Make Money Management a Joint Effort

by Francine L. Huff

This article is from HomeLife Magazine.

Is money causing problems in your marriage? If you answered yes, consider the root cause of the problem: Is it money or a lack of communication about money?

Disagreement over money is named as a leading cause of divorce in the U.S., so it's important to practice discussing financial matters well (that is, without yelling and accusations). You and your spouse are playing for the same team, so work together to score points against the money issues that arise. Try the following steps to become better team players at the money game.

1. Practice the art of listening.

"A couple should practice active listening skills when discussing finances," says Anita Thomas, associate professor of counselor education at Northeastern Illinois University. "It is easy to become defensive and not listen fully to your partner. Couples should be careful to use ‘I' statements when discussing feelings and issues and to mirror, repeat, or restate each other's responses."

Using better listening skills will help cut down on misunderstandings (and shouting matches) that occur when spouses focus on getting their points across no matter what. Decide now that it's more important to come to a consensus about money matters than to be right.

2. Decide to make your finances a joint effort.

Discuss the importance of working together to achieve financial goals. Instead of thinking about "his" money and "her" money, begin to think about "our" money and how to manage it better together.

"The first step is to make a commitment to each other to become equal financial partners in your marriage. This can be a verbal or written commitment, whichever suits you best," writes Mary Hunt in Debt-Proof Your Marriage. "For some spouses, this step of commitment will mean giving up control. For others it will require them to get involved."

Being committed means that both spouses agree to take an active role in reaching financial goals. Although one spouse may be better at managing money, the other isn't exempt from all financial responsibilities. Find tasks that are suitable for each spouse, and communicate regularly to mark progress.

3. Establish a system of accountability.

Decide how to set up and maintain savings and checking accounts so that both spouses are accountable for household spending. If the idea of completely merging your finances causes you to break out in a cold sweat, try opening a joint checking account for all your household bills, and maintain separate accounts for personal spending.

But remember, a marriage is a partnership between two individuals who should be working toward common goals. Agreeing to merge checking and savings accounts isn't always easy, but doing so shows a certain level of trust in each other.

"Couples should explore various ways of handling money until a style that is suitable can be found," Thomas says. She suggests that one month you try paying bills together; then try paying them individually the next month, or try dividing the bills and determining who is responsible for which ones. "The idea is for the couple to explore options creatively to find their unique fit."

Once you agree on a system for managing money, make sure you're both knowledgeable about your household finances, including account information, monthly bills, and the amount of any debt.

4. Cut the debt.

If you're drowning in tension over unpaid debt, you're not alone. Many couples feel overwhelmed with debt from credit cards, mortgages, student loans, and car payments.

To halt further accumulation, think about the circumstances that have led to your debt. Are you using credit cards to pay for bills or groceries? Does one of you make frequent trips to the mall, ignoring your mate's desire to save?

Cutting your debt load requires sitting down, totaling all your debts, and forming a plan to escalate payments. Agree not to take on new debt while you're paying off existing debt. Discuss how getting rid of this bondage will help you meet important financial goals that you've agreed on for your family.

5. Save for the future.

Make stashing cash a priority. Agree to build an emergency savings fund, plan for retirement, and plan for college costs if you have children. If both spouses work, each should contribute a proportional amount of money into a savings plan. If only one spouse works, it's still important to discuss savings goals and work together to achieve them.

For instance, if one spouse doesn't work and has most of the household shopping responsibilities, he or she may need to become more diligent about watching the family budget and make better spending choices so that there's enough money to contribute to savings each month.

Working together to achieve common financial goals is a commitment that will pay off in many ways. Start a new program of financial communication and awareness to get your marital money matters on the right track today.

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