Fruclassity Commandment #5: Married Couples Do Finances Together

What I needed was a knight in shining armour . . . 

By the time I married DH, I knew I was a disaster with finances. In overdraft every month, my accounts were chaotic, and rescue at the hands of a knight in shining armour seemed like a good thing. DH showed all the signs of being financially sensible. He worried about money. He controlled it tightly. I would leave it all in his hands, and we’d live happily ever after.

DH’s faulty money blueprint

What I didn’t realize at the time was that DH’s worry and control were symptoms of his own faulty money blueprint. “What is a money blueprint?” you might ask. It’s the idea, from T. Harv Eker’s book Secrets of the Millionaire Mind, that there are messages about money that we all absorb as children. These messages become so fundamental to our way of thinking that it’s hard even to identify what they are. But DH read Eker’s book – shortly before we started our journey out of debt in June 2012 – and he gave it some real thought.

Here is what he realized: As he was growing up, he saw that his dad always worried about money. From this observation, he learned that money was stressful and needed to be controlled. An ironic result of this money blueprint was that when things were going well financially, DH was actually out of his element – because there was nothing to worry about. So without being aware of why he was doing it, he’d self-sabotage – making big purchases to get us back to a state where he could be comfortable worrying and controlling again.

I had always loved it when, out of the blue as it seemed, DH would say, “Let’s get new flooring,” or “Let’s go out for dinner and a play,“ or “Let’s do a week-end get-away.” It was such a refreshing change from the furrowed brows, anxious about every penny. I never questioned the wisdom of such big expenditures. I simply accepted them as a profound relief for my own pent up desires to indulge by spending. When DH explained his pattern of spending in light of his money blueprint, it was a real Ah-ha! moment for me too.

Two equal partners

DH’s humble recognition of his own faulty patterns with finances was significant for me. Although I had never put it into words, I always had the impression my own scattered financial brain was the only obstacle blocking our way to good money management. I wasn’t looking for relief from this impression, but I sure felt it when DH took ownership of his flawed patterns. And it set us up well for the equal partnership we were establishing as we began our journey out of debt.


 

Fruclassity Commandment #5: If you are married, approach your finances as a team of two equal partners. One person might have more money savvy, but to have success in your financial practices and goals, both of you have to be committed to them. The number one reason for divorce these days is conflict over finances, so take this one seriously! Find that balance between flexibility and structure – between tenacity and accommodation. Maintain high levels of detailed communication. Get on the same page financially, and write your story together.


 

Recognizing red flags as a team

Managing our finances together as a team requires our effort. I still have a powerful draw towards putting my head in the sand and leaving everything up to DH. I still feel the lure of take-out and other small but constant purchases of the feel-good variety. He is still inclined to worry and control. And still, on occasion, he makes one of those sabotaging suggestions for a big expenditure. But because we’re aware of our own and each other’s weaknesses, we can deal with them proactively. When DH wanted to spend several hundred dollars on an anniversary get-away last October, I pointed it out as a red flag, and rather than spending a fortune at a resort, we went camping instead – at a savings of 95%. And just this evening, tired and hungry after a workout at the gym, I tried to talk DH into a bite to eat at his favourite restaurant. He was tempted, but he resisted the bait, recognizing my spending weakness in it, and we made up a frugal fish meal at home instead.

Budgeting and tracking together 

Every month, DH and I make up a budget together, and every Saturday, we sit down and track our expenditures for the week. I was hoping, after reading Dave Ramsey’s The Total Money Makeover, that our budgeting sessions would be bonding experiences – as they seemed to be among those who gave testimonials in the book. “’We have made budgeting and planning our future together enjoyable and fun,’ say Cheryl and Ken Rhoads.  ‘It’s like dating again!’” (Ramsey, 75) Well, so much for that hope.

Nevertheless, although our weekly and monthly budget meetings are less-than-romantic, they’ve had the result of making our marriage stronger. No longer does DH carry the burden of managing our personal finances alone. No longer do I accept and shrug off my own financial incompetence. I’m gaining some money savvy. DH and I steer each other in the right direction when our own weaknesses threaten to take us off course. And together, we keep on top of the minutia of our spending.

Functioning in isolation from each other, we created a situation of unstable finances and constant undercurrents of stress. Now, we’re on the same page. And we’re writing our story together.


If you are part of a couple, does only one of you manage the money? Or do you share that responsibility?


 

10 comments on “Fruclassity Commandment #5: Married Couples Do Finances Together

  1. Being a team is absolutely essential. Goals and priorities should be decided together and both persons should be contributing in some manner toward achieving those goals. My husband and my goals were to pay off our mortgage before we retired. Put our son through college with no student loans and retire at hubby’s age 55. We accomplished all three because it was the three most important financial items in our lives and we chose to make sacrifices in other areas in order to attain those goals. Now we are retired and we still do our finances together. We each do a different part, but then we meet every Friday and every month end to see how we are doing.

    1. Kathy, it sounds like this was never an area of struggle for you. You make it sound so easy! How satisfying to have reached all of those goals you set! I’m glad that couples can figure things out later in the game and still benefit from it – as we are – but your example shows how great it is to have it figured out from the get-go. Thanks for you comment : )

  2. We’ve always been a team. Not sure if that was always a good thing, but we were always in the same boat anyway. When I first married “Jay”, he was very spendy, but his first wife made more money than him, so he was used to a different lifestyle. I made less, but I gave him a child, so … we’ll call it even. 😛

    I really like the way you examine this subject so carefully and thoroughly, Ruth. I think it’s really helpful for anyone in the same boat you used to be in. You show that there is a way to synchronize your rowing and make it to shore happy and dry. 🙂

    1. I think that for every couple with a disconnect in financial communication, there’s a different set of obstacles. Like you, I hope that this story of our transition from disconnected to connected will be helpful to people who are trying to get this figured out. It’s great that you and Jay have been “in the same boat” all along. Here’s wishing you continued happy rowing : )

  3. Wow, Ruth – that’s so interesting about DH’s need to have something to worry about! What a revelation! We have our own interesting way of handling money as a couple. I’ll have to write about it someday when I have Rick’s permission. 🙂

    1. It really was a turning point for us when DH recognized his worry pattern and shared it with me. People naturally get defensive in financial conflicts within a couple, so it was wonderful for him to do the opposite and to reflect upon his own flawed blueprint with open humility. You’re very wise not to write about your situation until Rick is OK with it. Here’s hoping he will be : )

  4. It’s very interesting how your pattern and your husband’s interacted. Sounds like you have a great system in place now. My wife and I have always shared the financial responsibilities. She used to do all the tracking and we’d review it together every month (or more often), but a few years ago I took over the day-to-day tracking and she organizes the monthly summary. This way there are some checks and balances. There are still times when one of us wants to do something we shouldn’t (whether it’s go out to eat once too often or go away for a few days) and the other goes right along with it, but for the most part we’re headed in the right direction.

    1. Checks and balances are good to have, and it sounds as if you and your wife have a pretty smooth system going. I think the fact that you each “go right along with it” when the other spends outside the budget indicates that you’re able to absorb the occasional blip. All the best as you keep heading in the right direction, Gary. Thanks for your comment.

  5. I handle all the finances but it’s not a control thing. It’s just something that happened.

    Now and then I’ll stop the Mrs. her to show her something regarding our finances but it’s not a scheduled event. We both spend conservatively and if we have any large/recurring expenses we discuss them before committing.

    We both have a very similar financial mindset and that gets us by–well, that and trust.

    1. I think that for some people – you and your wife, for instance – wise money management is almost second nature. It’s great that you’re so in sync financially that you have little need to discuss things. I do wonder though – if you became injured or ill and weren’t able to handle the finances, would your wife be able to step in and take over? Thanks for your comment, Mining Frugal.

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