For Valentine’s Day, Work on a Budget Together

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An overwhelming number of people in failed marriages cite financial troubles as a major factor in their breakup. It’s not surprising because the way we use our time and money reflects our values. Without a strong set of shared values, marriages may founder. But dealing with finances together can bring a couple closer. Developing and remaining faithful to a budget is probably the best way to build both your wealth and your marriage.

You may think financial planning is unromantic, but marriage is so much more than gazing into each other’s eyes. It is as much a business merger as any corporate contract. And nothing is more romantic than planning how to realize your shared hopes and dreams for the future.

Finances tend to be a taboo subject. Often engaged couples do not know what their prospective mates earn or how much savings or debt they have accumulated. Most couples have deeply conditioned emotions and expectations about financial matters that they unconsciously project onto others. So in addition to selecting a china pattern and the floral arrangements for your big day, make sure your marriage has the financial footing and monetary habits to meet life’s challenges.

Planning for financial security helps engender a loving environment of shared goals, respect and communication within which romance can flourish. If you can’t share details about your finances, it doesn’t bode well for your relationship. A professional may help facilitate the necessary discussions. An advisor can ask sensitive questions without judgment, listen to each person’s goals and make recommendations to which the couple can respond without any hurt feelings.

I especially enjoy working with young families. Wealth management is all about small changes that produce large results over an extended period. And young couples have enough time to grow richer year by year as they age gracefully together.

Many new couples mistakenly believe they are doing well if they live within their means. This is a common misconception. Couples should keep daily expenses within 65% of take-home pay and reserve the other 35% for very specific purposes.

Ten percent should fund your retirement accounts, and an additional 5% funds your taxable savings. Set aside another 10% for large unexpected purchases. Without budgeting for these large emergencies, anything could swamp your finances. The roof might leak, the car could require major repairs or you could need to fly home for a family emergency. And finally, you may decide to put aside an additional 10% for charity and gifting.

If you add these values up, 35% of your regular take-home pay can’t be spent on daily living expenses, leaving only 65% that can. Without this foresight, your finances or savings will be deluged by the regular large waves of unexpected immediate needs. This might be the single choice separating those who will grow their finances and those who won’t.

Having a budget gives you more freedom, not less. Couples without one often fight about every dollar they spend. Each purchase becomes a battleground where values and priorities clash. And there are always impulsive purchases that provide fodder for an argument.

Disputes about how to spend money can be ongoing in families that are struggling to make ends meet. But a spending plan should never be exploited as a weapon. It can only be used as a tool for couples who are working together toward a common goal.

Most people occasionally buy something that their spouse considers frivolous. The way to contain the havoc these purchases wreak on a budget and a marriage is to set a boundary within which they can be enjoyed and beyond which they will not threaten other financial goals.

We recommend that couples make a line item in their budget for a husband’s frivolous purchases and a wife’s frivolous purchases. I suggest 1% total or half of 1% for each spouse. So long as spending stays within the budget, there should be no arguments.

Couples who have worked together on a budget already agree on the big picture. Once they make the hard decisions about what will help further the family’s values, specific purchases in each category are much less critical.

When people follow a carefully constructed household budget, they do not need to worry about spending until a category exceeds the prescribed amount. Having decided how much money the family can afford to spend on clothes for him and for her, for example, it doesn’t matter if he prefers lots of inexpensive clothes and she prefers a few more expensive outfits. A budget allows a certain degree of freedom that forestalls any controversy.

And when a family does overspend one category, they can decide in a monthly budget meeting how the category allocations might be adjusted going forward. There may still be disagreements, but at least with a budget there won’t be petty discussions about every dollar or even an attempt to figure out where the money was spent.

As we grow older we can enjoy great peace of mind if we have resolved our money issues together. For Valentine’s Day, work on a budget together. It is a calorie-free way of building lasting harmony.

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

Follow David John Marotta:

President, CFP®, AIF®, AAMS®

David John Marotta is the Founder and President of Marotta Wealth Management. He played for the State Department chess team at age 11, graduated from Stanford, taught Computer and Information Science, and still loves math and strategy games. In addition to his financial writing, David is a co-author of The Haunting of Bob Cratchit.