Managing Finances After MarriageCredit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/incomedream/5550020851

Managing your finances as a couple is vital to the success of your relationship. I have seen marriages on the brink of collapse because of financial mismanagement; it’s no wonder therefore that money issues are often named as one of the top reasons for divorce in the United States and other countries of the world.

But I honestly think couples can avoid the tension associated with monetary issues with proper planning, understanding and communication. In this article, I want to compare marriage to a company that must keep accounts and render profits as at when due.

When a man or woman is single, he or she can spend or invest at will but when two people are involved in a finance situation, it calls for caution, deep communication and thorough planning. Money, whichever way you look at it, is a conversational time bomb in the best of all relationships. Interestingly, the more you talk about money, the richer your marriage will be (literally and metaphorically). So, get into the mood for a money talk with your spouse and try to get your mate involved by playing a light-hearted financial game that can help you ascertain each other’s money habits.

The game could seek answers to questions like:

  • What would you buy if you had a $1000 gift from your employers?
  • How do you view money? A necessary evil or a tool for happiness?
  • How much do you have in your wallet right now?
  • What are the best and worst four purchases you’ve made as a couple?
  • Which of you is likely to know how much you have in your checking account, buy an expensive toy or know how the stock market fared today?

To make the exercise fun, get two sheets of paper and write your answers individually. Afterwards, compare and contrast (you’ll surely have some fun and laughs doing so).

As far as I’m concerned, couples need just three stages to be able to manage finances in marriage. The first stage is the talking phase; the second one is the implementation phase while the last one is the review phase.

The financial game I earlier talked about is to enable a couple get into the conversational mood. Once that is achieved, set a date for the money talk. Mark your calendars in red and commit to that date.

The Talking Phase: This stage involves the actual talking and decision-making. This is the stage when you look at the funds coming in from both parties and how to allocate the funds to your current needs and future security (as a couple). If one of the partners is a spendthrift (while the other is an impulsive buyer), there is bound to be conflict because the latter would not understand why money has to be saved (for the future) when there are so many things to be bought and enjoyed now. The way around it is to make some rules before the discussion. The rules could be as simple as the following:

  • Make up your minds as a couple to try and manage your finances well
  • Don’t dump decision-making on one partner, accept equal responsibility
  • Forget about past financial indiscretions and focus on how to move forward
  • Honestly access  your financial situation and set goals that will not lead to frustration (when not achieved)
  • Take a deep breath and approach your money-talk with a huge expectation of the good things you can achieve together as a couple. If the conversation becomes intense and fruitless, take a break for a while.

Now that you’re ready to talk, set an exciting agenda (for both of you). At this stage, you can even ask your partner what he or she wants in the near future and you commit to making it happen together. While talking, be very clear as to what exactly you want to have as a couple; give no room for selfish goals. Be very specific, instead of abstract, a good example of an abstract statement is, “I feel concerned when we don’t have money in the reserve fund.” To be more specific, you can say, “I feel secure when we have $5000 in the family reserve fund.” And ask your partner to commit to it.

At this point, you’re going to think of how to raise $5000 in the family reserve fund. Will it be deducted from individual pay checks or one partner will be responsible for it? How much is going to be deducted and which partner is going to be responsible for the household needs? All these plans have to be laid out at this point.

The Implementation Phase: After the money-talk and planning, it’s time for all-out-action. This is the period when you go out to make money and deduct whatever you’ve agreed on. Both parties must be faithful in doing this to avoid the other partner feeling cheated. Without implementation, a family’s financial goals cannot be attained. However, common sense must be applied here if the partners must remain happy. I honestly think each party should be given access to an amount they can spend without questions from the other partner (after saving for the family goals).

The Review Phase: Once implementation begins, a quarterly or monthly review is necessary. This is to enable you ascertain if you’re on the right track or not. Companies do this all the time and I honestly think couples should do it too. This way, you’d know if your plans need tweaking or should be left to run. As I earlier said, the review can be done on a quarterly basis and you can have a reward in place to keep your partner motivated (like a movie ticket or dinner in an exclusive restaurant after your discussion). Before you finish your current talk, mark your calendars for the next talk (which will be in four month’s time).

What to Do If Your Partner Seems Uninterested

It’s true that some partners just won’t respond to money-talk but you can dangle a carrot to stir up their interest. Ask him (or her) what he (or she) would love to have in 10 years time; it could be a family cruise, paying cash for college or retiring early. Whatever it is, try to convince your partner you can make it happen together. While promising this, try to explain that most of your moves as a family would not lead to perfection overnight but the tiny steps you’re taking coupled with the quarterly review will lead you to your promised land sooner than later.

Should Couples Have a Joint or Separate Bank Accounts?

This is a very touchy subject but I have a simple way around it. A couple can open a joint bank account into which each partner would contribute a percentage of their income. That is for the family. Each partner can also have individual accounts to manage personal funds. I think this will make both partners happy and keep the relationship going. I have seen situations where a couple put all their earnings in a single account; I have also seen situations where a couple didn’t have a joint bank account and their relationship didn’t suffer as a result. If you ask me, it’s a matter of choice and trial. Try out all the options and stick with the one that works for you.

Financially Ever After: The Couples' Guide to Managing Money
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For further reading, get this comprehensive guide by Jeff D. Opdyke. It will help you manage money and the emotions of a relationship without conflicts. Previously a syndicated Wall Street Journal's columnist, Jeff deals with dividing family chores, confronting debt and employment. He also talks about how to handle mortgages, children and family budgeting. It's a must-read, if you ask me.