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Five Worst Money Mistakes Married Couples Make

by Emily Guy Birken

As Americans, we have all grown up with the fairy tale view of marriage: you fall deeply in love, have a beautiful wedding, and then live happily ever after. Unfortunately, marriage is more like running a business than like dancing and singing around Prince Charming’s castle. And many married couples find themselves surprised at how difficult it is to keep the financial aspects of marriage from hurting the romance.

There are some common mistakes that are very easy to make when you have romantic stars in your eyes. Make sure you don’t commit any of these five financial blunders, and it will be that much easier to live happily ever after with your sweetheart:

Wedding Certificate1. Assuming that you have to share everything financially. While it’s very important for married couples to treat their money as “our money,” many couples feel as though they have to share every last penny in order to prove that they really love each other. The problem with this plan is that it allows each spouse to know exactly how the other is spending money. Not only does this make it impossible for you to buy presents for each other, but it can also breed resentment when you simply don’t understand each other’s spending habits. Pool your resources as a married couple in a way that works for you, but also allow yourself a little financial independence. That way, a splurge on a mani-pedi or a video game does not have to become a fight.

2. Keeping financial secrets. The other side of the “share everything” coin is when one spouse keeps money secrets from the other. Whether you have credit card debt that you are not talking about, or a sudden windfall that you’re keeping to yourself, money secrets are a recipe for resentment and marital strife. Each spouse needs to know where the marriage stands financially. The conversation about something you have been keeping to yourself may be a difficult one, but ultimately, treating the marriage as a financial partnership will bring you closer together.

3. Not spelling out your goals. Everyone tends to fall into the same habits that they were raised with or that they made work when they were single. Unfortunately, that means that married couples sometimes go on financial autopilot without determining what they really want. Having a conversation with your spouse about where you want to be financially will help you both make better financial, career, and life decisions.

4. Enabling each other’s poor money choices. This is one of the toughest mistakes to break out of, especially if neither spouse is particularly good at impulse control. But it’s very important for you both to practice being the voice of reason. Yes, taking a two-week vacation to Europe may sound like a dream, especially after a tough year, but is it really going to bring you closer to your goals? Practice saying no to each other. If necessary, institute a rule where you have to discuss any financial purchases over a certain amount. It builds in a cushion of time so that your cooler heads can prevail.

5. Not planning ahead. Americans tend to be very poor at saving money, and lack of money in an emergency will certainly add to the stress of that situation. Plan ahead—both by making sure you have an emergency fund should the worst happen, but also by saving for your retirements. It’s very easy to assume that your life will continue to be the same for years to come, but it’s going to be better for you and your marriage if you plan for a time when you can’t count on your income.

The Bottom Line

Although discussions about money have a reputation for being a romance-killer, the opposite tends to be true. Couples who are on the same page financially feel more secure and loving. Sit down with your Prince or Princess Charming today and make sure your marriage is on a solid footing, both financially and romantically.

Photo credit: cedarjunction


Published or updated March 4, 2012.
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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Kris @ Debt-Tips

I think if you start with #3 then the others are less likely to happen. Even if your goals don’t match exactly, you can still work out a plan to make each other happy. Without a plan, you are more likely to be secretive and strive for your own goals.

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2 Youngandthrifty

I think people easily fall into #4. No one wants to be the bad guy that has to say no and start an argument. It’s so much easier to agree and keep your spouse happy.

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3 ImpulseSave

Thanks for the great post! It’s so important to be on the same food financially for a healthy marriage. It seems like most conflicts in marriage just come out of poor communication. I totally agree with Kris @ Debt-tips : as long as you set clear goals and are open with each other, a lot of other issues can be avoided.

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4 K.C.

Good points. I would add one other mistake for two income families. That would be to base their standard of living on both incomes. This can easily cause a couple to over-extend the use of credit. The loss of all or part of one income due to illness, layoff, or child birth can create an instant financial crisis. My wife and I always lived on the equivalent of one income, and when there were two incomes, saved the second. This approach allowed my wife to return to college to finish her degree when she got laid off early in our marriage; it allowed me to quit my job and start my own business, it allowed my wife to take a leave from her job to care for an ailing parent. Of course, it also allowed us to build savings rapidly.

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5 frugalportland

Oh, lord. I can’t even imagine keeping any secrets from someone I’d marry, let alone financial secrets!

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6 Christo van Zyl

I like what you said here. I believe that money is not the reason for conflict, but rather, that conflict is the result of mismanaging money. My wife and I have an arrangement: She ensures we survive by having a stable job with set, although limited income. I ensure we live – have fun, travel, buy investments etc by taking on more risks with less stable, but higher income. We each track our income and expenses, share those with each other and then adjust accordingly. It works well for us, especially if one of you is an entrepreneur.

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