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Making money a healthy part of your relationship: 10 questions to ask yourself
Marriage and taxes
The bottom line
Oct 19, 2022
6 min read
Learning to communicate openly about household finances, creating a budget, and scheduling financial conversations are all ways to make money easier to manage within a marriage.
It’s no secret that couples disagree about money. From conflict with a spouse over a recent purchase to more systemic money issues surrounding savings, debt, kids, or financial investments, money is a source of tension in a relationship, according to the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA). In fact, the study reported this is the experience for 73% of married or cohabiting couples.
Even so, there are steps couples can take to help resolve their conflicts over money matters and become more financially in sync.
Different attitudes and habits around money can cause conflict within a marriage—or any long term relationship. Using a few basic communication strategies and tools like budgeting, can help you and your partner talk about money without anger or resentment. Here are 10 questions that could open the door to a more harmonious relationship between your marriage and money.
Before attempting to settle any financial arguments between you and your partner, consider reassessing individual financial goals and wishes. Plenty of people are in touch with their money and relationship needs and discuss it with their spouse regularly. But others might not be aware of their growing discontent in the financial arrangements until they pause to think about their financial preferences.
Different couples have various thresholds for financial transparency within a marriage. Some couples are comfortable with partners who have carte blanche access to all accounts, while others want some financial boundaries (such as their own credit card or an account that their partner can’t access). Total or partial transparency? There is no right or wrong answer, as long as both parties in a marriage are in agreement.
If a couple has decided together they will have total transparency, keep the promise.
The term “financial infidelity” is used to describe when one person has been dishonest, lying by omission, or otherwise untruthful about household finances (think keeping a secret bank account or hiding your salary), which can cause significant damage within a marriage. A National Endowment for Financial Education survey suggests financial dishonesty can signal a communication breakdown, so it’s best to be open about spending and earnings so you can work towards agreed upon financial goals.
Financial decisions can cause tension within a relationship when opinions differ. Discussing these money matters with a spouse can range from a mildly uncomfortable chat, to a heated argument. But money doesn’t have to be a contentious topic in a marriage if each person in a couple learns how to listen.
Consistent communication about finances with a spouse that is open, honest, and respectful, diffuses fears and pent-up resentments. If calm conversations about money aren’t happening organically, try scheduling a regular date to talk about it—the first Tuesday of every month for an hour, for example. It works best if both parties are present and focused, and not trying to watch TV in the background. Topics might include a major purchase on the horizon or tackling debt, among other financial situations. You don’t have to like your spouse’s response, or agree in entirety, but try to listen.
Whether saving for an immediate goal of new art supplies for a hobby or for a big future goal of buying a house, it’s helpful to establish and agree upon short- and long-term financial goals. To attain such goals, it can be helpful to set up a checklist together and schedule regular check-ins to monitor progress.
If setting up goal-based savings plans is a new practice for you, reference the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s toolkit to help. Its recommendations for planning for life events involving finances include:
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There are a multitude of ways couples can divvy up paying bills and expenses. Sometimes, it may be based on a percentage of salary; others may prefer a 50/50 split. Some financial experts suggest married couples pay all the shared bills—like rent or mortgage, utilities, and the like—from a joint checking account.
Another way to make the marriage more equal, if that is desired, is by either sharing in the day-to-day money responsibilities like paying bills, or alternating every few months.
Creating a household budget is a significant part of financial literacy. Between marriage and potentially kids, it can be challenging to figure out where the money is going. Budgets can help with that. Depending on the couple, budgets can be a loose framework to follow or down-to-the-dollar spreadsheets. Both are valid approaches, as long as both partners are in agreement. A few popular budgeting apps to consider: Mint, Honeydue, Goodbudget, and YNAB.
Budgets can also help establish shared values, like agreeing to save for a down payment on a house without tapping the emergency fund or sacrificing one vacation per year. Research shows this improves marriage quality.
Individual debt can be brought into a marriage through student loans or credit card debt. It can also be accrued during a marriage: unexpected medical emergencies, buying a new car, or even launching a business. However the debt was incurred, pre- or post-vows, it can impact credit scores, which has a negative domino effect when trying to rent an apartment or applying for loans. One of the best ways a couple can invest in their future is to face their debt, set up a repayment plan, and pay off debt.
Everyone has a financial personality, and if a couples’ personalities differ towards money, it could lead to frequent conflicts. One partner may be thrifty and the other enjoys the occasional splurge; or, one has a higher risk tolerance than the other when it comes to investing. The sooner you can recognize and try to accept each others’ financial personalities, the easier it may be to find compromise.
Understanding a person’s financial personality ideally would start before the marriage, but sometimes personalities shift and change over time. If you find that your partner’s financial personality is changing, ask questions to better understand their decision-making framework
Some couples have found hiring an accountant and/or a financial advisor helps ease stress and anxiety, they can explain how to manage money as a couple and create financial plans. There are even financial therapists to consult. Another option is a postnuptial agreement (as in, a prenup, but after marriage) however one person in the couple might be appalled at the mention of one. Reassure your spouse that a postnup is not a veiled first step in divorce proceedings, but a way to protect their money in a way that’s fair to both people.
Married couples have a choice to file their federal taxes jointly as a couple or separately as individuals. Typically, there are more tax breaks, including the Earned Income Tax Credit, for those who file jointly. However, that’s not always the case. Factors like the income of each person, home ownership, investments, children, or if there was a big medical expenditure that year, can all influence whether filing jointly or separately is the most financially beneficial. Consulting with a CPA can help in crunching the numbers to determine if filing jointly or separately is more advantageous.
Married couples argue and disagree about money. However, there are steps to take for a healthier relationship with money—and each other. Learning to communicate openly about household finances, creating a budget, and scheduling one-on-one financial conversations are all ways to make money easier to manage within a marriage. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, but couples that take the time to discover which strategies work best for their financial personalities and financial goals, are likely to be on the right financial path.
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