I regularly hear from readers who are having problems with their spouse and money. Usually, they are speaking about themselves as two individuals who are opposite sides of an argument, and I think this is part of the problem. When spouses see themselves as adversaries when it comes to money, it is hard for money not to become a problem. Only when both partners feel like they are invested in a common financial future can such problems be resolved and eliminated.
It is reported that financial issues are the number one cause of divorce in the United States, and I am not surprised. Our society discourages talking about money, meaning that most people don't learn about money from their parents, and we don't teach financial education in schools. In addition, a new couple brings to the marriage two entirely separate sets of ideas, experiences and attitudes towards money. No wonder it is such a problem!
The unique challenges of military life add extra pressure to a marriage, and it is certainly true when it comes to money. Starting pay is pretty low, and there are the random expenses of uniforms and PCSes, and then a deployment comes along and dramatically increases your income for a short while. It can be hard for the non-military spouse to find employment, and military communities often offer lower average wages. In addition, military folks tend to marry younger than their civilian counterparts and haven't had the life experiences to help them through these situations.
Fortunately, there are several things that a couple can do to ensure their marriage's financial success. Some are easy, some are hard, and they nearly all require communication and compromise. Throughout it all, the couple needs to be focused on working together as a team. Successful financial unions need to be focused on the "we" more than the "you" or "me."
Know The SituationBoth the husband and the wife need to know the family's financial situation. This includes a full accounting of all assets, debts, and income. Learn to read a Leave and Earnings Statement. Tally up your total debts, and the minimum monthly payments.
DreamBoth spouses should spend a little time considering their dreams, and then share them with each other. Dreaming of a huge new television? Tell your spouse. Hope to go to college? Tell your spouse. Want to leave the military and sell hot dogs at the ball park? Tell your spouse. Dreaming of a McMansion and a nannyto care for your kids while you enjoy sunbathing around the pool? I think you get the picture. There are no dreams too big or too small for this exercise. Once you have shared, you can have realistic conversations about these dreams. Can they be achieved, and what would you need to do to achieve them? Are both of you willing to do whatever needs to be done to make these dreams come true? This is where compromise is very important - if one person dreams of selling hot dogs at the ballpark, and the other person dreams of the McMansion with the nanny, you might need to find some sort of middle ground.
Make It HappenOnce you've shared your thoughts and developed some sort of common vision, it is so much easier to make good financial decisions that support that vision. The urge to go buy an expensive new purse is a lot easier to resist when you have visions of owning your own home. The desire to spend absurd amounts of money on video games is easily smashed by the desire to get out of debt. A fleeting thought of running out to a quick restaurant dinner can be quashed by the promise of building a good emergency fund. Whatever your dreams, working together is the first step in making them happen and resisting the temptations that will prevent success.
Changing your mindset from "me" to "we" can have a huge impact on your financial stability. In turn, your marriage will be less stressful, more pleasant, and more fun. So start learning, sharing and planning together, then enjoy the results of your efforts.
Note: Shortly after writing this post, I stumbled across a similar article at Five Cent Nickel. Written by my friend Hank Coleman of Military Money Might, it says much of the same things that I have said, but in a very different manner. Reading both of our pieces will probably help you develop a more rounded idea of what we are trying to say.