This is the first part of a two-part series on money. Part 2 is available here: Money Matters: How to Build a Functional Budget as a Team
ne of the biggest topics of conflict in marriage is money. When you combine two lives and two established financial styles that can be vastly different, it’s really no surprise. But how do we work together to overcome the struggle and start to have productive conversations about OUR money?
When it comes to handling money, there are two personality types. Dave Ramsey calls them the nerd and the free-spirit. The nerd is the one who loves the numbers, spreadsheets, and making responsible (and sometimes sacrificial) decisions. The free spirit wants to have fun, and though they may appreciate the idea of spending wisely, it can all feel like too much work to be worth it. In our marriage, Jess is the free spirit and I am the nerd…but we’re both a bit nerdy!
Neither personality is right or wrong, or good or bad. They’re just different ways of viewing money. The trick is learning to work well with your spouse regardless of which personality type you both are. There are strengths to both perspectives and we need to see each one as a valuable help, rather than an annoying frustration. While I may hold us more accountable to sticking to categories, Jess reminds us that we need fun and that our budget is not a death sentence.
But how do we talk about money when we have such different perspectives?
Here are some tips to get started:
- Pick a good time
- If you haven’t already, work together to set a budget
- Talk about money while looking at the numbers
- Prepare in advance
- Tackle the suggestions or problems as a team
- Get creative!
- Be willing to compromise
- Don’t forget to allow money for fun!
- Check in regularly
- Keep perspective
- If you can’t pay for it in cash, don’t buy it.
Money is a stressful conversation topic, especially when there is disagreement. As you start money talks, consider having them when you’re both feeling relaxed and refreshed. When we’re tired, or when we’re feeling stressed we often struggle with the difficult conversations. The goal is to have a helpful conversation that doesn’t turn into a fight.
Many people think of “budget” as the dreaded “B”-word, but that doesn’t have to be the case. Having a plan for your money actually gives you freedom! Once you know how much you have to spend in any given area, you’ll be able to stay on track and not overspend. (As an exciting plus, if you have extra money in an area, you can feel completely free to spend it on something fun in that category!). Start by deciding how much money to assign to each category. It doesn’t need to be perfect–just get started. It’s an evolving process and may take a few months to find what works for you. The details matter, but what’s most important is that you both agree and work together.
Once you set up the budget, commit that you will both stick to the budget! A budget is flexible and can be changed, but all changes need to be addressed and talked about as a team. That’s much more important than the money.
We’ve learned the hard way that we can’t have conversations about money without sitting in front of our budget and looking at the numbers as we talk. When we have the actual numbers in front of us, we have an understanding of where our money needs to go and where there is flexibility. Then we can work as a team to find solutions. It’s much easier when you’re tackling the problem as a team. When we look at the numbers while talking about the finances, the budget becomes the “bad guy” instead of our spouse!
Having vague talks about money rarely goes well. Wanting to spend “more” or “less” on something can have very different meanings for you compared to your spouse. Try to center your conversation around specific dollar amounts, that way you can both be on the same page. Instead of saying “we need a ton more money in our budget”, try “I did some math and I think we need an extra $50 each month for our groceries category.” When you have an exact number, you can look at the money in your account and see where you can adjust things.
Having a defined problem makes it easier to fix.
If you’re not quite sure where to find extra money for a need, you may need to find that money somewhere else. Work together and try different solutions. Be open to your spouse’s suggestions and think outside the box. There’s no wrong answer as long as you both agree to it.
Rather than focusing on the single choice of whether or not to buy something, try to think outside the box. Don’t be afraid of the “what-if” questions. Instead of saying, “We can’t afford it,” ask “how can we afford it?” Sometimes those questions lead to the best results!
Listen to what is important to your spouse and where they would like to spend money. You are a team and both of your wants/needs matter when it comes to the budget.
If you’re the one wanting to buy something extra that’s outside of the budget, offer to forego your part of other budget items for a bit to make the money work. As an example, if you want to go out for a really nice steak dinner with friends but you don’t have enough money in your entertainment category, you could offer to pay part of it with money set aside for your clothing expenses and choose not to buy as much clothing during that month.
Setting aside money for fun is really important. Using money for dates or weekends away is investing in your marriage. We always need to be connecting with our spouses, and that’s easier when we have some money for fun dates. Depending on your finances, the category may not be huge, but protect it as best as you can. The small things that keep your marriage happy can make a world of difference as you work through the rest of life.
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter which spouse takes the lead in paying the bills as long as they get paid. It doesn’t matter who oversees which part of the budget. But if you want to get along and function as the best team possible, have regular check-ins with each other. Jess and I check in every week and go over what we’ve spent in different categories and what we have left. It helps us to stay on track for the rest of the month and gives us a place to talk about and plan for upcoming needs. Checking in regularly keeps you and your spouse on the same page, preventing any large issues from coming between you.
When we keep the perspective that we are simply managers of God’s money, the focus becomes on what He wants to do. This leads to a unified mindset, honed in on God’s direction.
Debit cards work too, but going into debt or using credit to buy things we can’t afford only leads to money problems and tensions in marriage. Make a commitment with one another that neither of you will spend outside of what you can afford in the moment.
There’s no right or wrong answer to how you talk about money, but the best marriages have spouses that work together as one. Money conversations are ongoing. Income changes, budgets change, and needs change. It’s not about surviving one money conversation and never talking about money together again. It’s about learning how to work through the process together and support each other as you decide together what to do with “our” money.
Do you and your spouse view your money with a team mindset? What are some steps that you have found really help you and your spouse when it comes to talking about money? Let us know in the comments!