The 5 Most Common Mistakes Married Couples Make with Money

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Avoiding these mistakes and adopting the right attitudes about money can lead to a prosperous and healthy marriage.

Five of the most famous words in a marriage vow are, “till death us do part,” even though death is rarely the culprit anymore. These days money is more likely to cause married couples to go their separate ways—numerous studies have shown that money is the number one reason why couples argue, and many divorced couples say money pressures and disagreements were the main reason they split up!

Money brings out emotions like nothing else can—our spirits rise when people give us money, we get hopping mad when someone takes our money, and we get depressed when we don’t have enough money. Throw all those emotions into a union between two people who were probably raised with different philosophies about money, and you’ve got a rocky boat.

If you’ve said or plan on saying the five of the most famous words in a marriage vow, you should also learn to avoid the five most famous mistakes married couples make with money.

1. Resisting the Urge to Merge

It’s hard for many people to accept that marriage is not an individual sport. The moment you say, “I do,” you establish a team. A healthy and wealthy marriage cannot exist when one or both parties continue to act as if they are still single. Separate bank accounts, secret stashes of cash, hidden bank accounts, separating the bills (“you pay this bill, I’ll pay that one”), and borrowing money from one another are all signs that there is not complete trust and oneness in the marriage.

Smart Money magazine's survey found that the majority of couples (64%) put all of their money in joint accounts, while 14% kept everything in separate accounts, and 18% had both. Now I’m not saying married people can’t have some financial autonomy, but I am saying that your finances ought to be pooled as much as possible, rather than separated. In marriage, the “two become one flesh,” physically, spiritually, and financially (Genesis 2:24).

The Wrong Attitude: “What’s mine is mine, what’s yours is yours.”

The Right Attitude: “My money + your money = our money”

2. Not Slaying the Debt Giant Together

Marriage is a team effort, and as long as one member is injured, the entire team’s performance is affected. A spouse with unresolved debt is like an NFL player with a broken thumb, he might still be in the game, but his performance will be hampered and the team will suffer. Working jointly to heal your spouse’s financial injury means your team will be able to reach the goals of buying a new home, saving for retirement or taking a vacation much quicker.

The Wrong Attitude: “Your debt is killing us; you need to find a way to pay it off.”

The Right Attitude: “When I said 'I do' your debt became my debt; let’s decide how to pay it off together.”

3. Refusing to Develop a Budget

After months of complaining that you’ve been buying too many shoes, your husband came home with a new toy—a 70-inch flat-screen plasma TV! According to him, the purchase was justified because he, “got a great deal, baby!” You disagree and head out the door to purchase another pair of shoes.

In marriage, a lot of women get labeled as the spender, but most studies show that men and women spend the same amount of money... they just spend it differently. Women usually take care of most of the family's daily expenses: the groceries, the bills, and clothes while men spend on large purchases like plasma TVs, cars or computers. The solution here is to hammer out a family budget that ensures the necessities are paid first and then allows you both some play money, if possible.

The Wrong Attitude: “My spouse spends too much money, that’s why we’re broke.”

The Right Attitude: “We both spend on different things, so let’s get a budget!”

4. Committing Financial Infidelity

You probably won’t be shocked to hear that a lot of couples keep money secrets from each other. In one survey I conducted, 36% of men and 40% of women confessed to deceiving their spouse about the price of something they bought.

"Most people also lie to themselves about what they're spending, just as they lie to themselves about how much they're eating," says The Family CFO author Mary Claire Allvine. If you feel compelled to lie about a purchase, it’s probably because you know it’s not a good use of your money. Lying to your spouse is a sure-fire way to ruin a marriage. "If this happened in a company," Allvine says, "they'd call it embezzlement."

The Wrong Attitude: “What my spouse doesn't know will never hurt him/her.”

The Right Attitude: “Big financial secrets can ruin a marriage.”

5. Not Planning for a Rainy Day

In Matthew 5:45, it says that it rains upon those who serve the Lord and those who don’t. This means that anybody can get hit with an unexpected financial obligation or emergency—a pink slip, an accident, or a severe illness. Too many married couples are woefully unprepared for unexpected events that can decimate them financially. All couples should have a joint emergency stash held in a safe, but accessible place, like a money-market fund. The savings should be large enough to cover at least three to six months of living expenses.

The Wrong Attitude: “Our financial life is great! We’ll just cross our fingers and hope it stays that way.”

The Right Attitude: “God is great! His grace is sufficient; but we still need to plan for emergencies.”

Avoiding these mistakes and adopting the right attitudes about money can lead to a prosperous and healthy marriage.

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