Marriage and Money: Do You Have a Plan?

Money and Career

He who fails to plan, plans to fail’, Proverb

When you got married, did you and your spouse sit down and develop a plan for your family finances?
I am a big believer that those who are proactive achieve the most success, and I have experienced this to be true in the area of money and marriage almost without exception.  For the first several years of our marriage, my wife and I basically coasted along and didn’t give much thought to our money.
There was always a little money in the checking account, and we never missed a payment on our rent, cars, student loans or other debt.  The money thing was no big deal.
Well, about five years ago, we woke one day to the glaring realization that we had accumulated a lot of debt along with virtually no savings.  There’s nothing like a double-line on a home pregnancy test to make you quickly reassess where you stand financially.  When we looked under the surface of “everything seems fine,” we received a hefty dose “oh crap, not so much!”

It’s Time for a Plan

For us, that day marked a turning point in our family’s financial condition.  We took an honest assessment of where we stood, held hands and decided it was time for some major changes in the way we handled money.
Over the course of the next three-and-a-half years, we paid off nearly $55,000 to become debt-free in our marriage (other than our home mortgage) for the first time.  There are many reasons why you might want to consider a similar goal, but today’s post is about something much more universal.
You need a plan.
Whether you want to retire at 40 or just keep your car from getting repossessed, your financial situation and, most importantly, your marriage will improve if you develop a plan for your money.  When you tell your money where to go instead of wondering where it went, you take control of your family’s financial success.

The Big Three: How to Make a Money Plan that Works

1. Talk
If you’re single, it’s easy to create a plan and get started immediately.  Well, if you’re reading this, there’s a good chance that you have someone you need to coordinate this thing with.
Typically, one spouse is going to have their “aha” moment first.  It could be an inspiring story you read online, your first bounced check or the 100th call from a bill collector.  Regardless of where the seed gets planted, change is coming.
Well, when you’re married, a financial plan is only as effective as the most reluctant spouse wants it to be.  To get started, you need to discuss just exactly what you hope to accomplish for your marriage and family.
Use some of your Couple Time to ask each other, “What’s our plan all about?”
2. Lock Arms

Once you’ve discussed your goals, it’s time to start taking action.  And the key to effective action when you’re married is a little word with big implications: Unity.
I’m a firm believer that the biggest key to a successful financial game plan is being on the same page before you begin and then making adjustments as you progress to make sure you stay on track with each other.
So what does unity look like?  Well, it depends on your relationship, but how you handle your bank accounts will be a good indication of where you stand.
I have to admit that I used to have a pretty cut-and-dry view on this topic.  However, thanks to you fabulous Simple Marriage readers and our active community back at Engaged Marriage, I have opened my mind.
I invite you to read the most popular post on my site called “Should Married Couples Have Joint or Separate Bank Accounts?” and consider the variety of intelligent (and very passionate!) opinions in the post and comments.  To me, the bottom line is that you need to operate your finances from a central plan, which brings us to the dreaded “B” word.
3. Write It Down
Once you’ve talked it over with your spouse and committed to approach your finances with a unified mindset, you’re ready to physically create your financial plan.  Your plan will likely grow over time and include a variety of short, intermediate and long-term goals.
However, at its core, your plan needs to have a specific map for how you will handle your income and expenses.  And it needs to lay this out before you actually receive your income and then spend it (it is a plan, after all).
You guessed it, the base of any effective money plan is a monthly budget.  I’ve written previously here about the benefits a budget provides for your marriage.  If it’s the key to financial success and it’s great for your relationship, why doesn’t everyone use a budget?
You probably have your own reasons, but I know that we didn’t have a budget for years because we were ignorant about what was happening to our money and we liked it that way!  Another big issue, which actually popped up for us again recently, is the feeling that preparing a budget takes too much time and effort.
Well, trust me when I tell you it doesn’t have to be that way.  There are many fantastic budget software options out there, and we recently found a system that makes it easy and really meets our family’s needs.  Plus, it has a cool name: You Need A Budget!
Whether you choose a slick computer program or a simple legal pad and pencil, please just get started so you can lay the foundation for your family’s financial success!

Share Your Plan (or Lack Thereof) with the Community!

I really want to hear your thoughts on this subject.  I was frankly enlightened by the feedback I’ve received here previously on financial issues, and I would love to hear how your own family handles the issue of financial planning.
Please leave a comment sharing whether you have a money plan and how you and your spouse address the need for unity (or don’t).  Thanks!

(photo source)