Marriage and finances can at times be a difficult mix. Each person has distinctly different experiences with money, and each person may have completely different philosophies on how that money should be spent. This often creates marital troubles, but these troubles usually boil down to a lack of communication at some point along the line.
In short, If you want a healthy and financially sound marriage, get over your hangups about talking about money. Don’t ever be afraid to sit down with your spouse and go over the nickels and dimes of your life. Make sure you define your goals together as a team, not separately. And make sure that you have compatible philosophies on discretionary spending – if your partner spends far more or far less than you’d like, it’s going to cause some discomfort and you need to clear the air.
Along these lines, a reader wrote to me recently with the following problem (edited a bit for grammar and clarity):
My future wife and I are generally on the same page when it comes to finances. We have the same long term goals and she is by no means a rich girl. But with that being said, when she sees a little extra in the joint account, she spends it… I don’t want to go behind her back to sock away a little cash but it may be the only way. Any ideas?
When you dig right down to it, this is an issue about communication. Even though you’re both generally on the same page about financial issues, there’s apparently a communication gap somewhere about what to do with extra money. Here are some potential solutions, some of which I like and others I don’t.
Forget about it. If it’s an insignificant amount, this might be the best avenue. Allow your partner the joy of having a little bit of spending money and just let things be. The only problem with this is if the spending seems to grow over time, which means that there’s a fundamental problem.
Take the money and put it somewhere else without saying a word. This solves the financial problem, but does nothing at all about the communication problem. Eventually, these withdrawals will come out, and it will cause a problem. Why? By doing this, you’re showing a lack of trust with your partner.
Have an open ended conversation about it. Here we have the opposite situation, as this solves the communication problem but merely hopes to solve the financial problem. The talk might help to alleviate some of the communication problems and really help to get your financial perspectives more in alignment, but there’s no guarantee of a solution.
Set an “allowance” for both of you. Another possibility is to set a spending “allowance” for both of you. Start off the conversation on the issue with this proposal. Although this does solve the problem if you both stick to it, when I first proposed this to my wife, it was met with heavy resentment and a sense that I was treating her like a child. If you try this, you need to be very careful.
If I were you, though, I would try this solution. Set up an automatic savings plan into an emergency fund, then don’t sweat the rest. If you’re finding yourself with regular “excess” that can be spent on trivial stuff and it’s making you uncomfortable, suggest sweeping some amount each week or month into an emergency fund automatically. Then, if there’s still some left over, don’t worry about it and just enjoy spending it. What will happen over time is that you’ll subtly adjust your own life to compensate for this extra savings.