Money – some say it is the key to happiness; others say it is the root of all evil. The truth probably rests somewhere in between. When it comes to couples, money can become one of the biggest sources of tension and is said to be a leading cause of divorce. Why? Because people have different ideals, beliefs, and backgrounds when it comes to money. Some people are spenders while others are savers. Some are debt adverse while others pile it on. Some understand basic financial principles while others could care less.
For blended families, money can be an even bigger source of tension as both spouses likely have a little more experience with finances than someone who is younger and getting married for the first time. That experience could be good or bad. Often, at least one of the spouses will have experienced the bad.
Then there’s the other issue…child support. In the case of my marriage, I pay a very large amount of child support each month for my two kids. To quantify large, it’s enough that my ex-wife barely works and can live off it. My wife on the other hand, made the decision to not ask for child support from her ex-husband. She didn’t want the conflict that comes along with it, and she wanted to provide for her kids herself. Just imagine for a moment how my wife feels about the payments to my ex-wife every month, especially since the money isn’t all going to my kids.
So, what can a blended couple do to reduce tensions when it comes to their finances?
- Know what you are getting into. Before my wife and I got married, we knew every detail about each other’s finances. We looked at credit reports and scores, bank account balances, investments, income, bills, debts, child support, etc. There were zero financial surprises.
- Discuss the dirty “B” word. No one enjoys budgeting unless they are a super nerd. At the same time, no one enjoys being constantly broke or constantly fighting over money. Given a choice between the lesser of two evils, I’d choose budgeting. Heather and I have an agreed upon budget – they key words being “agreed upon.” We jointly put a budget into place, a budget that includes an allowance for each of us. Our budget is fun, because it gives us control over our finances and a sense of freedom.
- Set limits. Referring to the allowance mentioned above, we gave ourselves a certain spending limit each pay period. It’s money we can freely spend without worry. If either of us wants to spend above that amount, we have a conversation first. Again, no surprises.
- Set goals. We have goals that we set together and agree on. We have an emergency fund that we won’t touch unless there’s a true emergency, we have retirement plans through our employers and we both contribute a good portion of our pay to them so we can retire at the age we would like, we have a plan to pay for Heather’s return to college and our kids’ college. Once again, the key words being “agree on.”
- Protect each other. Within a week of Heather and I getting married, I had reviewed and updated all my beneficiaries on retirement plans and life insurance. We applied for a life insurance policy on Heather. I voided old estate planning documents, and we have a new plan moving forward. If anything happens to me, my wife, my children, and her children will be taken care of, and vice versa.
The key to handling finances is to always communicate and reach an agreement. Heather and I had differences in our financial backgrounds and situations coming into our marriage, but together we work as a team and have overcome those differences. While some couples may disagree with blending their finances, we have found it works best for us. As a pastor at our church once said, “If you can share a bed together, you can share a bank account.” We chose to listen to this advice, and as a result, our finances have been a perfectly blended success.