A divorce attorney once told me that when money is the issue that comes between couples, as it often is, the most common problem is that the spouses were living separate financial lives. Often, unbeknownst to the other, one was taking their relationship to the edge of a financial cliff, usually by racking up a lot of debt. By the time the other finally found out, it was too late. Not only were they in deep financial trouble, but all trust and respect had been lost as well.
That’s one reason why I recommend full financial disclosure before marriage and complete ongoing financial transparency after marriage. As you move through life and toward the accomplishment of your financial goals, it’s so important to work together, with financial openness and teamwork.
One in money, one in marriage
In the Bible’s classic teaching on love, the apostle Paul said, “love rejoices in the truth.” However, according to several studies, from 30 to 50 percent of all married people believe it’s okay to keep financial secrets from their spouse. Not exactly a good idea for building a strong marriage!
A far better approach is to set up your financial life in a way that fosters transparency, like combining checking and savings accounts.
Also, make sure all of your household’s income and expenses are recorded in a place where both of you can see all of that information. Whether you track your finances on a sheet of paper, with an Excel spreadsheet, via budget software like Quicken, or through an online tool like Mint.com, make sure both of you have easy access to the information and that you review the information together regularly.
Set your house in order
A related tool that I strongly recommend is Set Your House In Order from the ministry of Compass—Finances God’s Way. It’s one part Bible study and one part practical guidance for organizing all of your financial documents and putting them in one place for the benefit of your spouse should something happen to you.
I went through this study a few years ago with a friend. It prompted some great time in God’s Word and helpful financial accountability. We both feel that we will have made life so much easier for our spouses should they one day have to manage the finances of our respective households without us.
What about buying gifts?
Whenever I teach a marriage workshop and encourage couples to set up their finances with complete transparency, someone usually asks, “If we combine our finances, how can we surprise each other with gifts?”
My recommendation is to set up multiple gift budgets, including one for the gifts you’ll buy for your spouse throughout the year, another for the gifts he or she will buy for you, and another for the gifts you as a couple will buy for others. If you have kids, set up a fourth gift budget.
When you want to buy your spouse a gift, you could withdraw the budgeted amount from an ATM and buy the gift with cash. Then wait until after you give the gift to categorize the expense.
You could also use the budgeted amount to buy a gift card and then make your purchase with that card. The gift card expense gets posted to your budget as a gift expense, but your spouse won’t know where you bought their gift.
What about you? What do you do in your marriage to foster financial oneness? And if you use joint checking and savings accounts, how do you surprise each other with gifts?
Are you engaged or newly married, or do you know someone who is? Why not buy a copy of Money & Marriage: A Complete Guide for Engaged and Newly Married Couples?