As I’ve mentioned previously, along with every book discussing premarital issues, active money management is a must for a happy, healthy marriage. In fact, it’s one of the top predictors of marital success. When finances are in order, there is a sense of peace and order that fills the household. Even if other things are not going well, there is a stability to hold onto when finances are in order. By “in order” I don’t necessarily mean that money is flooding into your marriage and that you are in need of nothing; but, instead I mean that you and your spouse have a written, workable plan for your money. Too often young couples (who eventually turn into old couples) get married with no financial preparation and they just live week to week hoping there is enough money to cover their expenses (both expected and unexpected). The habits we develop in our marriage during the first year are extremely hard to break because they have developed our perceived marital standard of what is normal.
Just as important as having a plan… is following the plan. If one spouse is not faithful to the budget on which they have both agreed while the other spouse works hard to make it work, there is a sense of betrayal that is very real by the spouse working the plan. My parents have been married for nearly thirty-six years, and when I asked my dad the advice he would give a new generation of newlyweds, he said to be sure that impending spouses agree on money.
My dad’s side of the family is fanatical about sports. Nothing seems to get them more riled up than a ballgame. This was even more true thirty years ago than it is today. When my uncle suggested that he and my dad go to a game, my dad now regrets that he would insist on going to the game even if the money was earmarked for a different expense. While my parents made mostly wise monetary decisions during my formative years, ballgames were always a weakness for Dad. Now that he’s approaching retirement age, he’s realizing that a few ballgames were not worth the strife it brought to their early marriage. He could have still gone to ballgames, but had he planned for them in advance instead of wanting to go at a moment’s notice, he could have gone without causing my mom unnecessary stress. This was the first regret that came to his mind – in fact, it was one of his few regrets. Often, what we think may be the end of the world now (if we don’t get our way) won’t seem so important thirty years from now (or perhaps even next month).
Eric and I have been faced with last minute “fun” opportunities and we’ve had to turn several down because we did not have money in the budget. After we’d been married about a year, we decided to put a line item in the budget marked Entertainment. Each month we’d put a certain amount in the Entertainment envelope and when last-minute plans came up (friends come to town and want to eat out, festivals, a sudden urge to go bowling, etc.) we would have money waiting for us since we had previously allocated it there. This took the financial stress out of having spontaneous fun! You may think that saving in advance for an event takes the spontaneity out of fun, but I would beg to differ. Having the money sitting there gives us the freedom to be spontaneous! This brings tremendous peace to our relationship! Additionally, when we know we have the opportunity to do something more expensive, it gives us both the extra push we need to save for it aggressively instead of taking the “easy” route and charging our way through. I can now honestly say that fun outings are more fun when you know that you won’t have to pay for them later.
At the pre-engagement stage, it is early in your relationship, but it’s not too early. Have lots of talks about money, draw a line in the sand and decide together that you will work to agree on money. You won’t regret it.