to work when you get back home to pay off the trip. I would also advise you to make sure you’re not always forgetting about a destination your spouse really wants to go or likes going. Expectations of how great things are going to be when you’re vacationing are already sky-high without risking financial arguments. If you agree on how much you can afford to spend on vacation, how you are going to save up for vacation, and where you are going, you’ll have it made in the shade (or sun).
  4. Decide who does what. Who pays the bills? Who keeps the checkbook? Once you have decided, stick to it. If someone is consistently responsible for managing a part of your finances there is less of a chance of a bill falling through the cracks. If you make a mistake doing your task, admit it, and if your spouse asks you a question about something you are “managing,” respond openly and fully. This way you are a smooth-operating financial household. Your spouse may even gain additional trust and confidence in you and be appreciative of your efforts in the process.
  5. Agree on what retirement looks like. This vision may change abruptly, slowly, or stay the same depending on how your life plays out, but you at least need a plan. If both of you feel as if you are working towards a mutual finish line, the pain of extra hours or stashing away additional savings so you can meet your retirement goals won’t hurt so badly. Maybe even set aside some time with each other to discuss your current financial situation and where you stand versus your finish line. If everyone is on the same page and everyone is on board, there won’t be very much room for fear or blame in your finances or your marriage.
I have a lot left to learn about finances. I have even more to learn about marriage. However, I can tell you that successful marriages more often than not have their financial houses in order.

I hope these tips will help you and your spouse financially and in your relationship. Believe me, I can get in enough trouble on my own for zoning out and not listening when I’m watching “the game” without bringing finances into it!


1 comment:

  1. Good advice whether you've been married 32 days or 32 years! Thanks, Tom!