Today I want to chat with you about marriage and money. As I’ve said a million times, finances touch everything. They touch our marriage, our relationships, our experiences as a family, etc. Because of this, money in marriage becomes a common thing people argue about.
Financial issues are also one of the leading causes of divorce.
I got curious about what exactly that means. What exactly are the reasons couples argue about money? I found on business insider the top 12 main reasons that couples argue about money. I am going to go into each of these reasons and then walk you through some ways to help navigate these issues if you see them popping up in your marriage. This blog will cover reasons 1-6 and my next blog will focus on reasons 7-12.
The first 6 reasons couples fight about money in marriage are…
- Opposing attitudes towards Money
- Mismatched Financial Priorities
- Credit Card Debt
- Financial Infidelity
- Overextending your budget
- Inability to compromise on spending
Reason 1) Opposing Attitudes Towards Money.
The first reason couples argue about money in marriage is opposing attitudes towards money. This screams money mindset to me. One person may see money as a tool to have fun with, or to give with, or to buy nice things with, and another person may view it as security, and something to save and not use. One person could have an abundant mindset around money where there’s always enough (regardless of dollar amounts) and spending makes them feel and experience life to the fullest, and someone else may live in a scarcity mindset where there is never enough and saving/having money isn’t just a way of life, it’s their entire sense of security in this life.
All of this stems from our childhood experiences with money, the subconscious views we have around money, and could be stemming from possible money trauma one or both of us have experienced. Let’s say, for example, one spouse grew up with money and always felt as if they had enough. Money was openly talked about in their home. This individual is going to view the role of money drastically differently than someone who grew up with skipping meals, listening to parents fight about money, being told ‘no’ for even minor wants because “we don’t have enough money,” etc.
You can imagine that these two people, as adults in a relationship, could butt heads when it comes to the role money plays in their life. Neither person is wrong because their thoughts and beliefs about money were formed long before they even knew what was happening. But it doesn’t mean it doesn’t impact the relationship.
So what to do?
It is important, firstly, that both individuals understand the presence and importance of money mindset. Secondly, it is important to learn what your money mindset is and where it stems from.
A quick exercise you can do to figure out your money mindset is take a piece of paper and quickly segment your life into 5 year increments.
So 0-5 years old, 5-10, 10-15 and so on and so forth. Then under each section I want you to think about what experiences or memories you have that have to do with money. Good, bad, or neutral, and just list them. Some of these memories will be easy and you’ll be like, “I remember on my 11th birthday XYZ,” or, “I remember one Christmas when XYZ.” Other memories are a little deeper down and we really have to think.
My advice for this exercise is to sit down and write as much as you can remember and then just keep that paper in a journal, on a desk, folded up in your purse, etc. For the next few days just be consciously thinking about what memories you had around money. More likely than not some things may pop up as you are driving or having a conversation with your mom, dad, sister, etc.
This exercise is just a starting place! I encourage you to have your spouse do the same exercise so you are able to sit down with each other and go over different experiences and memories you’ve had with money. This will help to shine light on different experiences you have each had that have led to you both feeling/thinking differently about money. Once you and your spouse start to gain a better understanding of where each other are coming from, sometimes that annoyance with each other can turn into compassion for one another and a deeper level of understanding and communication in your marriage.
There is a lot more you can work through here. I strongly encourage you to invest in my self-paced, 5 module, 25 lesson, audio money mindset course, “Entrusted with her Finances.” This course walks you through finding out your money story, working through life in debt, figuring out what you owe your children financially, learning about passive income and how to create it, and then building wealth. It covers the entire gamut and it’s all focused on understanding your money mindset. There is also an 80 page journal to go along with this course. You can click here to learn more about Entrusted with her Finances if you are interested in that!
Reason 2: Mismatched Priorities.
The second reason arguments about money in marriage occur is due to mismatched priorities. For example, one person may value travel and experiences while the other values a large savings and investing. This can cause a clear issue because when you get married you combine two lives. You can’t invest all your extra money if you are spending it on a ski trip to Colorado or a vacation in the sun in Hawaii.
The first thing to mention here is, a conversation on priorities and values is really one that you need to have as a dating couple. Marriage isn’t necessarily the place to do a bait and switch regarding priorities and values.
With that being said, people and what they make a priority can change over time and sometimes our financial situations change, leading priorities to also shift. I am a different person than I was at 16, or 19, 21, 25 and even 30. We don’t stay single nomad college students forever where we can live on ramen noodles and sleep on a park bench just to experience the world. When jobs and children and financial realities set in, we have to be aware that when we started down this road sacrifices would have to be made.
So what to do?
First and foremost, honor one another’s bucket lists or priorities. Discuss with your spouse what your priorities are and why you have them. Secondly, make sure both individuals are fully aware of your financial situation. Sit down and look at your numbers together. You BOTH have to know your numbers and get on the same page. These first two things can then help you figure out a plan that works within the parameters of your income to appease both of you.
Reason 3: Credit Card Debt (either brought into a marriage or built up within marriage).
I personally think credit card debt is the worst! Why? I see it as this flashing neon light of all the things you bought and didn’t need, and now you have to pay for it later both emotionally, physically, mentally, and relationally, especially if one person is more of the ‘culprit.’
As someone who had thousands of dollars on credit cards before my husband and I got serious about becoming debt free, it was literally filled with stupid crap. Lots of Starbucks, Mcdonalds, Chipotle, Target purchases, gas, doordash, amazon, etc. Somehow all these $5-$20 expenses added up to $8,000 in credit card expenses - YIKES! Credit cards are often the cause of how we nickel and dime ourselves into debt. It’s so easy, it’s instant gratification, and the stress and worry is put aside for 30 days. Then reality hits us like a freight train when we look at our statement.
So what to do?
First off, you have to understand what addiction is. Most of us think of addiction under the lens of alcohol, drugs, or food. But what do we use these things to do? To cope. To cope with the life we have, the stress we are under, or things we want to avoid. So stories matter here. Your story, your marriage story, your career story, your mental state story. It all matters. Grace, upon grace, upon grace, here for yourself and for each other.
Once we kind of put down our weapons, take our armor off, and remember that both you and your spouse are human, then we can start to talk about an issue through the lens of compassion. Through this mutual respect of, “Hey, we clearly have an issue here. These numbers are a clear indicator that we are spending way more than we think. I think we need to put some accountability in place and take back control of what we are spending, because I really want to be able to do XYZ (vacation, stay home after the next baby, be debt free, etc.)”
At this point the biggest thing you need to do is to commit to respecting that your income has limits and to stay within those boundaries as a household. You can’t get out of debt living on 110% of your income. We have to cut it back. Then you both, together, begin to decide on how intense you want to be to pay that credit card off and not spend more on it.
Communication, again is key here and so are knowing your numbers and verbalizing priorities. For example, I don’t want to spend $8,000 on Starbucks, fast food, and Target because I want to go on an all-inclusive trip to Mexico for our 10 year wedding anniversary. Make the time to recalibrate what you want your finances to reflect. My husband and I sit down about every 3 months to do a deep dive into our finances.
Reason 4: Financial Infidelity.
Reason number 4 people argue about money in marriage is financial infidelity. This could look like a secret bank account where you have part of your income going so that you can spend money on something inappropriately. I say inappropriate because any secret money or hiding of money is inappropriate in a marriage. Let’s say you and your spouse are on a budget and are making sacrifices, but then one of you has a secret account on the side where you have a couple hundred a month going so that you can spend freely - totally NOT okay!
This could also look like hiding credit cards and credit card statements. Some people find out their spouses have racked up $80k in debt across multiple credit cards and they had no idea! Other ways financial infidelity shows up are hidden purchases, hiding receipts, or lying about the price of something you bought.
Financial infidelity can happen when only one spouse has a pulse on the finances. I personally don’t think it’s a good idea to have separate bank accounts when you are married. In marriage there is so much that could be tempting to hide for whatever reason. Sharing a bank account just takes your accountability up a notch.
Both of you need to know what’s going on financially!!
“One of you needs to be driving the ship, but you both need to be in the boat.” In our household, I am the primary driver in our finances. I pay the bills, keep tabs on all balances and due dates, and know all the things. Week in and week out, I am the one in our finances. My husband is not. But he IS in the boat. We sit down about every 3 months and look over numbers and set new goals. We also look at where we fell short and where we did great. I then execute the plan we came up with.
When two people are in the boat but no one is driving, that’s when we get those $8k credit card bills on stupid crap. When you have two people driving, things can get confusing and things could get double paid or overlooked because you think the other person paid it. You need good communication and the driving person needs to be able to ask for help when needed. The person chilling in the boat also needs to be able to step up when needed.
So what to do?
First, avoid the small lies in your finances. Things like lying about prices or hiding receipts. This can damage trust and ultimately could lead to bigger lies.
Second, have a joint bank account to keep full transparency in your marriage.
Third, sit down together every 90 days to get a game plan.
Fourth, be open about bills and statements. If you are the driver, before you throw away statements or close out the window on your computer of a statement, ask your spouse if they want to see it. A simple, “Hey, I just finished the bills - all the statements are up on my computer and/or on the table - do you have any desire to look at them or can I pitch them?” Honestly, 9 times out of 10 they probably won’t take you up on it, but if financial infidelity has been a thing in your relationship, maybe it would be a ‘yes’ and that’s okay! Remember in marriage the goal is not that you can’t ever have privacy. Privacy isn’t the issue, secrecy is.
Reason 5: Overextending Your Budget.
This reason why couples argue about money in marriage hits close to home. This is exactly what happened to my husband and I. We got married when I was a junior in college. Once I graduated, got a “big girl” job, started to make a decent income, and had our first baby, we decided to stretch ourselves and get our “dream home” right off the bat. Then came the nice cars we could “afford” the payments for. It can be exciting when you aren’t working your teenage job and are making a bigger income! $38K seems like a million dollars. Turns out, it’s not anything like a million dollars. But then combined with your spouses income. it doesn’t seem so far off again.
We get excited and we feel like we are ready for the big shiny things our parents have. What we didn't factor in was they were 50 and we wanted it at 22. Justin and I were in that house for about 3 years before we started realizing that we had overextended ourselves. We were working like crazy people just to have a house we were never at (because we were at work), to pay for cars that sat in parking lots all day, and paying tons of money for our boys to be watched by someone else so that we could live in that house and have those cars.
When you HAVE to work in the job you have because you have to pay your bills - tension can begin. Yes, of course we have to work to pay bills,. But when you get stuck in a job you hate, or like us where my husband was in retail working nights and weekends, and it was a mess. We never saw each other, especially over the holidays. It all just seemed so stupid and so far off from what I thought life would be. That stress builds up and can build resentment. I started to hate my “dream” house. Our cars began to annoy me. I was ready to go buy a double wide out on an acre somewhere if that meant I could have my husband back and be the one to raise my babies.
Oftentimes we overextend ourselves because we have rose-colored glasses on about a house, cars, or whatever else.
So what to do?
First, your mortgage payment should be no more than 25% of your take-home pay. This gives you margin and the CHOICE to pivot if one of you wants to change careers.
Second, if you are overextended, get rid of it. It was a really hard decision to sell our house. I wanted my grandbabies to walk up that driveway one day. But I knew it was holding us back. We also felt stupid for buying my husband a nice Audi and then having to sell it a year later. But we realized it just wasn’t a smart financial decision. We didn’t want a car or a house. We wanted to be together and have more choices. So gone they went.
No material thing is worth your family.
We downsized to a house about 1,000 square feet smaller than what we had right after I had my 3rd child. My babies run around that smaller house just like they did my dream house. We have dinner together just like we did at that house. They play in the sprinkler and eat popsicles just like we did in the old house.
The house doesn’t define your memories as a family. You guys do.
Reason 6: Inability to Compromise on Spending.
And the last reason couples argue about money in marriage I am going to be touching on today is the inability to compromise on spending. There is a difference between having a money problem and a marriage problem. Dave Ramsey says, “Bad relationships cause money messes and money messes cause bad relationships.” There may be money issues deep down on both sides (if one side wants to spend a ton and the other doesn’t), but if you can’t compromise then you have bigger problems than money.
So what to do?
Let’s say one of you wants to spend money on going out to eat and the other wants to spend it on clothes. Split the difference. It’s not that simple, but it kind of is. I am a big proponent of having a miscellaneous category for money in a budget. This is a SET amount of spending money (that makes sense within your budget!) that each person can spend guilt-free. If one person wants to spend all their miscellaneous money on Hot Cheetos and Mountain Dew, have at it. If the other wants to spend it on clothes, go for it.
This only becomes an issue when there is a lack of respect for your income and your spouse. Let’s say one spouse is out spending all the extra money at a bar after work and refuses to stop. That’s a marriage problem, not a money problem. Now, if you guys set a miscellaneous amount of money and he chooses to use his $25 a week on a couple drinks a couple days after work, then so be it. No problem there. But when there is a clear disregard to having financial responsibility, that’s where my kind of help fades and a counselor, which I'm ALL for, probably needs to step in. So evaluate your situation.
Wrapping Up Reasons 1-6
Okay, so there you have it, the first 6 reasons couples fight so much about money in marriage, as well as some of my advice to overcome those challenges. This is easier said than done, but you have to start somewhere. Typically that somewhere is knowing your numbers, compassion and then communication.
Just because there is tension and a differing of money views doesn’t mean your marriage is doomed. You both made vows to be in this thing together, so you have to wade through this part together also. I shared a bit about my money mindset course, Entrusted with her Finances, earlier in this blog post. That resource is always there to support you if you want to learn more about how your money mindset is really one of the biggest drivers in your financial life. If your husband/wife’s money mindset is different than yours, that’s where tension can build. This course is 100% financial self-care and can help SO much. To learn more about Entrusted with her Finances, click here!
If you want to listen to the podcast version of this episode, click here for reasons 1-4 and here for reasons 5-6. As always, I’d love to connect with you on Instagram where I regularly share more content just like this that will enable you to create positive changes for your family.