Couples and Money


I was counseling a couple in their thirties regarding the management of their money. Specifically, they had a running conflict over how the money was spent. Their case facts were pretty typical of young (and older) couples. In this case they have two children and the husband is the primary earner because they decided that it was important for the wife to focus on the day-to-day activities of caring for their children. The wife is working part-time with annual earnings of about $12,000 while the husband makes about $70,000.
As with most couples, one of them accepts primary responsibility for running the finances…paying the bills, etc. In this case, this person is the husband. And here’s where the problems begin. The husband who’s making most of the money and controlling the finances, believes that he ‘earns’ the right to make most of the financial decisions including how any discretionary money is spent. As a result, he freely buys his ‘man-toys’ such as the boat, four-wheelers, and new truck while giving little consideration to her needs and wants which include upgrading furnishings, her wardrobe, and extras she wants for the children. 
This situation is actually pretty typical and promotes stress and conflict in the marriage. For the wife it subtly suggests that she not as ‘valuable’ as the husband…after all, he’s making a lot more money. It also creates a shift of power to the high-earner husband potentially further exacerbating the wife’s self-esteem. 
So is there a better answer? First it’s important to realize that marriage is a partnership of where each spouse has their role. In this case the couple made the decision together that the wife’s primary role would be raising the children while the husband’s primary role is to focus on his career. Not only is raising children a very hard job, but it’s a parent’s most important job! I dare say that most men would prefer the battle of the office rather than difficult job of raising children! 
Here is my recommendation for this couple:
  • All income should be deposited into a joint ‘Family Account’. This would be a checking account from which all your normal bills are paid.
  • In addition to the Family Account, each spouse will have their own Personal Spending Account. This would be a separate checking account.
  • Each month, an equal amount of money is automatically transferred from the Family Account to the Personal Spending Account. As a couple you decide how much money that will be but what is vital is that the amounts are equal. It might be $200 per month, $500 per month or $1,000 per month or more. 
  • The rule for the Personal Spending Account is that you can’t ask your spouse how he or she spent this money! And you certainly are not allowed to criticize how the money is spent. 
This means that all other discretionary spending decisions must be agreed upon by you as a couple. This will often include bigger purchases such as boats or remodeling the home. My suggestion is that you each create a ‘wish list’ of discretionary purchases and then together prioritize them. It will give you something to save towards together and in doing so, create a sense of unity and strengthen your marriage.