heard the theory that most marital problems start with money problems. But
how does one define money problems?
They could stem from any of the following: A couple who can't talk about the family budget without arguing
Two people who came from diametrically opposed economic backgrounds
Parents who don't want to damage their children's psyches by denying them material goods
People who have been dealt a bad hand and are struggling with the financial impact
A couple who have simply gotten in over their heads and just can't get ahead
So what can we do to prevent these problems from starting in the first place? We really should begin before the wedding bells even chime! I know, it's not romantic to discuss credit cards and checking accounts, but it's not particularly warm and fuzzy to talk about it as a married couple, either. Here are a few things that you can still incorporate into your money routine well after the honeymoon:
PICK ONE PERSON TO HANDLE DAILY MONEY MATTERS
I've talked to couples who have both wanted to be involved in paying bills, choosing long distance companies, balancing the checkbook, costing out home or car repairs, and the rest. This is one area where togetherness might not yield the best results. That's not to say that the other person must remain odd man out, his or her opinions should certainly be sought. But in assigning the tasks to the more motivated money person, you're accomplishing a few things:
a. You're ensuring that one system is established and not confused with other ideas or methods, even if it's as simple as filing paid bills and receipts in an old shoebox!
b. You're avoiding the ugly finger-pointing if something were to fall through the cracks. You won't hear, "I thought YOU were going to pay the car insurance premium!" You'll know who's supposed to do it.
c. You're avoiding the stepping-on-toes things, and you'll be able to build up trust and confidence that each person is quite capable of handing his or her tasks.
DISCUSS WHO WILL OVERSEE THE LONG-TERM FINANCIAL PLAN
You may find that it's not the day-to-day money person. In our case, I deal with the daily money matters, but my husband is very in tune with the pension plan, 401K, etc... Basically, I don't have a clue about that, but I can tell you in under a minute how much we spent on electricity for the past six months. This works for us.
ESTABLISH AN EMERGENCY SAVINGS POOL OF THREE TO SIX MONTHS' WORTH OF INCOME
Ok, I can hear some of you laughing. I know how hard this is in this day and age. If you are a one-income family, it's especially challenging. But stocking aside a little every month for a while will build those funds, and you'll have them if you need them. It might mean backing off on the Christmas presents one year, but it can be done with diligence.
SET GOALS TOGETHER
It's important that you both have clear visions of your spouse's financial goals so that you can either help each other achieve them, or hammer out the differences before trouble starts. By setting goals, you'll have a real, objective, measurable means of tracking your progress. And having clear-cut figures to discuss takes the guess-work and ambiguity out of your financial chats.
ESTABLISH A DOLLAR AMOUNT YOU CAN'T EXCEED WITHOUT DISCUSSING A PURCHASE TOGETHER
This will prevent any explanations or justifications later when a spouse heads into a middle-age crisis and can't live another day without a red convertible. The benchmark might be $100 or it might be $1000. That's up to you, your financial situation, and your lifestyle.
KEEP RECORDS UP TO DATE
This includes life insurance and retirement account beneficiaries, and your wills. Being on top of that will prevent problems in the future when your mind needs to be focused on other things. If you've had a baby, get a social security number for the little one as soon as you can, so that you can start benefiting from the implied tax breaks. By completing a W-4 form, you're entitled to a tax exemption, worth a little over $2,500 a year for each dependent child. So rather than waiting for nice big tax refund, keep your own money and invest it as you like. Why give the government an interest-free loan?
That having been said, I'm sure you noticed a common theme here: Communication. It's imperative, as in any marital situation. Keep talking about it, and if the conversation gets heated, blow the whistle and agree to discuss it when emotions have cooled. And here's a neat trick: Hold hands when you talk. They say it's much harder to fight with your spouse when you're holding hands!
Mia Cronan is a married full-time mother of three girls, ages 5, 3,
and 1, living in Pennsylvania.