If ever there was a relationship designed to be built on a foundation of trust it would be the marriage relationship, right? And ideally, that trust would extend into all areas, including money.
However, according to a recent Pew Research Center study, just 56% of married people say they trust their spouse a great deal to handle money responsibly. That’s surprising, and heartbreaking. It would be irritating to not trust your spouse to handle money responsibly, and it could be hazardous to the future of your relationship. In fact, according to a 2009 study called The State of Our Unions:
“When individuals feel that their spouse does not handle money well, they report lower levels of marital happiness. They are also more likely to head for divorce court. In fact, in one study, feeling that one’s spouse spent money foolishly increased the likelihood of divorce 45 percent for both men and women. Only extramarital affairs and alcohol/drug abuse were stronger predictors of divorce.”
What to do? My suggestion won’t sound very magical, and it certainly won’t sound romantic. But it works incredibly well. Use a cash flow plan (a.k.a., a budget).
A tool that fosters transparency and teamwork
I’ve heard people recommend that couples set a limit on how much one spouse can spend without consulting the other. I’m not crazy about that idea because it isn’t specific enough (if the limit is $50, does that mean I can spend $50 every day on whatever I want?), and it isn’t comprehensive enough. What I prefer is a properly functioning cash flow plan. Here are the essentials:
- Both spouses agree to develop a plan together and to adhere to the plan. They recognize that it’s an essential tool for truly managing God’s resources, that it’ll be good for their finances, and that it’ll be good for their marriage.
- Both spouses agree about which cash flow plan tool they will use. When choosing between the envelope system, a paper & pencil system, an Excel spreadsheet, software like Quicken, or an online tool like Mint, remember that the best system is the one you’ll actually use, so choose the one you’re most comfortable with.
- Both spouses agree as to which one will be most responsible for keeping the budget current, either entering income and expenses if they decide to use a manual budget or making sure expenses are categorized accurately if using an electronic tool.
- Both spouses are involved in setting up the plan, allocating their household income based on the overarching priorities that reflect a biblical approach to money management.
- Both spouses agree to certain amounts that each spouse will be free to spend as they wish as long as they stay within the agreed upon amounts. For example, Jude and I have separate clothing budgets that we can spend as we want to. All other categories are jointly managed. We have a home furnishings line item, but I don’t go and buy a new couch without consulting Jude and vice versa. When it comes to more daily items, like groceries, we don’t have to consult each other before shopping, but we do need to both be on the same page in terms of keeping our spending in such categories in line with the budgeted amounts. Speaking of which…
- Both spouses agree to manage to the numbers in their plan. That means not just waiting until the end of the month to see how things turned out, but keeping tabs on how much remains in a given category before spending money in that category.
A properly designed and functioning cash flow plan will keep both spouses on the same financial page and give each one anytime/anywhere access to their household’s financial situation. It’ll help both spouses handle money responsibly, and that’ll be good for your marriage, your finances, and your faith.
Take it to heart: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather in humility value others above yourselves.” – Philippians 2:3
Take action: If you’re not currently using one, learn how to use a cash flow plan today.