Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Marriage and Money: 5 Tips To Reduce the Money Arguments

I'm participating in Women’s Money Week which is about encouraging women to speak up about money, take control of our finances, and reshape our financial future. Women’s Money Week will run from March 5th-11th, 2012 on WomensMoneyWeek.com — coinciding with International Women’s Day.  Today's topic is Money and Relationships.

My husband and I do not have a perfect marriage, but we are perfect for one another. After almost 12 years of marriage and 9 years of dating (long story), I still have the hots for him. We have an occasional squabble here and there, but I'll be very honest and upfront with you, we do not argue about money. Although, it wasn't always that way.

Money tension is one of the leading causes of divorce. It could be from the stress of unemployment, a large debt load, or the amount of shoes in someone's closet; money can be an evil force in a marriage. My husband and I have worked through our differences about money over the last 12 years. For this reason, I have put together a list of tips that contribute to my marriage's current lack of money tension. Whether you are in a marriage that is struggling over money issues or not, I hope you find them helpful.

5 Tips to Help You Reduce the Money Arguments in Your Marriage

1. Designate a Family Office Manager
In my house, it's me. No surprise there; I write a blog about family finances. But I also want to be the Family Office Manager (FOM). It should be the spouse who has the most interest and drive to perform the tasks. The Family Office Manager might track spending, reconcile and manage the accounts, pay the bills on time, and update the Family Balance Sheet. The tasks will vary between households, so devise a to-do list of your family's financial tasks, so that the FOM knows what is expected of them.

The FOM might manage the money, but shouldn't be considered the controller of the money. That is a joint responsibility between the two spouses (at least in our home). My husband and I have equal footing when it comes to money decisions, even though my husband is currently the primary income earner. In some ways, I think the fact that I am the FOM and he is the primary income earner helps balance out any feelings of inequity. 

2. Complete a Family Balance Sheet on a Monthly Basis
It is not always easy to communicate your current financial snapshot with your spouse, so let the balance sheet do the talking for you. I developed this spreadsheet years ago, as a way to communicate our finances with my husband. It's all there in black and white; there's no denying it or running from it. The offer of a free spreadsheet is still available, just head over the the Family Balance Sheet page for more details.

3. Make Clear Financial Goals {Together}
Take some time to discuss your family and marriage's financial goals. I have found that there is less tension when we are both on the same page with our goals, but you need to take the time to discuss those goals together.  Do you want to eliminate your credit card debt? Or buy a home? Or save money for a trip to Walt Disney World?  Be realistic, but dream a little too. Write down your goals and make them visible. There is space at the bottom of the Family Balance Sheet for your financial goals.

4. Meet Regularly to Discuss Finances
Check in regularly with one another to discuss any upcoming expenses, cash flow, and goal updates. This will keep you on the same page and marching in the same direction. Meeting regularly could be every Sunday night or every pay day, whatever fits your schedule.

If possible, make it a  kid-free meeting. For us, it's not always possible to find some child free time on the weekends and when the kids finally get to bed at night, we're usually in a brain fog from a long day at work. Our kids sense that mommy and daddy are having a serious conversation and quite suddenly they want to sit on our laps, need a snack from a high shelf, or have a very important secret to whisper in our ears. Basically, they want our attention and don't like the fact that they aren't getting it. One solution we have found is to set them up with a movie and a special snack, like popcorn. That usually gives us enough time to meet. In other words, you might need to be creative to carve out the time to meet regularly.

  Four Rules for Your Money Meetings:
  • Make a promise to not raise voices.
  • Be honest with each other about the state of your financial affairs.
  • Own up to any financial indiscretions.
  • Work through disagreements civilly and move forward.
5. Consider an Adult Allowance
We started an adult allowance a few years ago when I noticed that I, as the FOM, was getting frustrated by our discretionary spending. We have a budget for items like clothes, hair cuts, and miscellany, but I felt like I was getting blind sided by some purchases and my husband felt like I was watching his spending like a hawk. I didn't like the feeling of being a mother hen and I knew he wanted a little breathing room.

The solution: we each opened up a debit account for our own personal spending. The accounts are to cover the personal categories that caused the most tension, such as clothes, hobbies, haircuts, and other miscellany. We came up with a figure that fit into our budget and on the first of every month that money is transferred into our individual accounts. Now if there is a personal purchase that we would like to make, it is up to us, individually, to save the money, manage the money, and budget the money. No questions are asked, it is our own personal stash. That alone has alleviated most of the tension in our money discussions.

I am not a therapist, but I am a wife who wants love to be the center of my marriage, not money and the incendiary arguments that it can cause. Money is necessary, but it doesn't have to be evil. It will only cause tension if you let it.

Does money cause tension in your marriage? How have you worked through money issues in your marriage? Please let us know in the comments.

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This post is part of Women's Money Week 2012. For more posts about Relationships and Money see Relationships and Money Roundup


  1. Nice list of tips for helping with the stress over finances. My wife and I have taken turns on the family office manager / family CFO a couple of times. I'm currently doing the bulk of everything right now. She did it for quite some time prior to me, but when I started setting up online bill pay, she didn't want to do any of the finances. We've gone back and forth on the allowance, but mainly because it's usually one off things, and neither of us have particular extravagant tastes, so we just dropped it.

    1. My husband and I aren't particularly extravagant either, but having separate accounts for some of our spending categories has eliminated a lot of tension. Thanks for commenting.

  2. This is a great article. We also do each of these five items, although we have slightly different variations of each tip you gave.

    I honestly cannot even remember the last time my wife and I had an argument about money. Of course we often have differences of opinion about money, but we talk about these differences in such a positive way that to an outsider, I'm sure it appears more like a discussion than a disagreement. Having said all that, I acknowledge this is not terribly difficult if you and your spouse have similar basic values about money and you're just trying to work through the details of life. It's got to be really tough for couples who have nearly opposite financial viewpoints.

    1. You make a great point about couples with having similar values about money. Thankfully, my husband and I have very similar viewpoints on money. It wasn't always that way though and I think having set financial goals keeps us both on the same wavelength. Thanks for commenting.

  3. Honesty really goes a long way to not having arguments about money.

  4. Love that I found your blog! As a recently engaged woman, who is definitely the FOM of this household, I've been trying to find a way to discuss finances with my pre-husband. Finding a way to combine our lives, yet keep individual identities financially has been a struggle for me to figure out. I love the way you've outlined solutions to problems that I worry may come up. Thank you for this great article!

    1. Holly - I got married at 31, so I totally understand where you are coming from with keeping your financial identity, but combining your lives. It is so important to start having financial conversations before you get married, so there are no surprises after the wedding. Good Luck and Congratulations!


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