Husband & Wife Articles


The Two (Bank Accounts) Become One

Tips on preventing money from ruining your marriage

By Ashley Cadaret

Tax Day has just passed and we all have finances on the mind, for better or for worse. We could also use a little pep talk and reflection on marriage and money.

When my husband and I were engaged, we attended a Pre-Cana marriage retreat. The day was structured to include testimonies from married couples, then time to find a spot on the beautiful retreat house grounds to discuss some questions based on the topic the couple had discussed. I remember plopping down in the long grass in the sunshine to talk about finances.

“Who will be responsible for budgeting?” I asked my husband, reading off of the sheet.

“You,” he said. I agreed.

“What about paying bills?”

“You,” he said again. I agreed again.

I love numbers and dealing with our finances.

“When do we want to buy a house?”

“Not for a long time,” he responded, and we both laughed. It was true. We didn’t have much money and we knew our first years of marriage would involve a lot of moving. As it turned out, four places in the first four years.

My cousin joked that she and her husband never fight over money, because they don’t have any. There may be some truth in that, but it’s also true that lack of money can put a strain on a marriage, especially if husband and wife have different spending priorities.

Indeed, five years into marriage I can say that we still don’t have much money, but we still find ways to argue over it. Like many aspects of marriage and parenting, we bring our own childhood, family and life experiences into our expectations of how we should spend our time and, in this case, money.

Like we expected, I am the money guru – I am in charge of our budget, our investments (well, okay, my financial planner father helped me there), paying our bills, and filing our taxes. As much as I love having such an intimate knowledge of our financial situation, sometimes I feel like I’m always the bad guy, telling my husband all things we need to stop doing. “We spent way too much money on groceries last month!” or “No more Chipotle next month!” or “We can’t afford to go on that vacation.”

In turn, my husband says that he feels as though he can never spend money without feeling terribly guilty about it. It’s been a tough line to walk. I want to keep us debt free, but I also don’t want to feel like I’m the finance police.

While I haven’t quite figured out that part, here are some insights I have for newly married or engaged couples on how to make finances a more joyful, less stressful part of marriage:

There is no “my money” or “your money.”
We have an unusual situation in that neither of us is the primary breadwinner. My husband is in school (and earning money through his assistantship) and I work part-time outside of the home and part-time for my own business designing websites. We share childcare of our 2-year-old son. But if one of us worked full-time and the other stayed home full-time, we’d still make every effort to not value the breadwinner more than the stay-at-home parent. It’s our money.

In a similar vein, we combined our savings and checking accounts early on. I know it works for some people to keep finances separate, but for us, that would have been a disaster. We needed to feel like a team, not roommates.

Put others first.
Perhaps, like us, your finances are incredibly tight. It’s still important to donate some of your money, however small an amount, to causes or organizations that are important to you. I joke that since I work at a Catholic school, that is my contribution. But we do make sure to set aside a portion of our income to share with others. As Paul said to the Philippians, “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:4).

Live within your means.
This is the most important way to avoid arguing over finances. Avoid debt. Or avoid consumer debt. Track your spending and make sure you’re making more than you’re spending. If you’re not, cut your spending. Increasing your income is another option, but that’s generally less easy and can take away from family time. Your family needs you more than you need to buy Starbucks or some other daily cost you can easily eliminate.

Don’t idolize money.
It’s common among 20-somethings to fantasize about making a huge salary and climbing the corporate ladder. While success and ambition are not necessarily opposed to Christ, I think that as Christians we should have different priorities than our culture presents. For, as the Catechism says: “Every practice that reduces persons to nothing more than a means of profit enslaves man, leads to idolizing money, and contributes to the spread of atheism. ‘You cannot serve God and mammon.’” And when we serve God, we become a better spouse.

Instead of being a topic of contention, finances can be an opportunity to learn how to be a better Christian, a better steward of our resources, and to discover how better to communicate with your spouse.

You can bet on it!

Ashley Cadaret lives in Ohio with her husband and 2-year-old son. She works at a Jesuit high school, holds an advanced degree in religious studies and designs websites. She shares recipes, tips on frugal and green living, and tales of motherhood on her blog, Our Little Apartment.