Family Finance: How to Manage Money in Marriage

I feel like much of the financial education advice put out there says it’s geared to everyone and how to create wealth, but I don’t find that to be the case most of the time at all. Much of it considers the family with a fair bit of income to spare, which as we know, leaves a significant portion of the population to fend for themselves.

Here’s why I say that. I don’t know about you, but every time I sit down with a financial advisor, the insouciant mention of an investment or savings plan for different things that casually involves an additional J$50,000 per month in disposable income to protect the family always throws me for a loop.

Where is this money supposed to come from? I think. How am I supposed to maintain recurring monthly expenses like rent, electricity, internet, insurance and other expenses, make large purchases, be sure we are actually living by partaking in entertainment and leisure, investments, maintain liquidity for up to six months and the find this extra money lying around? By observation alone, I don’t think much of this advice is yet meant to be tailored for lower income families, so I want to do a blog series that will do that.

This first post will focus on structuring the finances of the family unit.

What Do We Need to Know

When hubby and I became serious, I began thinking of expenses x2. If a bottle of water was $1, in my head it costs $2. When our daughter entered the chat, it became $3. And so, on.

As a unit, we also often are privy to statisics which say money and finances are among the leading causes for the breakdown of marriage. That’s right up there with infidelity.

As millennials, we often talk about financial security, and what it looks like as a single person and in a relationship. Do we split the rent fifty-fifty? Joint account? No joint account? What really works?

TALK, COMMUNICATE

Personally, I think it depends of the couple of course, but whatever the scenario, I think that if the goal is to prosper as a unit, there should be an honest conversation about each partners’ income, debt, money management skills, habits, roles and expectations and how those will affect your family’s functionality.

My hubby thinks the same, more or less. He says, “Financial management and the allotment of ‘roles’ in marriage and anything relating to that has to be fluid and will vary from couple to couple. At least one person in the union will most likely earn more than the other in the majority of scenarios, whether it’s the man or the woman.

Of course, in some cases one person may be the sole breadwinner in the union. But the roles of managing finances within a union has to be dynamic. Just know that one cannot expect one person to be saving and not spending while the other spends, spends, spends UNLESS, that is the role you play in that union and that is established understood between both of you..”

So, let’s look at three things the money talk should cover relating to its management that are important.

INCOME AND EXPENSES

Even if you aren’t aware of exact figures, you should at least have an idea of what your combined monthly income is and how much of it goes back out into expenses. It will make it easier and facilitate fairer distribution of those expenses in relation to the family’s income.

It will also be beneficial to things like planning for big purchases, vacations, unexpected expenses that will significantly chop into disposable income, etc. The last thing you want is to be planning that dream family trip to Dubai you thought you’d be going 50/50 on and realise that your spouse can only afford to pay for the sunscreen you’ll need.

DEBT

If you make x amount and you are on the hook for it eating out a chunk of your monthly pay check, it is responsible to let your spouse know. it may mean that you’ will budget to decrease or eliminate the debt together, but both party should be aware of it’s presence. Otherwise, that’s just plain dishonesty, which is never good on the premise of marriage, no matter what it’s about.

MONEY MANAGEMENT SKILLS

Just because you make money, that’s not an automatic skill at management. Are you either of you spendthrifts? Tightfisted, maybe? If your money skills aren’t great, allow the other partner to manage (if they are better at it than you are. If not, get an advisor to help you.)

Habits are extremely important because again, making money, doesn’t mean you know how to keep it or that you are spending it on the right things. You can’t be good at everything, right? There’s nothing wrong with getting help when you need it.

All in all, the conclusion that the financial structures between couple are as varied and diverse as couples themselves and their lifestyles. To drive this point home, I asked a few of my married friends to share how they went/go about finances in their relationships, and these are the answers I got.

1. How are financial responsibilities structured and managed in your marriage?

2. Is it working for you?

3. Did you discuss it prior to marriage, after marriage did you just kind of fall into it based on what worked?

Mrs. B

“So, because my husband is a financial guru and a mathematician, he’s in charge of the financial aspects because once I see numbers, my brain is on complete lockdown; the budgeting and so on. From time to time, I play the role of ‘overseer’ 🤣. Sometimes I determine what goes where, basically how to allocate the funds. We try to make it a collective effort.

I’m a Real Housewife of Kingston, he does the work and I spend the money 🤣🤣🤣. I’m in charge of the household. The buying of food, the cooking the nurturing. We discussed this set-up prior to getting married.”

MRS. S

“I am a housewife. I take care of my two young kids and there is a lot to do regarding caring for our home. My husband is the breadwinner and more mathematically inclined. We decided early on before getting married when he taught me to better save and manage money that he would be the financier and myself the homemaker.

We keep all joint accounts and access to everything (that works for us) and I ensure the bills are paid (on time) all our accounts are up to date. House wise, I do all of that. The upkeep, shopping, grocery, etc.”

MRS. T

“Unfortunately, we did not discuss finances prior to marriage. As it was from the beginning, my husband and I have always operated financially independent of each other and as such, encountered multiple problems. They are more now that I am the family’s sole breadwinner as his work is less reliable.

Egos flare often. Although things get done, as result of my being on top of them, it’s not the most functional structure. I encourage younger couple to discuss this before marriage.”

MR. R

“Before marriage there was never a discussion about finances, I guess we both had goals of owning a home one day and it just happened to fell into place. Currently I take care most of the bills, we share the mortage and power bill. Car payments, insurance, cell phone, lawn maintenance and other miscellanous expenses I take care of. While she takes care of the grocery. Every paycheck is budgetted, savings is mandatory each pay check.

We never discussed it, I was more of being the gentleman and ensuring that I was the one taking responsibility for the bills, could be a guy or ego thing? Perhaps 🙂 But I don’t mind. When it comes on to spending, I would be considered a “jumpy” buyer, I tend not to compare options as the first thing I see I would purchase, which is the complete opposite with my wife. She is more to sit down and way the pros and cons of the purchase or see if she is able to get deals.

This is what I admire about her, she doesn’t purchase anything without thinking about getting the price lower, often times I would think she comes off cheap, but bottom line is she’s being resourceful and thinking of the bigger picture.”

MRS. S2

“We knew we wanted to stay together forever so the act of getting married didn’t change much for us. I was already pregnant on my wedding day and that to me is the ultimate act of life commitment to another person. We functioned like any other committed couple did. 

Every thing in place now was either discussed or set in place before we got married. I.E. discussing bills vs income and the type of lifestyle we wanted to live. 

We discussed things as important as sending our future kids to a public vs private school, investment, saving, how to grow our income, how important taking vacations were to us, how much times a year could we afford to do it to as simple as Eating out vs not eating out 

Finance distribution. It does not matter for us who earns more. We both Have equal say about how money is distributed. All accounts are linked so we see what’s goes in and what goes out.  We have a budget plan in place. It’s not set in stone, we constantly review and make changes.”

MRS. S3

“We basically share everything. We both have loans, after we pay our respective loans, mortgages, what’s left we split in half. However he took sole responsibility for paying our son’s school fee… food, and household items, I take responsibility for. We invest in farming, just started livestock so that will help foot some of the bills.

We don’t earn a lot, but budgeting helps us 100%. I save monthly… that goes towards my partner plans… and when I get the money we invest or buy something that the house needs. But if something comes up and either of us falls short we help each other. We didn’t plan it this way, we just fell Ito it and it works for us.”

MR. R2

“I earn (probably) the most of the two of us and certainly the most constant earner. But I know nothing about money managment. I depend on my wife for that; saving, investments etc. I do prefer that she does the spending since often times her needs are greater than mine and she is more likely to know what all of us want and needs more than I do.

We didn’t discuss it before marriage, but certainly after as we made plans for our family.”

MRS. M

“I handle the money. When we were just married, because he was the only one with an income, I use to allow him to pay the bills but then I realised that only a portion of the bills were being paid and the rest of the money was spent on unimportant stuff….

So now we sit down come the first of the month, take out savings (first!!!!) review the bills, do a budget based on what has to be done for the month (eg. This month we need a new sofa ). Pay the bills or the majority of it to accommodate the month’s goal. Since I’ve taken over we haven’t been in debt and have extra money.”

MRS. S4

“Because of our current living situation (separate countries), our finances are separate. We have a general idea of each other’s base salaries and expenses’ and we go 50/50.

When we lived together though, hubby made me a full spreadsheet, presented his paystubs for 6 months n showed me the break down of his finances. He did rent, supermarket groceries, I did internet, market/wholesale groceries. I’ve also always been an extremely aggressive saver, so there was that.

CONCLUSION

As I thought, there are many structures, that are tailored to each unit and their respective lifestyles and income circumstances. Being on the same page can ensure the money machine runs well, even if there are a few bumps along the road.

4 Comments

  1. I really enjoyed this post because of the insight into real couples’ point of view. Hubby and I pretty much split who covers what, then the rest goes into savings that we both have access to. It works for us and also makes it feel like we are partners. I would hate to have to ask him for cash to do my hair and wouldn’t be too happy if he asked for cash for his games~

    Liked by 1 person

  2. In my case we had the discussion before and after marriage and he went off and did his own thing. More often than not, ego will get in the way of sound financial planning so the first step might be to make sure you share similar goals.

    Liked by 1 person

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