3 Money Situations Married Couples Face (and How to Handle Them)

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Money can be a tough subject for anyone to talk about. Throw marriage into the mix, and things can get interesting fast.

But there’s good news! If you and your spouse communicate well, and if you’re both on the same page about things like kids, religion, family and, yes, money, you’ll probably be A-OK.

If that’s you, great job! You probably already know the basics of winning with money in marriage, like the importance of combining your personal checking and savings accounts. You might also be intentional about making money a blessing to your relationship instead of a curse.

But even the couple who’s on their money A-game hits a speed bump every now and then.

In her new book, Love Your Life, Not Theirs: 7 Money Habits for Living the Life You Want, author and money expert Rachel Cruze shares some tips for navigating tricky situations around marrying your money when you marry the love of your life. Here are three to share with your spouse today. 

1. How can you keep gift-shopping for your spouse a surprise?

When a birthday, an anniversary, or Christmas rolls around, you want to buy your spouse a gift without them seeing the debit charge on your account statement. That’s an excuse a lot of people use for not combining accounts. But, says Rachel in Love Your Life, Not Theirs, there’s a way around that.

When it’s time to buy a gift, let your spouse know what’s going on. They probably won’t be surprised that they have a gift coming. Rachel’s taken a picture of the gift she wanted to buy, printed it out, and stuck it in the card to her husband. Another option, she says, is using cash to buy a gift card from the grocery store, then using the gift card to buy the gift you have your eye on.

“I know this creates a bit of an inconvenience a couple of times a year, but in the grand scope of your marriage, it’s just not that big a deal,” she says. “Endure the extra hassle when it comes to surprises and gifts for your spouse. Take advantage of the major benefits of having one account and get creative when you need to.”

2. Should you really combine all accounts?

As much as we say that married couples need to combine all of their accounts, there are actually some to keep separate. The first is retirement accounts. Don’t ever combine yours and your spouse’s, Rachel says. Most banks won’t allow you to, anyway, but it’s a good rule to know. That allows you to take full advantage of maxing those out individually. But remember that each person needs total visibility on each retirement account. 

Second—and this goes for unmarried people, too—never combine personal accounts with accounts for any businesses you run on the side. But if you are married, it’s okay to put your spouse on them.

And, of course, never combine accounts until you’re married. There have been too many horror stories of engaged couples who combined their finances, only to call off the wedding and have a huge mess to clean up.

3. How do you avoid the “competitive spending” trap?

Oh, the spending wars. You know, the ones where you justify your own $100 purchase this week because your spouse spent $100 last week? And back and forth it goes. 

“The idea of equal spending is a dangerous one,” Rachel says. “This can quickly become a slippery slope of outspending one another.” 

This leads to two problems: You effectively double the cost of every purchase. And it cultivates the idea of keeping score, which will chip away at your marriage over time.

Remember when it comes to “fairness” that fair is not always equal, and equal is not always fair. It’s not realistic to expect to get to the end of the year and have perfect equality in each person’s spending. That’s just not how life or money works! So learn to be okay with your spouse spending a lot of cash one month to replace their laptop. Another month, you’ll need a new cell phone. It’s all about give-and-take. 

marriage | @ChrisBrownOnAir