Financial issues are more likely to cause arguments in marriage than problems involving children, sex or in-laws.
Despite these arguments, on average, married couples are financially much better off than those who remain single or those who get divorced. By the time men and women reach age 50, on average, married couples accumulate over 3.5 times as many assets as their single or divorced peers.
There are numerous reasons for this advantage. For example, many insurance carriers have reduced automobile insurance rates for married individuals, especially young married men. (This reflects the lower accident rate for men after they marry.)
Married couples also save through shared expenses, such as one cable TV bill, not two, and the cost of housing. Moreover, marriage often brings immediate access to their spouse's employer health and benefit plans.
If both spouses work outside the home, they have the benefits of two incomes plus a built-in buffer if one loses employment. Even where one decides to stay home with the family, the potential of going out and earning an income always exists.
Despite these benefits, arguments will happen. However, there are actions couples can take to minimize both the frequency and the heat generated by these encounters.
Many of the ways to avoid problems involve spending. These include setting a budget and sticking to it; paying off credit card debt as soon as possible and destroying the cards; and saving at least 10 percent of take-home pay.
Other ways of minimizing arguments involve basic bookkeeping principles, such as limiting yourselves to one checking and one savings account. Having multiple checking accounts create unnecessary confusion. And only one of you should write checks out of that account. Two people writing checks from the same account inevitably results in errors and overdrafts.
But a healthy marriage is largely a matter of attitude, especially in the area of marital finances. And some attitudes about marital finances will always lead to problems. These include:
•Power Plays: If you're the only one employed outside the home, it's tempting to think, “I earned it; I say how it's spent.” But you're a team, and strong teams don't have one teammate dominating the other. The stay-at-home spouse's work also adds value to the marriage. The benefits from both spouse's work belong to the team.
•The “Mine, Yours and Ours” Syndrome: Financial writer James E. McWhinney warns that, when couples can't agree on spending issues, an easy solution is to pay the bills and then allow each spouse to spend part of what's left over any way they want.
This may sound reasonable, but it often “builds resentment over the individual purchases made” and “also divides the spending power, eliminating much of the financial value of marriage.”
•Secret spending and lending: Marriage creates a financial unit, a team that must act together, if it's to succeed. Whether you buy a new pair of shoes or a new fishing rod, keep all your purchases above board. In the end, secrets undermine teams … and marriages.
The same is true for lending money to others. Before money is loaned to relatives or friends, have a heart-to-heart discussion with your spouse. Be honest about whether the loan is really needed, whether it's likely to be paid back, and how it will affect your relationship and your marital finances if it's not paid back.