Updated: Nov 28
Original Post: 12/16/22 - Updated Post: 11/7/23
1. Understand your relationship with money
Countless factors contribute to our relationship with money, primarily formed by upbringing. We observe the choices our parents or guardians make as we grow up.
Our parents talk to us about money, shaping how we see it and its role in our lives. This evolves into forming what we value. If our parents boasted about our possessions – our home, car, clothes, we could have grown to be materialistic ourselves.
Perhaps our parents sacrificed for our education or gave generously to charities. Whatever it might be, what we saw and was told imprinted the role we see money having in our lives.
We also overhear the conversations they are having, and they sometimes overshare financial challenges before we can handle them, which is called financial enmeshment. Others could have experienced financial trauma because money was an ongoing sense of conflict or worry.
These experiences shape our relationship with money, complicating many financial decisions beyond what can be solved by solely setting a budget. Our spouses could have had a very different experience with money growing up and therefore have an entirely different perspective of how money plays a role in their lives.
We can’t expect to work well with our partners unless we understand our money beliefs first and are willing to communicate them to our spouses. There are several money personality assessments available to consider that can help.
2. Prepare for tough money conversations
Money conversations involve much more than numbers. They are two people who may have different money beliefs or a history of financial trauma trying to work through the stress of managing life.
Ed Coambs shares in this 60-second clip from the Modern Husbands podcast why it is so hard for some couples to talk about money.
Ed Coambs is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Certified Financial Therapist-Level I™, and Certified Financial Planner®. Ed also serves on the Modern Husbands Advisory Board and is the incoming President of the Financial Therapy Association.
When preparing for a tough conversation about money, start by scheduling a Money Date, setting aside time for you and your spouse to talk about your family finances in a comfortable setting where you are not rushed or bothered.
We wrote about the basics in our previous post, What is a Money Date? which was the first of a ten-part budgeting series.
Money and Marriage Quiz
We have created a short ten question quiz with a series of facts and explanations to help you better understand the considerations that should be made when crafting a plan to manage money in your marriage. Take our Money and Marriage quiz to learn more:
The timing and environment of when to talk about money is essential to reduce the emotion it can accompany. Arguing about money is one of the most common sources of couples' disagreements and eventual divorce.
Approach money conversations thoughtfully and when you feel emotion beginning to rise, pause the conversation and pick it back up again when you’ve calmed down.
Be honest. For some, this is hard to do. Surveys find that 2 in 5 couples commit financial infidelity, which is when couples who have combined their finances deceive each other about money. We hosted national expert and NEFE CEO Dr. Billy Hensley on the Modern Husbands podcast, why couples lie about money.
Experts continuously stress the importance of communication. Some recommend Money Dates, while others believe walking and talking make the most sense. All of them believe that communication must be consistent.
Dr. Ashley Whillans of Harvard is a world expert on time, money, and happiness, and she is also a Modern Husbands advisory board member. Listen to how she and her husband, a doctor, communicate about money. This 30-second clip is from a past Modern Husbands podcast.
Conversations about money only come naturally for some. That is why we created Money Date cards which are conversation prompts you can use with your spouse to make the conversations more productive. The cards accompany our budgeting course for couples, and you will receive them as a gift if you sign up for our newsletter.
4. Learn to hate the Joneses
Best explained by Dr. Klontz in the book Money Mammoth, many of our minds are wired to fit into a group. Societal pressures, social media, and fast fashion have manifested our proclivity to fit into a country full of folks who have trouble saving.
Your money management choices are between you and your spouse, and the Joneses can mind their own business. As we shared in a different post, there is strong evidence that materialism and marriage quality are at odds, even when spouses are aligned in their value systems.
Dr. Klontz is a national leader in financial psychology, a bestselling author, and a CNBC Financial Wellness advisory board member. He is also an advisory board member for Modern Husbands.
Listen to his 60-second explanation about the Keeping up with the Joneses mentality from a previous Modern Husbands podcast episode.
5. Identify shared financial goals and values
Your financial choices should be your goals and values put into action. Shared financial goals represent the most important aspirations couples have together. Establish at least three sets of goals:
Short-term goals: Something to reach over the next few months
Intermediate goals: Something to achieve over the next year or two.
Long-term goals: Something such as college savings for your children or retirement.
Goal setting makes it easier for couples to move forward in the same direction and rewards them for working together when they reach their goals.
Values are a person's principles or standards of behavior – a judgment of what is important in life. Money fights can be triggered by stress, a lack of communication, past financial trauma – the list goes on. And arguments originating from a difference in values rank high on the list.
The NEFE Life Values quiz allows folks to understand better what they value. For example, one spouse valuing financial security could drive one person to always save, perhaps over-save. In contrast, another spouse with social life values may tend to overspend while out with friends and family.
It's not uncommon for two married folks to value some aspects of life differently. When this is the case, it is even more important to discuss how money should be spent in advance of spending decisions.
Keep in mind that some value differences could originate from spouses from different class backgrounds. As shared by Dr. Streib in our Modern Husbands podcast episode Opposites Attract, folks from working-class backgrounds are more likely to outwardly display wealth because, subconsciously, it is how they've proven they've made it.
6. Set a budget
A budget is a map toward a financial destination with your spouse. Like any journey, there could be a few detours. That's a part of life, and give yourselves some grace when they occur.
If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail." - Benjamin Franklin
Life is more complicated than a spreadsheet, and sometimes it's best to simply remember that income and expenses can fluctuate greatly and to be mindful of mental accounting bias, which means that we allow the money we file into different categories to lead to irrational decisions.
For example, y'all could have budgeted $250 for clothes but notice toward the end of the month that you have yet to spend it because you haven't seen the need to do so. Some people will spend it because they feel obligated to based on their budget, which is mental accounting bias.
We designed the Money Marriage U Budget Course to help couples through this process. Although the course sells for $59, we are providing it for free for folks who subscribe to our bi-monthly newsletter. The self-paced course is designed to help couples budget together and includes video tips, an interactive budget template designed for couples, reading material, and Money Date cards. Below is a brief tutorial demonstrating how to use our budgeting tool.
7. Establish money management roles and expectations
Dr. Megan McCoy is an adjunct faculty member at Kansas State University, where she teaches courses for the Financial Therapy Certificate Program. She is widely regarded as a national leader in understanding how spouses manage money together.
In a past Modern Husbands podcast, How to Talk About and Manage Money with Your Spouse, she shared that both couples must have equal control over money.
As I shared in an OpEd for Marketwatch, there is an essential distinction between controlling and managing money. When spouses control money together, they determine in advance how their household finances will be spent, saved, etc.
This same couple might decide that one of the spouses has the skill set to manage their money, meaning they pay the bills or manage credit cards. Managing money is the task set forth by how a couple decides where the money will go.
There are various ways in which couples manage their money. The three most common are:
Separate accounts in marriage
Joint accounts in marriage
Combination of both strategies (Yours, Mine, and Ours)
Read How Should Money Be Split in a Marriage? for more details.
You may know Philip Olson (and his wife Julia Lorenz-Olson) for their quirky, fun web series Two Cents, a weekly personal finance show on PBS aimed at millennials and Gen Z. We hosted Philip Olson on the Modern Husbands podcast. Listen to this 60 second clip on how they manage their own money together.
8. Find the money management tools that work for you
Once you understand your behavior and how you and your spouse behave together, you can select the money management tools that best complement your needs to stick to your budget.
We recommend using Tiller, which we wrote extensively about in our post The Budgeting Program for Couples: A Comprehensive Guide to Tiller. My wife an I use Tiller for three reasons:
Tiller is a Time Saver!
We have way too many transactions to track without having everything automated into one place. For us, our time is scarce. Tiller updates daily without us having to invest any additional time. We actually get an email each morning with a review of each transaction from the previous day.
Tiller is Safe and Private
Tiller does not share personal data, advertise other products, or have detailed access to our financial accounts.
Tiller Makes it Easy to Budget as a Couple
Tiller makes it super simple to recognize spending patterns and identify problem areas.
9. The psychology of managing money with your spouse
According to experts, an essential step to take to change our financial habits is to change our environment. Doing so can be easy. Y'all can name your savings accounts after your goals.
As we shared in our previous post, Why Budgets Do NOT Work, you can make bad habits invisible and hard and good habits automatic and easy.
Did you find this helpful? If so, consider reading 21 marriage tips after 21 years of marriage. We wrote this just after celebrating our 21st wedding anniversary to share the lessons we've learned in our 21 year journey.
Money Personality Assessments
Your Money Script: Money scripts® is the unconscious beliefs about money that are rooted in our childhood and shape our financial health.
What's Your Attachment Style? Get started discovering your attachment style and how it impacts your love and money story.
Money Habitudes: Money Habitudes helps you understand what motivates your money behaviors.
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Galla BM, Duckworth AL. More than resisting temptation: Beneficial habits mediate the relationship between self-control and positive life outcomes. J Pers Soc Psychol. 2015 Sep;109(3):508-25. doi: 10.1037/pspp0000026. Epub 2015 Feb 2. PMID: 25643222; PMCID: PMC4731333.
Kemnitz, R., Klontz, B. T., & Archuleta, K. L. (2015). Financial enmeshment: Untangling the web. Journal of Financial Therapy, 6(2), 32–48. https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2016-17975-003
Papp LM, Cummings EM, Goeke-Morey MC. For Richer, for Poorer: Money as a Topic of Marital Conflict in the Home. Fam Relat. 2009 Feb;58(1):91-103. doi: 10.1111/j.1741-3729.2008.00537.x. PMID: 22162622; PMCID: PMC3230928.