Dave Ramsey is a money-management expert, national radio personality and best-selling author.
Marriage counselors and statistics tell us that if we can agree on four things before we marry someone, we have a much higher probability of a successful marriage, not to mention a happier, more peaceful one. The big four are religion, in-laws, parenting and money. After years as a financial counselor and working with marriage counselors, I know that money and money fights are the No. 1 cause of divorce, not to mention the thing we fight about the most.
So if you are married and have money fights, you are normal. But if this is a real problem area for you then there is also an opportunity to improve your relationship and maybe even reach agreement with your spouse. If we can agree on the checkbook there would be nothing left to fight about except who gets the television remote.
So who should be doing the financial decision making and budgeting? Both of you. This is not a joint venture; this is a marriage, and a peace will come with your joint decisions. Larry Burkett, noted financial author, says money is either the worst area of communication in marriage or the best.
Opposites attract. Usually one of you is more creative and spontaneous — a free spirit. That mate is a little or even a lot less organized and tends to see budgeting as a form of torture or a method of the other mate controlling them. That describes my wife, Sharon. The other mate has more administrative skills and more of a bent toward numbers. There lives deep inside of this mate a nerd. That describes me. The nerd can be the man or the woman and, believe it or not, the nerd can be the spender or the saver. My nature is the spender, while Sharon is the tightwad.
Normally, if one of you has all the budgeting responsibility it is the spouse with the administrative bent. The nerd gets the budget because they are the only one who cared and they couldn’t trust anyone else anyway since they are so smart. The nerd then will do a 17-page perfect budget and present it to the family like a gloating, benevolent dictator. The subjects all bow in appreciation and still go do whatever they want with the money. This unauthorized flow of money upsets the nerd and further controls are implemented at which time the free spirit will dig their heels in and the budget wars are on. This is how most couples “manage” money.
But there is a better way! When I began helping people get a handle on their money, I thought it was to force couples to control their spending, but one of the byproducts is shared values and saved marriages. Here’s how it works: first, the nerd should prepare the budget, because we love to. Instead of making the budget kingly law, we should submit it to the budget committee (the two of you). Nerds, when you submit your budget to the committee you must remember to shut up and listen. Free spirits will not come to any more meetings if the meeting consists of you telling them what they are going to do and how smart you are for having figured it out.
Also, the meeting must be short. Nerds, when your objective is agreement with your free spirits you need to remember you have about a 17-minute window of time before their minds move on to non-nerd activities that are more important to them. Nerds, your rules are to listen, take input, and keep it brief. Free spirits, your rules are to show up, give input and be realistic. And you can never again say, “Whatever you think, Honey.” This activity is important and the only way you can defend your position is to come to the meeting. As you sit there, you must be grown-up and realize that you cannot spend more than you make and have financial security or build wealth. Your wants, needs and desires must be combined with your family’s, and the new total must be less than your family income. This may not be fun for you at first but Hebrews 12:11 says, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”
It’s really important to set short-term and long-term financial goals but be realistic about what you can accomplish right now. It’s very normal to have limited income when you’re young and just starting out. One of the biggest traps I see young couples get into is trying to have everything their parents have right now. Remember it took your parents a lot of years to get where they are now. You don’t have to go deeply in debt to get a house and all the stuff to put in it just because you got married. In fact, I recommend that you concentrate on just being married the first year and not make any major financial decisions.
The level of unity, oneness, and the resulting return of communication and romance that sharing your finances can bring to a marriage cannot be overstated. In fact, it is truly the way that you and your spouse, probably for the first time in your marriage, become one. When budgeting together, spending together on paper first forces you to make the “you” in unity become silent. When you achieve this wonderful unity and co-existence, you will never want to go back!