I went to a lovely wedding this weekend. During the ceremony, the priest discussed how in marriage two people come together to become one. This is a theme in most, if not all the weddings I have attended, including my own. It’s a beautiful thought really. The bride and groom, living separate lives, now join together and create one new life together.
In my years of counseling, I think a lot of people miss this message when it comes to finances. Most couples with financial problems (which quickly become marital problems) fall into one of two camps. Either they keep their financial lives completely separate or one person becomes the “financial guru” in the relationship. Generally, this person has the entire weight of both financial lives upon their shoulders but both partners still act as though they are living separate financial existences.
The hardest part of counseling people in either of these camps is convincing them that in order to end up at the same place at the end of their financial journey (usually retirement), they need to work together. There is no longer “her money” and “his debt” but “our money” and “our debt”. It’s impossible to have one spouse truly prosper financially when the other has debt of any kind. Whether or not you believe it, your financial lives will be forced to become one at some point. Hopefully that moment comes as prosperity at retirement, rather than bankruptcy later in life.
I’m a big believer in setting down goals. What kind of retirement do we want to have? How are we going to get there. When having children, will one of us stay home? Public school or private school? Do we see ourselves living here forever? Do either of us need more education to achieve our goals?
Jeff and I have these kinds of conversations all the time. It’s actually fun to sit down and ponder the future and try to figure out how we will get there together. We do our monthly budget together. We celebrate our financial successes together. We work out the setbacks together. We didn’t always do this. A few years ago, we were one of those couples where one person handled the finances. It was stressful. It caused disagreements. It caused strain between us. Once we got on the same plan and started working together, everything changed. The money stress is virtually gone. When there is money stress, we handle it together.
I’m not saying things are going to change overnight, but when you start to see your finances as one unit that you both must carry together, it will start to get better. Your marriage will become stronger and the stresses that come with money will be less.
For more information on this, I highly recommend The Total Money Makeover and Financial Peace Revisited. Both books cover how to talk to your spouse, how to have those budget meetings and how to put together a plan for the rest of your financial life.