10 Ways to Have a Financially Happy Marriage
Are you tired of thoughts about money that make you ill? Perhaps you've said at one time or another: "Will I have enough money for retirement? How can I pay off my credit card debt? How do I manage all of these medical bills? I wish I had more money to have fun, but that dreaded house payment is eating me alive!"
OK, maybe you haven't thought about all of these, but remember I'm the financial planner, and these questions and thoughts plague many. So perhaps that begs this question: Is there such a thing as a financially happy couple? There are many financial battles to overcome, but you can believe financially happy couples do exist. And let me assure you, feeling happy doesn't have anything to do with driving a Maserati.
Simple but smart, these 10 ways will make anyone breathe a sigh of relief. They lighten the load, and if you can just make a little progress with each one, your smile is certain to start growing a little wider.
1. Make Giving a Priority
Giving, to your church, a charity, or in other ways is the best way to keep money from ruling over your life! It helps us to learn to be more selfless and not put money as the top priority in our lives. I know a couple that secretly pays dinner bills for restaurant goers from time to time. What a nice gesture! It would be easy to keep the money for themselves but they choose this selfless act of kindness.
For us it started with tithing. Trust me this wasn't easy for us. I've had a church background all of my life, so tithing comes easy to me. With my wife, Mandy, it's taken some time and trust in Jesus to allow the both us to tithe together. It made for some interesting conversations, but the power was in the conversation and being able to work it out together.
We also sponsored a child through Compassion. It's a small amount each month, but we know it will make a huge impact on the kid that we're helping. Giving should be contagious.
2. Manage Spending Well
I won't bore you with a budget speech, but I will tell you it's smart to have a plan for your spending; otherwise, your money will own you. It will tell you where it wants to go every month (with so many temptations to spend) and you'll likely do as it says.
If you're read my blog, you'll know that I hate budgeting, even though I recognize that budgeting is super-important for a couple to succeed financially. That's why I thank God everyday that he put Mandy, in my life, and she loves to budget. Opposites attract, right? I might be the financial planner in our relationship, but Mandy is our household CFO and is charge of all our finances. Mandy keeps it simple and uses an Excel spreadsheet and paper and pen. You can also set up a spending plan and track it using personal finance or budget software like Mint.com or YNAB. The key is to find what works best for you and your spouse.
3. Seek Alternative Sources of Income
My friends, it's not all about cost containment and smart spending. You can only squeeze your pennies so tight. Seeking alternative sources of income is a game changer. Everyone has some skill that could be marketable. And if you don't have any marketable skills, you can certainly learn some.
Six years ago, I never thought that starting a blog would produce extra money for our family. That became even sweeter when a few years later Mandy's blog was able to replace her income from her old corporate job. Making extra money allowed us a little breathing room so we weren't always stressed out on how to pay the bills.
We definitely treated ourselves to several new and nicer things. But after we got through that phase, we've started to focus more on giving back. Either through more giving or investing into ways to share our message more like this blog. The other exciting and unexpected thing that we discovered is that by working on our businesses together we've grown that much closer.
For ideas on how to make extra money, you might like this post: 100 ways to make $100 fast.
4. Have Long-Term Goals -- and Share Them
Financially happy people have long-term goals. They have a plan for their finances, how much money they'll need once they retire and even consider funding college or leaving an inheritance for their kids.
Those concepts feel overwhelming when you're just trying to pay for the last doctor's visit? Start small and get some help. Find a financial adviser you can trust that will help you create your plan and show you what just a little bit of savings each month into your 401(k) or IRA can do for you several years down the road. For example, we didn't have a lot to save for our kids to go to college someday, but we decided to start small. What used to have two zeroes behind it now has three. It's amazing what small, steady plodding can do!
Make sure your goals aren't always centered around money, too! Some of our long-term goals include traveling to foreign countries and being strong Christian parents that our sons will respect. Working toward these goals together infuses a sense of happiness that can't be avoided.
5. Have Short-term Goals -- and Share Them, Too
Yes, short-term plans are important, too. I don't mean monthly, but think about what the next three years are going to look like. Set some attainable goals -- such as funding your savings account with X amount of dollars, paying off your car loan and starting contributions to your long-term plan. These are all admirable short-term goals that can be achieved in three years or less.
Even shorter goals may be establishing a spending plan, carving out time to talk to your wife about money at least once a week (not on a date night or at the dinner table with the kids) so that you make sure you're both on the same page and overcome obstacles together.
I'm a big believer in setting long- and short-term goals. Every quarter I write down my quarterly goals as well as review my one-year, three-year and lifetime goals. This is for my business and even more importantly my life and family goals.
I wasn't always a believer in writing down goals, but after doing it for over three years now I see the importance. One example is the two-week RV trip that we took last sumer. Never in a million years would we have been able to take that trip unless I made it a short-term goal. I can remember in January I put the trip on my calendar for May 29 so that I couldn't back out.
6. Avoid Debt
I won't tell you anything you likely don't already know here, but credit card debt is going to be the No. 1 killer of your financial happiness. Yep, once you dig yourself into a hole, it's difficult to get out of. High interest payments can add up to cost you more than the initial spending on your credit card -- and you'll soon be telling yourself it wasn't worth it.
I'm all in favor of using a credit card to fund expenses each month, but those have to be planned expenses. You don't deserve a shopping spree or night out on the town if you can't afford to pay for it with money in your checking account.
Sorry, but it's the truth. OK, so perhaps you've made that mistake. Now what? Check out online software like Ready for Zero to create a free debt plan. You'll also love this blog post by Dale Partridge that outlines how to become debt-free by age 30.
When Mandy and I first got together, I had credit card and student loan debt, while my wife had none. Even worse I didn't recognize that I was on a path of self-destruction because of my buying habits. It wasn't until I tried to convince my wife (she was my girlfriend at the time) that I needed a new flat screen TV. Did you catch that? I "needed" it. What I needed was a stern kick to the groin.
She wasn't that harsh, but she did voice her concern about getting the TV and putting it on my credit card. At first I resisted, but after a few days I realized she was totally right. That was a huge steppingstone for us in getting on the same page of not letting debt ruin us.
7. Learn to Be Content
If you're not aware, the Bible offers a lot of sound advice that applies to today's finances. Learning to be content is probably the most important. I said "learning" because contentment doesn't come naturally and you have to be open to it. We all know the phrase, "keeping up with the Joneses," right?
If you decide to run that race (and stretch for the car, house and all that fun stuff you may not been able to really afford, you think you need or deserve to have), you won't finish. You'll keep running and running because there is always another Jones family to chase after, and at the end of the day, stuff can never make you financially happy. You can certainly have financial peace, but that doesn't have anything to do with a closet full of clothes (or that Maserati).
I can hear many critics saying, "Jeff, we've seen your house on Pinterest. Is that really being content?" I have to somewhat agree, but God has blessed us over and over again, and we never put ourselves in a situation that could have ruined us financially. We've learned to work hard, save money, and then reward ourselves. Besides, have you seen our three young boys? As much as they run and jump around like psycho ninjas, we need our big house.
8. Save for Emergencies
Another idea for peace of mind is a short-term savings account that funds the unexpected. Financial gurus will tell you that you need six months or more income set aside, but honestly, I'm a little tired of hearing this because most people have an extremely difficult time saving this much money and that takes a while to do.
I think it costs a lot of money to live these days, particularly with kids. So my advice goes back to seeking alternative sources of income. Start a savings account funding project, if you will. Earn a little extra money for the sole purpose of funding this account. Might you be able to save $500 in that account in six months? Could you have $1,000 in 12? I bet you could if you're willing to work a little bit extra to seek an alternative source of income.
One slightly unfair advantage we had on this was me deploying to Iraq right after we were married. Before I was deployed, we were lucky to have $500 in our savings account. Before I was deployed, we made a commitment to take all the extra money I would make and pay off all the debt we had, max out our Roth IR's and get our savings account to an amount we were both comfortable amount.
By the of the deployment we had $5,000. I can remember coming home from Iraq and so proud of achieving that. I was proud because it was the most money I had ever saved in my life -- and we achieved it together.
9. Don't Let Your House Own You
The biggest expense most people will ever have is their house, whether that be as a renter or homeowner. In general, you'll hear or read that the house payment shouldn't exceed 25 percent to 30 percent of your take-home pay. Yet, many people will extend this to 50 percent and are left with nothing to live on or save at the end of the month. It's so incredibly difficult to do all of the above if your house is eating your money away.
If you can't afford to buy with a 20 percent down payment, don't. Happily rent until you can. There are a lot of advantages in renting, and homeownership is certainly not the default answer to a roof over your head, as it was in the past. If the house is getting the best of you, I strongly recommend you consider downsizing or making a change. Yes, it can be a difficult experience on many levels, but it will be worth it in the long run.
10. Seek Mentors
Personal finance is a journey. Problems aren't solved overnight. Forget about the get-rich-quick mentality -- it sends more people to the poor house than it makes them rich. There are plenty of obstacles to overcome and a lot of perseverance needed to stick to our plans and make progress. That's why it's critical to find a mentor, counselor or coach you can trust to help guide you along the way.
Preferably, find someone who has traveled similar paths. Coaches can be found via your church or through organizations such as Crown or Dave Ramsey. Coaches can be leveraged to help with specific obstacles or goals, or they can be used on a quarterly basis for an overall review.
One of our mentors is our CPA. He's amazing at doing our taxes and also at advising us on our growing pains of running several businesses. In our last meeting, which ran almost four hours, we talked about life and how to balance everything we are doing. Since our CPA is a family man (he has four kids) and runs several businesses, his mentorship is invaluable.
Time to Get Financially Happy
There you have it: 10 tips for a financially happy marriage, and none involved buying an extravagant house or the Maserati I mentioned in the introduction. They are simple and stand the test of time. Anyone can follow them.
Print this article and find a coach. When your coach asks you about your goals, let the person know you'd like help implementing every one of these tips and to hold you accountable to avoid some of the mistakes that were mentioned.