3 Keys to Success in Your Family Finances

As a young and single adult, I was pretty careful with my money. For the most part, I only bought things I needed, occasionally splurging for a frozen yogurt trip with the roommates. But I still took comfort in the fact that the money in my bank account was mine to use how I pleased.

But when I got engaged, I started to think about finances a little differently. All of a sudden, it wasn’t going to be my money anymore! My financial decisions didn’t just affect me, but they also affected my future spouse and children. And now I would have a partner, someone I needed to collaborate with for financial decisions.

It turns out that I wasn’t alone in the need to change my mindset. Finances can be stressful for a lot of couples! Among newlywed couples, debt brought into marriage is one of the biggest stressors they face (1). And one survey by SunTrust Banks found that money is the top cause of relationship stress for couples (2).

If couples aren’t careful, this stress can make a marriage fall apart. According to a survey by the Institute for Divorce Financial Analysts, money is the third leading cause of divorce, accounting for just over 20% of divorces (3).

1. Work together.

Bringing two individuals together with different backgrounds and ideas about money can be a real challenge! Because agreeing about money can be so hard, some couples just let one person handle the finances, or even just keep their money totally separate. But in order to navigate the financial craziness of married life, couples really need to work together in money matters.

One financial advisor, Kitty Bressington, suggests that couples should pool money to cover basic bills and long term savings goals. Then, couples can decide on how much “fun” money each partner can have a month. This still allows some personal wiggle room while making sure that couples agree on the big rocks (4).

2. Don’t buy what you can’t afford.

With loans and credit cards at our fingertips, it can be easy to buy whatever we want right when we want it, whether or not we actually have the money. Unfortunately, giving in to instant gratification can spell financial disaster for a family — and ultimately harm a marriage in the process.

This Saturday Night Live clip has a quick and easy solution to our need for instant gratification:


Next time you want to get something bigger, better, or newer, ask yourself: can we really afford this? (And don’t forget to involve your spouse in the discussion!) If it’s something you really need or want, consider making a savings plan. Most likely, you’ll be able to live without it for a little longer while you save up.

3. Plan it out.

When it comes to money, a little planning can do a lot to reduce financial stress. Whether it’s creating a budget, planning out your savings, or figuring out a debt elimination plan, making a plan can make a huge difference!

While budgeting and money planning will look a little different for each family, here are a few basic guidelines:

  • Build an emergency cash reserve. Because you never know when a rainy day will hit, make sure you build up an emergency savings big enough to cover at least three months of living costs. The exact amount of money will be different for every family, but plan today to put aside money for whatever emergencies might pop up in the future (6).
  • Find little ways to save. Are you wasting money on impulse buys at the store? Is some of your produce going bad because you don’t use it in time? Little things like planning meals, making a grocery list, or just plain doing without (see #2) can save you a lot of money in the long run (7).
  • Make and stick with a budget. Figuring out healthy limits for your expenses can really help your family thrive financially. If you’re just starting out, you may try using the envelope system to physically give yourself a budget (8). Other families may like a more flexible 50/20/30 budget (9). Whatever method you choose, work with your spouse to create a budget system that works for you!

Success in Family Finances

Finances can be a big stressor for a family, but they don’t have to be!

As couples work together, evaluate their spending habits, and plan for the future, they can navigate the money challenges that come their way. This financial success means more than just putting money in the bank; it means a happier marriage and family.


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Picture retrieved from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Piggy_Bank_On_Pennies_(5915295831).jpg


1. Schramm, D. G., Marshall, J. P., Harris, V. W., & Lee, T. R. (2005). After “I do”: The newlywed transition. Marriage and Family Review, 38(1), 45-67. Retrieved from http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1300/J002v38n01_05

2. SunTrust Banks. (2015, February 4). Love and money: People say they save, partner spends, according to SunTrust survey. Retrieved from http://investors.suntrust.com/news/news-details/2015/Love-and-Money-People-Say-They-Save-Partner-Spends-According-to-SunTrust-Survey/default.aspx

3. Institute for Divorce Financial Analysts. (n.d.). Survey: Certified divorce financial analyst (CDFA) professionals reveal the leading causes of divorce. Retrieved from https://institutedfa.com/Leading-Causes-Divorce/

4. Arnold, C. (2016, March 8). How to keep money from messing up your marriage. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/2016/03/08/469239033/how-to-keep-money-from-messing-up-your-marriage

5. Miller, J. (2010, May 11). Don’t buy stuff you can’t afford – a 1 page book! [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QzE76nUSjL8

6. Brown, J. (2016, April 6). How big should your cash reserve be? Retrieved from https://money.usnews.com/investing/articles/2016-04-06/how-big-should-your-cash-reserve-be

7. Better Money Habits. (n.d.). How to save money every day [Video file]. Retrieved from https://bettermoneyhabits.bankofamerica.com/en/saving-budgeting/how-to-save-money-tips

8. The envelope system explained. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.daveramsey.com/blog/envelope-system-explained

9. Shin, L. (2016, February 29). How to budget: A simple, flexible method for everyone. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/laurashin/2016/02/29/how-to-budget-a-simple-flexible-method-for-everyone/#182a93815881

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