3 Steps for Couples to Get on the Same Financial Page

What’s going on here?

According to a 2014 study by Money Magazine, four out of five couples say they’re on the same page as their partner about money. But according to the same survey, 70 percent of married couples argue about money.

Evidently, some couples aren’t clear on what it means to be on the same page financially. And just in case you aren’t sure if that matters, here are some other revealing statistics from the survey:

  • 80 percent of people admitted that their personal finances keep them awake at night.
  • 60 percent of husbands and wives said they check their bank accounts more than they have sex! (How many times do you need to check your bank account?)
  • One third of couples say they have lied to their spouse about money.
  • Arguments about money are by far the top predictor of divorce, regardless of how much money a couple makes.

Getting on the same page financially means having a common goal to work towards.

Wow, that’s a lot of bad news. But, it turns out there are three simple things couples can do to eliminate nearly all of the problems described above. They are simple—but of course simple doesn’t always mean easy. It’s also not a fix-it-quick process. It will take a little time. But based on the bullet points above, it’s clear it is worth the investment.

STEP 1: Start Dreaming Again.

One reason most people don’t plan financially is that they don’t have anything to plan for.

Many couples don’t have a long-term financial plan of any kind. Too many couples, even great savers, have trouble answering the question, “What are we saving for?” If you don’t know why you are trying to get a hold of your finances, it becomes exponentially harder to do it. Getting on the same page financially means having a common goal to work towards, and the best place to start is your dreams.

Follow these simple steps to answer the question: What are we saving for?

  1. Sit down with your spouse and write a list of one hundred dreams across all areas of your life.
  2. Dream without limits.
  3. When the list is done, look through it and pick out the one that is most important to you for the next year, the next five years, and the next ten years.

Once you have identified and agreed on a few dreams, begin to plan financially for the dream. Estimate how much it will cost, and set a target date when you want to achieve it. Divide the cost by the number of months until your target date, and you will know how much you have to save each month to achieve that dream.

If your dreams are compelling enough, you will make whatever adjustments that are necessary to reach them.

STEP 2: Have One Financial Meeting per Month.

Find an hour together (maybe over coffee) with the following as the only agenda:

  1. Create a budget. Nothing complicated, especially if you are new to this. Simply write down your known expenses and known income.
  2. What went right last month?
  3. What went wrong last month?

Chances are you will disagree about an expense or two the first time. That’s okay. Use it as a chance to see where the gaps are in your financial perceptions, and then, as you start to track the expenses you listed in your budget, you can close those gaps with facts.

An important note here: It’s easy to get overwhelmed with the thought of budgeting; however, most of your expenses are known and the same each month. Write down these predictable bills, and then estimate how much you’ll spend on variable items like gas, food, entertainment, haircuts, and oil changes. You'll never be able to plan every penny you'll spend in a month, but you can probably do a lot more than you think.

Financial harmony in a relationship is a total game-changer.

What’s the impact of having a simple budget? Couples who keep a monthly budget report having an enormously higher rate of marital satisfaction compared to couples that don’t. Also, your first budget will stink. Don’t get discouraged. You will learn more about your financial situation and habits each month. And, you will be doing it together.

STEP 3: Take It Easy on Each Other.

Each person in a marriage brings with them several factors that influence the way they approach finances: family history, personality type, education, etc.

Karen Peterson, a columnist for USA Today wrote,

“To some people, money means power; to others, love. For some the topic is boorish, in bad taste. For others, it’s more private than sex. Add family dynamics to the mix and for many you have the subject from hell.”

There are a couple of easy ways to make sure you are taking it easy on your spouse.

First, remember that budgeting is not a tool to rein in your spouse. It is not a way to control your spouse.

Second, budgeting doesn’t mean you have to give up everything you enjoy. It may be important to create budget categories for each spouse that allows them to spend some amount on things they enjoy each month that fits within the budget but is not subject to a great deal of scrutiny. Maybe it’s a morning cup of coffee, or taking advantage of a great deal.

Third, avoid criticizing your spouse, or acting like all of the financial difficulties rest on one person’s shoulders. Avoid lying to each other financially, and work together for the betterment of your marriage. Couples regularly comment about how freeing it is to be in charge of their own money instead of the other way around.

Note: The steps above assume one critical idea. For any couple to get a handle on their finances, to establish healthy routines, and to ensure long-term financial health, one simple commitment is necessary: to spend less than you make. Using credit to purchase items is a death spiral financially. The average consumer debt is about $16,000 per household. Even if you have a great deal of debt now, commit to not taking on more debt, develop a plan (maybe with the help of a trusted financial planner) to eliminate the debt you currently have, and begin to establish savings goals.

Financial harmony in a relationship is a total game-changer. Most financial issues are not related to how much money, but rather how much effort a couple is willing to put forth to preserve and build their most important relationship. Get your marriage on the same page financially and you will write a book that is better than you ever dreamed.

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