Are you wondering whether you and your betrothed will have a love that lasts a lifetime? Then you need to forget about the kids, the in-laws and the s-e-x for a minute.
When it comes to whether you’ll remain together until death do you part, it’s all about the Benjamins. Yes, we’re talking money here, folks. According to a 2013 study from Kansas State University, financial arguments are the leading predictor of whether a marriage will end in divorce.
Of course, there are no guarantees, but you may be able to increase your chances of marital bliss by avoiding common money mistakes.
Mistake No. 1: Thinking Your Spouse’s Debt Is Not Your Problem
According to the Census Bureau, the median age of first-time newlyweds in 2013 was 29 for men and 26.6 for women. By that age, most people have had plenty of opportunity to rack up a little debt, whether it’s from student loans, credit cards or a shiny new car.
Now legally, you aren’t responsible for paying off the debt your spouse accrued before your marriage. However, you’re not being particularly smart – let alone nice – if you decide there is no way your income will be used to pay off Mr. or Ms. Right’s debt. Consider this information provided by the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Office:
- Debt is associated with less satisfaction in a marriage.
- Couples who spend time and energy worrying about debt have less opportunity to focus on their couple and family relationships.
- Those who have no major debt problems are happier in marriage.
- Car loans and credit card debt have a greater negative impact on a marriage than student loan debt.
Ideally, you’ll have discussed this matter before your wedding day and done your best to clean up bad debt in advance. But if you find yourself married to someone with a boatload of debt, it’s in your best interest to help pay it down as quickly as possible.
Mistake No. 2: Failing to Join Finances
I must admit to being a bit puzzled by those who get married and then keep all their finances separate. He pays the mortgage; she pays the utilities. He pays for the car; she pays for day care. It leaves me thinking: Are you married or roommates?
Even if you want to have your own accounts for spending money, you should have a joint account for combined expenses. After all, you are one household here. You’re both enjoying the roof over your head and the heated air in the winter, right?
Having a single budget ensures there is no resentment about who has more money or who gets stuck with a specific bill. Dump all your money into a joint account, write out a budget that pays all the shared bills and divvy up the extra for spending money.
But, please, whatever you do, don’t divide your spending money as a percentage of your respective incomes. I’d wager that nothing chips away at the foundation of a marriage quite like placing a value on your spouse based upon what they earn. Maybe you make 80% of the household income, but unless there are extenuating circumstances, I’m not sure how insisting on 80% of the spending money for yourself fosters a healthy marriage. You’re a team. Act like a team.
You may not like my reasoning, but science is on my side. Research finds that couples who pool their money are happier.
Mistake No. 3: Not Having Ground Rules for How to Handle Money
Another benefit of having a unified household budget is that it gives you an opportunity to discuss ground rules for how you will manage your money together as a couple.
Ground rules will vary from couple to couple, but you’ll want to be sure both you and your spouse are on the same page when it comes to answering these questions:
- How much discretionary money can one spouse spend without conferring with the other spouse?
- What discussion needs to take place before one spouse opens a credit card account or takes out a loan?
- If there are kids in the family, do they get an allowance and how is that doled out?
- How will money discussions happen? Will they be scheduled at regular times or called on an as-needed basis?
- What happens with bonuses or unexpected windfalls?
Having ground rules in place will help avoid those stressful situations in which the holiday bonus gets used as a down payment on a motorcycle when the other spouse was planning on that money for Christmas gifts.
As a final note on ground rules, go ahead and write them down so there is no confusion about what was said and agreed upon.
Mistake No. 4: Keeping Secrets & Hiding Money From Your Spouse
Can you believe more than half of women keep money secrets from their husbands?
According to a 2012 study from Self.com and Today.com, 56% of women and 37% of men have lied to their partner about money. That could mean they’re opening accounts without their partner’s knowledge, hiding purchases or squirreling away money on the side.
If you’re the one with the secrets, it’s time to come clean. Because hiding money can signal a deeper problem, such an addiction or an uneasiness with your spouse, you may need more than a heart-to-heart with your better half.
However, if you want your marriage to have staying power, you need to stop the secrets. That 2012 study also found that most people think financial infidelity can be just as serious as an affair, and 13% of respondents said their divorce was the result of money secrets.
Mistake No. 5: Leaving the Bills in the Hands of One Person
It’s harder to have money secrets if you work together to pay the bills.
On a practical level, it may make sense to have one person writing the checks and managing the online bill pay schedule, but that doesn’t mean the other spouse should be left out in the cold. Couples may find a monthly meeting is a good time to review account balances and look ahead for irregular expenses. This can also be a time to tweak savings goals and re-evaluate spending habits.
If your spouse bristles at the thought of being involved in the budgeting process (see No. 7), at least print account information and hand it to your spouse, along with a monthly snapshot of your current budget and spending.
Regardless of how you handle it, both spouses should be in the know when it comes to your money. Not only does it eliminate the possibility of one spouse abusing financial power, it also provides a safety net to the other spouse. Should something happen to the person paying the bills, the surviving partner is going to need that financial information.
Mistake No. 6: Neglecting to Plan for the Long Term
Another money mistake that can mess up your marriage is neglecting to look at the big picture. It’s failing to consider long-range needs such as college, retirement and long-term care. It’s failing to have life insurance coverage in the event the unthinkable happens.
This mistake might not end your marriage, but it could seriously alter it. There may be no retirement home in Florida or no RV in which to travel the country. Without proper preparation, you may find your golden years together are significantly different from what you envisioned on your wedding day.
Mistake No. 7: Letting Emotions Overtake Money Discussions & Decisions
Finally, money can be a highly emotional topic, and the worst mistake you can make is to turn your family finances into a weapon to be used against your spouse.
Yes, he may have blown the last spending money on a video game, but running out to retaliate with your own shopping spree not only damages your relationship, it’s also a dumb financial move. Another no-no is shaming your spouse over the money they spent or the income they earn. These sorts of behaviors cause resentment and breed mistrust, both of which can be the downfall of your marriage.
In a perfect world, we’d be able to rationally discuss money and share our views without our spouse becoming angry, defensive or sarcastic. However, we are imperfect, and some of us simply don’t react well to money discussions. For example, the individual who grew up on the poverty line may be angry at the thought that they can’t spend what they want, when they want now that they have a good job.
Of course, it’s easier to iron out these communication wrinkles before getting hitched, but if you’re already married to someone who behaves badly around money, you may need to call reinforcements. If counseling seems out of the question, perhaps your spouse would be open to attending a financial planning workshop as a gift on your next birthday.
Above all, treat your spouse with dignity and respect, and perhaps especially if they don’t seem to deserve it. You can’t control your spouse, but responding with grace and compassion may provide the atmosphere needed to open a constructive dialogue.
This post originally appeared on Money Talks News.
More from Money Talks News:
- 6 Money Moves That Newlyweds Should Make But Often Don’t
- 15 Smart Financial Moves to Make Before You Divorce
- Ask Stacy: How Do We Deal With Money in a Second Marriage?