Financial intimacy is just as important as the other dimension of intimacy in your marriage.
Money is a big issue in many marriages, often because couples don’t understand how to achieve financial intimacy. Financial intimacy is how you enjoy the fruit of being one in your financial life, and when you approach it properly, it can greatly reduce the amount of stress and conflict over money.
Below are the four main steps that enable unity in your finances.
1. Join Together
In general, I recommend couples join their finances as much as possible.
That means joint bank and investment accounts, joint property ownership, and shared credit accounts. Of course, there are unique cases when this isn’t possible, but sharing accounts eliminates financial secrets and forces a couple to share responsibility and to work together.
It’s common in marriage to find that your approach to money is very different from your spouse’s approach. One might tend more toward spending and the other more toward saving. One might believe in cash-only while the other is comfortable with credit. One might be very detail-oriented and the other only interested in the big picture. One might be a planner and the other more free-wheeling. It’s important to realize that these differences don’t represent right and wrong, they are just two perspectives.
Importantly, your differences shouldn’t prevent you from working together toward financial intimacy.
2. Set Financial Goals
Once you have joined your finances, the next step is to jointly establish your financial goals.
Many people use the SMART acronym for setting goals. That means the goals should be
As a minimum, your goals should be agreed to by both of you, clearly stated and understood and include a time-frame. Here are a few examples:
- We will completely pay off our credit card debt in the next 24 months
- We will want to save for a 20% down payment on a 3 bedroom house by January of 2022. Average 3 BR home price in our area is $265,000 = $53,000)
- We want to increase our emergency fund from $1,000 to $5,000 over the next 12 months.
Note: the amounts given here are only examples and will completely depend on your financial situation. In any event, your goals should include specific amounts that are realistic for your situation.
When two people with different financial perspectives and backgrounds work together on setting common goals, it’s going to require some level of compromise. It’s important that you both have a voice in the conversation and that there be some level of give and take until you both have wholehearted support for your goals. If either party feels they’ve had to capitulate, there won’t be buy-in, and without buy-in, the likelihood of attaining your goals is low.
3. Set Ground Rules
Ground rules define the agreed money-management framework you will use on ongoing bases.
One of the most important ground rules is your budget or spending plan. I would strongly suggest that every couple should establish at least a high-level budget with a minimum number of “buckets” with amounts assigned that support the long-term goals you set above.
For example, a simple budget should at least include:
- Fixed expenses (mortgage, taxes withheld, home/auto/life insurance, rent, car payments…)
- Discretionary expenses (food, dining out, entertainment, clothing, gas…)
- Utilities (electric, natural gas, water, cable…)
- Savings (retirement, emergency fund, vacation, investments…)
- Debt reduction (student loans, credit cards, personal loans…)
Early on in our budgeting, Jenni and I put way too much detail into our budget, and it became overwhelming to keep track of all the categories. We’ve since taken a simpler approach.
There are other ground rules you might consider. For example:
- We will consult with each other before either of us buys anything costing more than a certain amount.
- There will be no financial secrets between us (100% disclosure, no hidden spending or accounts)
- Which accounts/credit cards will be used for what purposes
- How often we will review our finances together (see next pillar)
4. Have Regular Financial Check-Ins
Financial intimacy is not a one-shot deal. Maintaining oneness with your money means checking in with each other regularly. Topics for your check-ins:
- How does your spending compare to your budget? Are there any adjustments needed?
- Are you on-track toward meeting each of your financial goals? If not, why not? What needs to change?
- Are we sticking to our ground rules?
- Pray together about your finances! Pray for wisdom. Pray for blessing. Pray for unity.
Jenni and I review our discretionary spending weekly, so we can adjust our spending during the remaining part of the month. I manage the bills and check our full budget monthly, after which we discuss any anomalies or necessary adjustments. I develop a detailed financial forecast for the next 5-10 ten years once a year or when there is a major change in our financial situation (home purchase, job changes, etc.).
Having an agreed-upon check-in schedule is important because it makes space for planned financial discussions and eliminates the feeling of one spouse “check up on” another. It’s the two of you checking in on your money – together.
Due to differences between spouses, financial intimacy can be as much of a challenge as sexual intimacy. Different backgrounds, different personalities, and different sensitivities mean you will need to approach money with a LOT of grace toward each other.
Remember, when it comes to money, it’s often not a matter of right vs. wrong, it’s just a matter of differing perspectives. Do your best not to judge or accuse each other but to see yourselves as a team seeking common solutions.