Getting married usually means a commitment to fully share all aspects of your lives together. Not only does this include your future decisions about your careers, but also your families, whether or not to have children, where to live and a multitude of different life choices. 

However, the one aspect of marriage which many couples find difficult to bridge is the one about financial responsibility, expectations and goals. Couples are increasingly marrying later in life and both husband and wife may already have an established and independent pattern of earn and spend behaviours. 

Different Attitudes to Money can Cause Conflict

The main reason for conflict over money can be traced to the different attitudes which a couple might have when it comes to how money should be used, how important it is, and what it represents in terms of values and lifestyle. As a result, if you and your spouse don’t share the same values and attitudes, discussions about money can become very emotional because they are no longer about dollars and cents, but about your lifestyles and goals. 

There are 4 key areas where attitudes tend to clash, understanding what they are allows you to identify and address the most important financial topics which you need to discuss with your spouse if you wish to avoid conflicts in the future. 

1. Earning
What are your expectations when it comes to your careers? Do you plan to remain as a dual income household? Is one of you expected to stay at home when you have kids? When will you plan to retire? How much money do you feel you need to earn and what types of jobs are you willing to take in order to do so? Does one of you dream of starting a business which might mean that you need to prepare yourselves for some lean years and financial uncertainty?

The question about earning has huge implications on your lifestyle choices, how your household will be run, and how much time you will both spend with your kids. A commitment to earning a significant amount of money usually means that sacrifices will need to be made in terms of time spent with the family. You need to ask if both of you are on the same page on this.

2. Spending
This topic goes straight to the question of priorities. How you spend and what you spend on reflect your priorities in life. Is private education for your children important? Do you wish to indulge your kids or maintain a strict spending regime in order to teach them the value of money? Is driving a brand name car and changing it every 3 years important to you? Do you need to live in private housing or do you have other plans for your money? Are you a spender or a saver? 

When people argue over how money is spent, they are also arguing about each other’s priorities. Differing spending habits also are the main cause of “financial infidelity”. This happens when one spouse hides the actual cost or the amount which they may have spent in order to avoid having a difficult conversation with the other. Sometimes the argument isn’t really about how much is spent, but the perception by the “saver” spouse that the “spender” is not as committed to the long term future of the marriage and the wellbeing of the family. Spending is seen as a sign of a lack of responsibility for the future of the family.

3. Managing
Who will keep track of what is spent? Will you even keep track of it? Not having a process to understand how you are performing relative to your financial goals is likely to lead to a nasty surprise one day when the bills arrive and the checks bounce due to financial negligence. This will most certainly lead to a conflict in your marriage! 

Make it a point to spend time tracking and reviewing your finances. Even if one of you dislikes the administrative side of this task, make sure that both of you are involved. Having only one of you in charge of all the finances might lead to misunderstandings and miscommunication if the spouse in charge makes risky decisions without realising the implications. 

4. Saving and Investing
What are your dreams? How much do you want to save and what will you do with that money? How much do you always want to have in cash or liquid assets to deal with emergencies? 

Set financial goals and work towards those together. Decide how much risk you want to take in your portfolio and balance that against how aggressively you want to grow your portfolio.

Making the “Money” Conversation Easier

There are a few ways in which you can make those conversations about money easier and in so doing, reduce the likelihood of conflict due to differing financial attitudes.

  • Start the discussion early. Ideally, you should agree at least on your expectations for earning, saving and spending before your marriage. Most marriage preparation courses will cover this as key topic, so sign up for a course before you make the big decision to go ahead with the wedding.

  • Agree on financial goals and priorities. Review these regularly with each other, especially after milestone life events such as the birth of a child, or a decision by one of you to start a business, or to stay at home. 

  • Set up a joint process on how to manage, track and account for your money. Make this a monthly event and the discussions you have will become a natural part of your joint decision making process as opposed to an “emergency” meeting when things go wrong.

  • Reward yourselves when you achieve your financial goals! Do something both of you have always wanted to. Maybe it’s a family vacation or a big screen TV, but you need to recognise the effort you both put into achieving your goals and reward each other for them too.