How Different Couples Eliminate the Stress of Money
It’s a well-known fact that one of the top causes of a divorce today is the topic of money and the problems that surround it. In fact, according to Marriage.com it is a close second only to infidelity. Money is an uncomfortable topic for most and when that communication breaks down between two people who are supposed to be completely open with each other, it’s no surprise that problems arise.
It’s not as simple as just talking about your finances though. Money is much more complex than that, mainly because it touches every part of our lives. Gambling, taking on debt, and being a shopaholic are a few examples of how money can strain a relationship. It can also be as simple as who is paying the bills this month. Chances are if you are married, then you have had some sort of disagreement about money.
Now since I’m not married nor have I ever been, you’re probably thinking I don’t have any experience to talk on this subject and you’d be completely right. Because I don’t and I don’t want to give you some low-quality article with a bunch of resources from Google searches, I tried something different. A week ago I sent out a questionnaire to three couples to get their perspectives on how they tackle the topic of money. I asked fairly broad questions to purposely to see how they would answer differently and what they came back with was extremely encouraging.
Before I get into the questionnaire and their responses I want to give you some background so you can hopefully relate better. Of course, I am going to keep their identities anonymous since those details aren’t relevant but just know they are all between the ages of 23-30 years old. None of them have any kids and they have each been married between 1-3 years, so still fairly new. Moreover, they have all been through some form of secondary education and all have jobs.
I’m a firm believer that most problems can be avoided or at least resolved with some good ol’ fashion communication. To some, it seems like a lost art to speak face-to-face with someone but when it comes to your money communication is vital. The first question I asked my participants was how difficult having the conversation about your finances was and if that has changed over time. Each of them had very promising answers saying it wasn’t hard at all. No,w this doesn’t mean there aren’t small disagreements but these are usually resolved with a quick pro/con discussion.
One participant went on to say that the conversation has shifted as their marriage has grown which makes perfect sense. When you first commit to a relationship you are an individual. You pay for your own food, your own gas, and you most likely have no major bills like a mortgage. Then all of a sudden you add another person to the mix, maybe you buy a house and before you know it your bills go up significantly. I’m not saying this is a bad thing but rather a shift in mentality that will just take time.
Another question I asked that ties into communication was if they have ever had any financial disagreements. Now, if you are thinking that these will never happen you are fooling yourself. Like I said in the beginning, money touches every part of your life so it’s impossible for there to never be something you don’t agree on. These couples were no different but the disagreements weren’t as drastic as you may think.
From reading their responses it seemed that most disagreements stemmed from one partner being riskier than the other. In fact, one couple literally said just that. Branching off from that, one response I got was that one person liked to finance things through debt while the other just wanted to pay cash and be done. No matter what the interest rate, even if it’s 0%, debt still has a risk but it can be a smarter option than using cash. Again, something that just needs to be discussed.
The last thing I want to talk about when it comes to communication is actually sitting down and reviewing their finances. A huge problem people have is they have no clue what kind of financial situation they are even in. How can you plan for the future if you don’t know where you are now? These couples realize this and at a minimum, sit down monthly to talk about where they are compared to the budget they set at the beginning of the month. I really believe that doing a monthly review of your finances is the minimal amount of management that all people, even as an individual, should do. A lot can change in a month and falling off track is easier than you may think.
How a couple sets up accounts and how money is divided is one of the most interesting topics for me. It can be done 1000 ways and none is better than the other, it’s just finding something that works. To prove this point, each couple divided their money up completely different ways and personally I don’t prefer any of them but what do I know?
One of the couples chooses to make it simple and combine everything into a single joint account. This can work well if, that’s a big if, you are on the same page with your budget and long-term goals. I’ll most likely say it a couple more times before I wrap this article up, but open communication is essential if you are going to combine everything. They go on to add that if someone wants to splurge on a purchase they know to have the conversation first. At the end of their answer, they add that they aren’t concerned with who makes or saves more money but that they “go to work to make money to contribute to OUR goals”.
The other two couples do what I think most people do and that is split up their paychecks into a family account and an individual account. The only difference between the two is that one splits it up by a dollar amount and the other by percentage.
For example, let’s say you bring home $500 a week and your spouse $700 and you know that your weekly bills are $800. If you did the percentage approach then each of you would need to contribute roughly 70% to the weekly bill fund. Your $500 x 70% = $350 and your spouse’s $700 x 70% = $490, add these together and you get $840 which would cover the bills. The problem some people have with this is that you have $150 left over while your spouse has $210, this is where you need to make the decision if it is fair or not. The other way is to just divide the $800 in half. If you do it this way though you only have $100 leftover ($500 – $400) and your spouse now has $300 ($700 – $400). Now, roles can easily be reversed here so I wouldn’t get to caught up on the dollar amount, rather communicate with your significant other what you think is fair.
Both of these approaches have the same outcome of getting the amount needed to cover the household bills. These include the mortgage, utilities, insurance, food, etc. Each couple has their savings goals that they want to meet as well. Once everything is covered, the remaining money they get to keep for themselves and spend as they wish. This approach eliminates the need for the conversation of what someone can spend money on but it is more complicated.
Now that these couples have communicated, created a plan and have all of their accounts set up, they need goals. I asked them to tell me what they wanted to accomplish in the next 5, 10, and 25 years. Answers were pretty aligned with what you might think and what might also happen to be some of your goals as well.
The next 5 years will be all about getting rid of student loan debt, paying off vehicles, maximizing retirement accounts, and preparing for kids. All of these are fantastic goals and ones that should be knocked out early. It may seem like too much to accomplish and prioritizing them would be impossible but I’ll show you a quick way to do that in a future article. Just understand if you have any of the goals listed above, you need to be started on them now.
The participants also had some similar answers when it came to the next 10 years. The main answer dealt with their home and more specifically paying down the mortgage. This is 99% of people’s largest bill so eliminating it ranks high on most people’s priorities. Another answer that was common revolved around giving back. Establishing a scholarship program for high schoolers came up a couple times which I think is extremely admirable.
When it came to their long-term goals of 25 years plus, they all had two common goals. One was to have their mortgage paid off and the second was to be able to retire if they want. Most believe they will still be working, but want the option to not have to if they don’t want to. If you learned anything from Start Saving Now to Become A Millionaire – Part 2 then you know that retiring at an early age is possible with proper planning.
Wrapping it Up
At the end of the day, there is no right or wrong way to do any of this. The only thing you can do is what is right for you and your partner. Unfortunately, I believe these three couples are outliers when it comes to handling money in a relationship. I think most couples are much less prepared than they are which will lead to issues.
Hopefully, I have kept any bias out of this article. I just want to provide you with ideas so that you and your spouse can eliminate this stress from your relationship. If you are ready to have this conversation with your significant other then check out Questions You Need to Ask Your Spouse About Money. This article was actually written by a reader and someone who helped contribute to this article.
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