Statistics indicate that one of the keys to a happy marriage is avoiding arguments about money. Almost half of married or cohabitating Americans (48%) say that they argue with each other about money, according to a survey conducted by The Cashlorette, with most of these fights about each other’s spending habits.
Even worse, arguments about money early in a relationship may be the number one predictor of divorce, according to a study published in the Journal of Family Relationships. Financial disagreements are the third leading cause of all divorces, according to the Institute for Divorce Financial Analysis.
Given these statistics, it might be wise for couples to establish some ground rules when it comes to their marriage and their money. Here are 5 tips for having a financially healthy marriage.
1. Maintain a joint bank account. It’s not uncommon for married couples who both work full-time jobs and earn similar salaries to keep separate bank accounts and divvy up the payment of household expenses between each other. For example, one spouse might pay the mortgage while the other spouse pays the utilities, insurance, car notes and cell phone bills.
While this might make sense from a logistical perspective, it tends to emphasize separation instead of togetherness. As spouses handle their finances separately, jealousy or feelings of unfairness may start to creep in. Combining each other’s income into one joint account can help avoid these emotions and give couples more of a sense of togetherness.
2. Talk openly about your finances. A survey conducted by Ramsey Solutions found that in great marriages, more than half (54%) of couples talk about money together on a daily or weekly basis. This compares to fewer than one-third (29%) of couples in okay or crisis marriages.
Instead of sweeping money conversations under the rug or putting them off until later, bring them out into the open. This is especially important if one of you is a spender and the other is a saver. In this situation, try to see each other’s perspective and find a middle ground where you can compromise. For example, you could agree together to save a certain percentage of your income for retirement while setting aside another percentage for free spending with no strings attached.
3. Come to agreement about debt. Excessive debt can be the source of numerous financial problems for married couples, even leading to personal bankruptcy in a worst-case scenario. Unfortunately, spouses sometimes have very different viewpoints about assuming debt.
Debt in and of itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing — families assume debt when they take on a home mortgage, for example. But if one spouse is averse to debt while the other is willing to assume debt freely, this can lead to serious financial disagreements. So make sure each of you is comfortable before taking on any major debt commitments.
4. Don’t hide purchases from each other. Marriage unfaithfulness can extend beyond just extramarital affairs — it can also involve dishonesty about money. The Ramsey Solutions survey found that one out of three couples who argue about money admitted that they had hid purchases from their spouse. This can take the form of opening a secret bank account, holding a secret credit card or making a large purchase without discussing it together.
Practices like these can cause irreparable harm to a marriage by destroying trust between spouses. Set a dollar limit above which any purchases must be discussed in advance and agreed upon. And if you have a secret bank account or credit card, disclose this to your spouse and agree together whether it is appropriate or not.
5. Discuss your financial goals and expectations together. According to the Ramsey Solutions survey, couples in great marriages are twice as likely to talk to each other about their financial goals, dreams and expectations as couples in okay or crisis marriages. These might include buying a home within a certain time frame, retiring by a certain age or taking a certain number of vacations each year.
You and your spouse might have different financial goals and dreams, and that’s all right. The important thing is to talk about them together. This way, each of you will know what the other is thinking and you can set reasonable goals and expectations together.