If you have been married for more than one day, you already know that when you say “I do,” you don’t instantly have all the same values and priorities. Many couples spend decades of frustration around the topic of money, even though husbands and wives desire unity and agreement.
As a financial planner, I have walked hundreds of couples through financial conflict. I also happen to be a strong-minded wife myself who has experienced friction, and eventually, redemption in my own money and marriage.
In nearly every couple, there is one person who is more skilled at managing day-to-day financial tasks like paying bills, making retirement contributions, and ensuring beneficiaries are updated. However, it is never a good idea for the other spouse to disengage or disappear entirely. Both must come to the table with their own values and priorities if there will ever be true unity. Neither can be passive.
A Three Step Approach
A financial planning process that I have seen work well for bringing couples together follows this 3-step approach:
- First, identify each spouse’s personal values. Often, there will be several shared core values, which explain why these two individuals were drawn to one another in the first place. But almost without exception, there will be some values that are not shared. It is important that spouses honor the ways that they are created uniquely. Each of us are made in His image, and our personal values reveal what attributes of His nature we were created to reflect.
- Second, make a single list that includes the financial priorities of both spouses. Our values shape our priorities and making a single list ensures that resources will be allocated more equitably. Just like the personal values, there are likely to be some priorities that overlap, having high importance to both spouses, but also some that are only important to one. We honor our differences by making a compromise and setting financial boundaries.
- Third, the spouses must agree on which recommendations they will implement and who will be responsible for various follow-up tasks. If deadlines and reminders can be set, the odds of success will dramatically increase. This is the place for the more financially adept spouse to shine and use their skills to serve and bless the family. If both show up with their values and priorities, one can often handle the implementation checklist after the planning is done.
What About Family Generosity?
One of the most common areas of disagreement I have seen is actually in the area of generosity. Imagine that one spouse feels compelled to give more broadly into Kingdom ministries, missions, church, etc. and the other spouse is inclined to give generously to his or her own family. Both come from a common personal value: generosity. Both are biblical priorities. But they are not in agreement.
In this case, I think it makes sense to compromise by allocating a certain dollar amount (assets or cash flow) to each priority and seeing if the couple can reach an agreement as to how much for each. It is not a question of who will win and who will lose, but instead it is a win-win.
Secondly, I have seen many instances where one spouse is very generous by nature while the other is more frugal or focused on saving. If the more generous spouse can see the importance of the savings goals and the expenses associated with the family lifestyle, they naturally recognize that generosity is a privilege and not a right. They see the “cost” of their giving in other areas of their life. At the same time, the more frugal spouse sees the capacity they have to give by setting “finish lines” on various savings goals. For example, there is no need to save all surplus income for retirement when the projection shows that only 10% will be enough.
No matter what challenges or disagreements you and your spouse may have had in the past, it is always the right time to invest in your marriage, and work towards honor, agreement, understanding, and unity. Start with your values, share priorities, and make recommendations to flourish together.