When we got married, we didn’t just make a few mistakes with money—we made ‘em all! Throughout our sixteen years of marriage, there have been some trouble spots that seemed to pop up repeatedly.
Failing to communicate about money
Money is hard to talk about. Issues of pride, inadequacy, resentment and shame get wrapped up in the conversation, resulting in hurt feelings, isolation, and even lying to each other about debt. In the early days of our marriage, every conversation about money seemed to end up in a fight. He felt attacked because he wasn’t providing. She felt vulnerable and unprotected. Neither was able to move past their feelings to reach out to the other, and it stayed that way for years. In the end, we both had to lay some things down and take small steps towards communicating in a more healthy way. Financial classes, financial counseling, and reading books together were valuable as we learned how to work together and talk openly.
Not working together to develop a budget
Many years of trial and error have taught us that following a realistic budget is the key to managing our money well. This sounds easy, but our different personality styles made it frustrating to work together. One was a saver while one was a spender. One wanted everything on a spreadsheet neatly organized in rows and columns, while this kind of detail just gave the other a headache! So instead of working together, the one with the dominant personality took over. As a result, the budget was unrealistic and one-sided. We always seemed to be overspending in every category. As you can imagine, this resulted in accusations and frustration.
What we’ve found is that we are much stronger when we work together. We can create common goals and compliment each other’s styles. One is good at organizing and tracking all the details, while the other gives great input about how much we need in each category.
Together, we can create a much more realistic picture and can regularly update how much has been spent. At the end of the month, there are no more “where did all the money go?” fights. Instead of working for our money, our money is working for us!
Not having money set aside for unexpected expenses
One of the things we weren’t prepared for when we were married and starting a family is the unexpected. We quickly learned how expensive things can be to repair or replace. We also had a two-year period in our marriage of very high medical costs due to a child’s illness. Because we had no emergency fund, we used credit cards to make the repairs and pay off the medical bills. We were burdened for years with the debt as we worked to pay it off.
The reality is, bad things are bound to happen. A couple should have enough money set aside to cover three to six months of monthly spending. Having this savings available will cover any major repairs, replace things such as appliances, or cover monthly expenses in the case of lost income.
Not being wise buying a home
Shortly after we were married, many well-intentioned people told us that it was critical that we buy a home. Their logic was that we would only be throwing money away if we rented and that we were missing out on a huge tax break. While there is truth to this advice, for a newly married couple, trying to rush into a home turned into one of our biggest budget busters. Because we didn’t understand the true cost of home ownership, we ended up owning a home with a mortgage payment that ate up a large majority of our monthly take home pay. We also were unprepared for the cost of maintaining a home and ended up with debt on credit cards as things broke down.
We’ve learned that there are three key principles to use when buying a home. A couple should save so they can make a large down payment, they should get a fixed rate mortgage, and they should keep the monthly payment at 25% or less of their take home pay. By following these principles, owning a home can be a blessing instead of a curse!
Spending money before you have it
It is easy for a couple to revert to spending on credit or financing on a “buy now/pay later” plan. You think you’ll use future incoming money like commission checks or bonuses to cover the debt later. Though the adage “don’t count your chickens before they hatch” may be overdone, it does hold true in this case. One time we were counting on a large commission check that we were planning to use to paint our home. We just knew the money was coming, so we went ahead and fronted the money on a credit card, with good intentions to pay it off once we got the money. But the money never came. We were stuck with a large credit card that once carried a zero balance—and no way to pay it off. We were back to scrimping and pinching pennies to pay down that debt. We learned a valuable lesson not to spend money before it was actually in our hands, no matter what.
These five areas are by no means the only mistakes couples can make with money, but we have found that once we tackled these areas, making wise decisions in other areas seemed to follow. The overarching theme of our marriage has been learning that we are both on the same team. Instead of approaching money like two opposing teams out to score our own needs, we learned to tackle money with a united vision. While improving these five areas may seem difficult, it is possible to do so. If we can do it, any couple can!
Marybeth Whalen is the wife of Curt and mom of six children, ages teen to toddler. The family lives outside Charlotte, NC. Marybeth is a member of the Proverbs 31 Ministries speaker team and a regular contributor to their daily devotions. She and her husband Curt co-authored the newly released book Learning To Live Financially Free. Marybeth speaks regularly to women’s groups and enjoys sharing stories from her daily adventures as a wife, mom, homeschooler, writer, and, most importantly, a follower of God. You can find her online at www.marybethwhalen.com.
©2009, Marybeth Whalen