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For Your Marriage


Perhaps you are approaching marriage on a sound financial footing. You’ve finished your education, have been employed for several years, maybe even have some savings or own a house. Perhaps you are set – or so you think. But having enough money for a comfortable lifestyle is not all that finances in marriage is about.

It’s also about power. It might not seem that way at first. The two of you might have every intention of sharing incomes completely. You certainly don’t see each other as people who will dictate how much money can be spent on a cup of coffee. But weird things can happen when money is merged.

Old memories from our family of origin start to replay in our heads. You may agree that it’s fine if one spouse makes more money than the other. Then the primary wage earner sees the other spending his or her hard-earned cash on something like a $50 hair cut or a round of drinks at the club. One person’s necessity is another’s luxury.

What if you’re not in the enviable position of being financially stable? What if one of you still has student loans or credit card debt to pay off? Mixing debts and uncertain jobs makes marriage even more fragile. You will need much self-discipline, however, to keep strained finances from starting quarrels and poisoning your relationship.

Do financial problems cause divorce?

Financial counselors often point to finances as the most common cause of divorce. That’s only partially true. A study by Jason Carroll of Brigham Young University looked at 600 couples from across the nation from various ethnic, religious and economic backgrounds. According to Carroll, the study showed that “financial problems are as much a result of how we think about money as how we spend it.”

One of the first things couples need to notice about each is their “spending personalities.”

Money may be the presenting problem that gets a couple to counseling, but the solution is not just to make more money. Rather, couples need to improve communication skills so they can talk about their different ways of spending money and the different values that may underlie their financial decisions.

Carroll’s study found that when at least one spouse is highly materialistic, couples are 40 percent more likely to have financial problems that put a strain on their marriage, regardless of income level. The reason is that the couple expects that their lifestyle will bring them happiness, rather than finding happiness in each other.

What’s your spending personality?

One of the first things couples need to notice about each is their “spending personalities.” Is one thrifty and the other a spendthrift? If these traits are deep-rooted and significantly different, they can cause major tension and conflict.

If both spouses are spendthrifts the likelihood is that they will face issues of debt management – even if they have a high income – because desires tend to increase just a little beyond our incomes. As John D. Rockefeller said when asked how much money it takes to be really satisfied, “Just a little bit more!”

Of course, if one spouse is high on the spendthrift scale and the other tends toward being a miser, the probability of tension and conflict over money is obvious. It the extremes are not too severe, good communication skills can bring compromise and a healthy balance. It’s wise to have the thrifty, detailed person keep the books and write the checks.

Having two frugal zealots, however, is not necessarily the ideal either. If both spouses are extremely thrifty, they may tend to hold themselves to a very Spartan lifestyle, seldom spending any money on recreation. They may find themselves in a rut of all work and no play.

What’s your shopping style?

Beyond a couple’s basic spending personality, couples sometimes experience tension over their shopping styles. For example, which of the following shopping styles fits you?

  • Utilitarian: I shop for what I need and that’s it. I’m usually in and out of a store quickly.
  • Laissez-faire: When I see something I like, I buy it. I don’t plan for it, I just follow my whim.
  • Bargain Hunter: I check the ads. When something’s on sale, I snatch it and stock up. I feel great when I know I’ve gotten a good deal. Shopping is like a sport for me.
  • Therapy: When I’m in a blue mood, buying something helps me feel better.
  • Recreation: I like to window-shop. I can spend hours shopping alone or with friends.

If your shopping styles conflict, it may be easier just to acknowledge the difference and not shop together.

Who’s got the power?

The complicated thing about money in a marriage is that it’s often tied up with power. We may believe that the person who makes the most money is more valued or should have the greater say in financial decisions. We need to remember that spouses perform many tasks for which they are not paid. They contribute to the marriage and common life in different ways. At times one spouse may be ill or unemployed and not able to contribute financially or in other ways. Spouses need to feel valued and respected in their own home, regardless of how much money they bring in.

Is it ever better to have less money?

In a strong, life-giving marriage, financial responsibility is not just about making money and spending it or saving it. It also includes giving it away – to religious institutions, charities or our neighbors in need. Sometimes living more simply so that others can simply live is the most direct path to satisfaction and happiness.

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