Written by Todd Foley
People mention all kinds of qualities when talking about their future mate, such as shared faith, common interests, mutual values and physical attraction. Want to know what quality matters most to some? The ability to manage finances.
According to the TD Canada Trust Valentine’s Day poll, 77 per cent of Canadians say they wouldn’t marry someone who had excessive debt or was poor at managing their personal finances.
Money clearly plays a significant role in marriage, which is why it’s so important to know how to talk about money with your spouse.
This month, we chatted with financial experts, mortgage managers and best-selling authors to help you and your spouse learn how to communicate about your finances, work together as a team and resolve money-related conflicts.
- Share the responsibility. It’s not uncommon for one spouse to take on most of the financial responsibilities in a marriage. This isn’t necessarily a sign of an unhealthy relationship, but it can become problematic if the responsible spouse somehow becomes unable to fulfill their duty, says Monique Honaman, author of The High Road Has Less Traffic: Honest Advice on the Path Through Love and Divorce. “People say to me, ‘My husband handles all of this, and I am never going to get divorced, so I don’t need to understand it.’ What happens if your husband drops dead of a heart attack?” By working together to manage your finances, you’ll be able to share the responsibility in your marriage and be equally equipped in the wake of your spouse’s passing, as well as job loss or a debilitating injury.
- Make a money autobiography. Karen Lee, a certified financial planner, recommends that each spouse writes a “money autobiography,” which can help you understand what influences your personal relationship with money and spending. For example, did your parents finance major purchases, or did they save up so that they could purchase without going into debt? Do you go into a store knowing what you want to buy, or do you decide once you’re there? Why? “Many people lose sight of the root causes of why they spend what they spend,” she says. Meanwhile, Matt Bell, a finance writer at Mattaboutmoney.com, says this sort of exercise can strengthen your overall communication in your marriage. “When you understand some of each others’ money tendencies, it can create empathy and understanding,” he says, “and it can point toward solutions for recurring disagreements about money and most other things.”
- Go on a money date. Robbey Schroeder, author of Managing the Marriage Purse, recommends having a money date with your spouse where you talk about your budget and address any concerns. “The money dates [help] eliminate secret expenditures,” Shroeder says. “This creates accountability, but more than that, it creates a sense of teamwork, which builds intrinsic motivation.” Ensuring open communication is especially important when 21 per cent of individuals surveyed in TD Canada Trust’s survey report have told their partner that a purchase cost less than it actually did and 13 per cent admitted to hiding purchases from their partner. Rev. Dr. Daniel and Penny Loosenort, authors of We Promise: 18 Foundational Stones for an Unshakeable Marriage, say you may need to deal with unresolved conflict on these dates and take responsibility for your role. “Repentance and forgiveness are paramount in our life if we want to be able to resolve conflict and establish good communication skills.”
- Communicate your values and expectations. Don't limit your money dates to talking about problems. Take this opportunity to discuss your future dreams. “How would one spouse feel if the other took a lower-paying job that they enjoyed more?” asks Brian Solik, president and founder of Wealth Preservation Strategies. “What if [they] wanted to stop working entirely? How do they feel about taking risks in one’s career, such as starting a new business?” Bring these sorts of questions to your money dates, discuss them with an open mind and respectfully listen to your spouse’s dreams and concerns.
- Affirm your love to one another. Sharing a dream or admitting a mistake requires vulnerability. According to interpersonal communication expert Joseph Grenny’s research on financial accountability in marriage, 78 per cent of his surveyed couples said they have difficulty discussing finances with each other. He recommends countering this by affirming your love and respect for each other regardless of any conflict. “The most important key to solving problems with loved ones is to ensure they know you respect and love them,” says Grenny. “If they do, their defenses drop and they begin to listen.”
- Find a money mentor. The Bible is full of verses on seeking godly advice. “Listen to advice and accept instruction, and in the end you will be wise” (Proverbs 19:20). Schroeder suggests taking this approach with finances by finding a money mentor – a trusted third party in your church or community from whom you and your spouse can get financial guidance. Use this opportunity to openly discuss your budget, debts, salaries and goals, then ask your mentor how they perceive your personal values and financial priorities. “There is nothing more practical than shedding light on the true reality of your financial situation to someone else,” Schroeder says.
- Agree to hold your money and each other accountable. Lee Roesner, developer of personal online budgeting system MoneySlinger, says that one of the most common financial pitfalls for couples is failing to separate fixed expenses (e.g., mortage, rent or tithing) from flexible expenses (e.g., groceries, gas or entertainment). “What [couples] need in order to communicate more effectively is a stable financial picture that stays the same week-to-week and month-to-month,” he says. Use this opportunity to understand your finances as a couple and reach an agreement regarding what needs to be saved for monthly recurrences and what can be spent with discretion; this will help you stay accountable to both your budget and your spouse. “When one spouse is going shopping for clothing and can easily see how much of the monthly clothing budget is still available, that’s a great form of accountability,” says Bell.
- Be willing to compromise. When it comes to establishing your regular budget and seeing the bigger picture of your finances, you may need to compromise in order to reach this agreement. “Compromise works best when both partners have a sense of ownership over the family finances,” Bell says. Making these financial compromises can also strengthen your marriage because you become aware of your shared values and unique communication methods. “Once couples are working together, they’ll not only see their finances improve, but also the communication within their marriage,” says Chris Hogan, director of Dave Ramsey’s financial coaching and counselling division.
- Talk to a counsellor if you can’t reach an agreement. If you and your spouse continue to argue about money without reaching a compromise, consider meeting with a marriage counsellor. We have a qualified team of counsellors at Focus on the Family Canada and can also direct you to a counsellor near where you live. Visit Focushelps.ca or call us at 1.800.661.9800.
Todd Foley is an associate editor at Focus on the Family Canada.
Reference to the individuals and organizations quoted does not constitute a blanket endorsement of either the individuals’ external work or their respective organizations.