By Cass Grange

Some of the best money advice I’ve received was from a close friend after his 17-year marriage broke up. He said, “Don’t be cheap like me. Hire a babysitter. It is cheaper than a divorce.” Oh, the price of regret is so high. So how do we use money as a beneficial tool in marriage, instead of a source of conflict?

It is simple, but it isn’t easy. Try to think long term and work together.

Part of our value as advisors is to provide a safe, family-friendly environment to discuss what is important about money to you. We can help navigate these very emotional discussions. I sometimes see one spouse taking over all of the money budgeting, saving and investing.  The other spouse doesn’t participate.  Acting in parent/child roles is not good for any adult relationship.  Resentments flare on both sides.  If you both decide your partner pays the bills, perhaps you need to get the taxes organized for the CPA.  Strive for long-term fairness. Do you feel like you are doing all the work? You need to be an active partner in your money life, but don’t do everything.  Both spouses need to show up to the money discussions.  Don’t hide money.
How much time should you spend talking about money?  I’ve met with many couples who argue or talk about money in every conversation. Others never speak of it. I think there is a happy medium, perhaps talking about your budget and goals once a quarter.  Set a spending limit that you agree to consult with your spouse before you spend more than that amount.  For my husband and me it is about $600.
I knew a couple who argued over every dinner out about who would pay for it. Whether they should order wine or dessert brought up all the spending of the last week. That couple, now divorced, set the amount to discuss at about $10.  That is too low.  You will spend all your time talking about money.  I would also argue that buying a $40,000 convertible without consulting your spouse, violates the “discuss before we spend” rule, too. You need to set an amount you both agree upon.

In a marriage, set reasonable guidelines based on your budget and goals, then don’t micromanage.  It is important that you treat each other with respect.  Part of that respect is each person has his or her own money to spend with no questions or recriminations.  It is the YOURS, MINE and OURS way of managing money.

Agree to disagree about what is important to each of you.  Even if you don’t understand it, make space for what your spouse values. Hobbies are important for people. They are good for the mind and promote happiness.  But, your spouse’s hobby probably doesn’t do much for your happiness. It is hard sometimes to understand his love for old cars, and all the parts in the garage, but it is his passion, not yours. Remember, he probably isn’t as interested in your scrapbooking or the extensive collection of your shoes that are in the bottom of his closet.

What about those messy closets? Hire help to get your life back. Studies show household chores create ongoing conflict. We are all stressed and busy.  If you work outside the home, figure out your hourly rate or pay.  If it is higher than what it costs to hire a cleaning service, why not do what you enjoy and get paid for, and hire out the work you don’t enjoy. We consciously chose not to buy a bigger house, but to hire more household help. It helped us regain our weekends.  It makes me feel more organized and in control.  Without a doubt, it has helped our marriage.  In the United States, the message is: we are more successful, if we have the trappings of wealth, like a big yard and house.  Sometimes, these are traps for our time.  The average family spends 14 minutes a week enjoying their yard. I wonder how much time we spend working on the yard?
Not all months will end with you both spending the same amount, or working the same amount. Trust that it will even out over the long term. Solutions exist.  Working as a team, and staying married over the long run, helps impact your financial wealth positively.  It also increases your personal wealth, the state of your marriage, your relationship with your family and friends, in ways that can’t be measured on a balance sheet.

And what about date night?  I took my friend’s advice. I am convinced that spending money on a baby sitter has been crucial for us. It can seem like a selfish indulgence, but investing in your marriage is the most important gift you can give your children. It makes them feel secure. It is an investment that paid off in the short run and in the long run. Hiring a baby sitter is cheaper than divorce and more fun too!

Happy Valentine’s Day!