For richer, for poorer… ’til death do us part.
Marriage is the merging of lives. Also (often) the merging of salaries, bank accounts and financial futures.
But what do you do if you’re married to someone who’s terrible with money?
You love them. But you hate the way they spend money, rack up debt and can’t avoid overdraft fees at the bank.
It’s important to do the smart thing here, because fighting over money tears marriages apart. Money fights are the No. 1 predictor of divorce, according to this study of national data.
What to do instead? For tips, we talked to experienced financial advisers who counsel couples about their money problems.
1. Understand Why
If your spouse is terrible with money, veteran financial adviser Maggie Johndrow offers a fundamental piece of advice: “Understand why your partner is bad with money.”
This might be a good place to work with a financial advisor or a marriage therapist, says Johndrow, a financial adviser with Farmington River Financial in Hartford, Connecticut.
“Is your partner a big spender because they grew up poor and now they have the means to buy what they want?” she asked. “Or are they very risk-averse because of a financial tragedy that occurred in their past?”
Understanding each other’s money story will increase the likelihood you’ll work together financially.
2. Separate Bank Accounts Can Help Protect Your Money
“When it comes to couples, there’s typically only one person who wants to handle the finances, and sometimes the other person may quietly have their own money struggles the other person doesn’t know about — large credit card balances or excessive monthly spending,” says Brett Anderson, president of St. Croix Advisors in Hudson, Wisconsin.
“I’d have separate savings, checking, investment accounts,” he said. “This should also include credit cards, loans, etc.”
If you need a quick, easy way to set up a secure checking account online, check out Chime. Bonus with this online account: You might get your paycheck up to two days early, which can help with money management. Unlike most banks, Chime doesn’t wait until your pay date to give you access to your money.
“I find it pretty common for married couples to have one spouse that runs point on the family’s finances and one spouse that usually isn’t as good with money,” says Andy Yadro, a financial planner with Googins Advisors in Madison, Wisconsin.
He recommends each spouse keep their own checking account, then open one jointly owned account. Most of your earnings funnel into the joint account, which you use for living expenses and savings goals. Each of you has a small percentage of your own pay that you can spend guilt-free on whatever you please.
3. Automate Your Savings
“Another best practice is to automate your savings program,” Yadro says. “Have a set amount each pay period automatically transfer into a savings or investment account that doesn’t have a debit card attached to it. That helps keep the money out of sight and prevents easy access so it can continue to grow untouched.”
Automating your savings doesn’t have to be hard. Digit is an automated savings platform that calculates how much money you can afford to save.
Simply link Digit to your checking account, and its algorithms will determine small (and safe!) amounts of money to withdraw into a separate, FDIC-insured savings account. Plus, Penny Hoarders will get a $5 bonus just for signing up.
4. Plan for Your Future Together
It’s no brilliant secret that investing can be a smart way to make money.
Sometimes, though, it feels restricted to a few wealthy elite.
But Stash is different. This app lets you start investing with as little as $5 and for just a $1 monthly fee for balances under $5,000.
Stash curates investments from professional fund managers and investors and lets you choose where to put your money. But it leaves the complicated investment terms out of it. You just choose from a set of simple portfolios reflecting your beliefs, interests and goals.
5. Agree on Who Holds the Purse Strings
If your spouse is bad with money, you’re going to have to decide how much control you want to try to assert over the family finances. Only you can answer that question.
“It is not unusual with couples that one person is better at dealing with money than the other. After all, opposites tend to attract,” said financial adviser Karen Lee, president of Karen Lee & Associates in Atlanta, Georgia.
“The most important part of this situation is to recognize it and to mutually decide to let the person who is better with money handle it. But if the person who isn’t good with money is also a ‘spender,’ this can be a challenge.”
If you end up handling more of the financial load and managing your family’s money, consider helping yourself out with a free financial assistant.
Charlie is a money-saving penguin, a digital financial assistant who lives in your SMS text messages or Facebook Messenger (your choice, though Charlie is more fun and reliable on Messenger).
The bot offers help with a little bit of everything, such as tracking your spending, reminding you when you have a bill due and reminding you when it’s time to save.
6. Turn Their Shopping Habits Into a Moneymaker
Is your spouse a shopaholic?
You might as well harness that and get some cash back on their many purchases.
Here are a couple of our favorite tools:
Does your spouse shop online? Enter Paribus, a tool that gets you money back for your online purchases. It’s free to sign up, and once you do, it will scan your email archives for any receipts. If it discovers you’ve purchased something from one of its monitored retailers, it will track the item’s price and help you get a refund anytime there’s a price drop.
Ebates is a cash-back shopping site where you can earn 1% to 25% on purchases you make from more than 2,500 online retailers through Ebates’ online shopping portal. It’s super easy — you don’t have to pay any fees, mail in forms or redeem points to get your money.
Remember, this is money you otherwise wouldn’t get back.
7. Reward Yourselves for Good Financial Decisions
If you end up managing your family’s money, help yourself out with a useful app or two. The power of the digital age is at your command!
One app we’ve road-tested is MoneyLion, a free all-in-one app for managing your personal finances.
MoneyLion offers rewards to help you develop healthy financial habits and will literally pay you for logging onto the app. Based on your income and spending patterns, it offers personalized advice to help you save money, reduce your debt and improve your credit.
8. Cut Your Expenses Where You Can
You’re going to have to cut your family expenses wherever you realistically can.
To track your expenses, try checking out Trim, a free bot that keeps track of all your transactions. Connect your checking and savings accounts and credit cards for a big-picture look at your spending habits. Set alerts that’ll let you know when bills are due or when you’ve hit a spending cap.
9. Watch Your Credit
A little reality check here: Remember that once you’re married, your spouse’s debts can become your problem.
Your spouse’s shaky credit score can also hurt your chances of getting joint credit at good interest rates — like if you want to buy a house.
To get a better handle on what your credit looks like, check out a free app like CreditWise© from Capital One. You’ll get a free credit report card to show you exactly where your credit shines… and where it could use some improvement.
Advertiser Disclosure: Capital One compensates us when you enroll in CreditWise using the links we provided above.
10. No Matter What, Work Together
Money management guru Dave Ramsey has strong feelings on this subject.
“Marriage is a partnership,” he writes. “Separating the money and splitting the bills is a bad idea that will only lead to more marital problems down the road … Put all of your money together and begin to look at it as a whole.”
Whatever you decide is best for your bank accounts, heed the point of his message: You’re both on the same team, so work on the budget together.
11. Above All, Communication is Key
All the experts I spoke with said some version of the following:
More than anything, it’s important for you two to really communicate. Perhaps schedule a weekly sit-down just to talk about money. That way, each of you understands where your spouse is coming from.
“When I have couples who are paying off debt, struggling to keep a budget or otherwise experiencing financial friction with each other, I invite them to hold a weekly financial meeting,” says Justin Chidester, owner of Wealth Mode Financial Planning in Logan, Utah. “No judgment, no blame and open listening.”
Know this: Being secretive about finances is the No. 1 financial deal breaker for couples, according to a GoBankingRates survey. It outweighs overspending, having too much debt, being too cheap or not making enough money. Keeping secrets was the biggest sin.
For Richer, for Poorer
Whenever you get frustrated, think of those marriage vows.
For richer, for poorer… ’til death do us part.
Mike Brassfield (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. He is married, and he’s terrible with more things than money.
This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.
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