Money in Marriage

by Caroline

I handle all the finances in my marriage. I pay every bill, open up all bank accounts, take the lead in long term investing, and do all the purchasing. I do it all, and I like it that way.* So does Mike. I think a part of him kind of wishes he knew where the money went, but a much bigger part of him is relieved to not have to deal with it.

It’s not that Mike has absolutely no idea of what’s going on. If there’s something electronic we need to buy, or something car related, or something really big, like over a couple hundred dollars, we talk about it.

Every six months or so, Mike makes a half hearted comment about how we (I) should spend less. But there isn’t any strong feeling behind his comments. He knows that we’re in the black and saving a good chunk of money every month. He also – and this is so interesting – has told me that he doesn’t say much about my occasional clothing splurges or decisions to give away chunks of money because I bring home a paycheck as a part time teacher, and he regards this as my money.

This is fascinating. If I were a full time stay at home mom, would he be more critical of what I do with the money? Does my part time job earn me space and freedom to purchase and give as I see fit?

I remember my mom once telling me her ideal way of handling money in a marriage. The majority of money should go towards the common expenses and necessities– mortgage, utilities, food, etc., but that each person also should get a few hundred dollars (or less, depending on financial circumstances) of personal money every month to spend however he or she wished. And each person would not be at all accountable to the other for it.

I love the egalitarian quality of this idea, so recently I offered Mike (and myself) a monthly amount that we could do whatever we wished with. At the time, guilt was overcoming me since I have so much more fun with money than Mike does, who never wants to buy anything except books. He wasn’t as impressed with the idea.

“What am I going to do with _____ a month? “ said Mike.’
I said, “You could save it and someday buy something big you really want.”
“Nah, sounds like a hassle,” was Mike’s reply.

Gotta admire the man’s desire for simplicity.

How do you handle money in your marriage? Or if you are single, how do you envision handling it? Does one person have more say than the other on discretionary spending? Do money disagreements lead to tension in your relationship?

*Mike does do the taxes and sometimes fiddles with how much he puts into retirement every month.



Caroline has a PhD in religion and studies Mormon women.

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21 Responses

  1. FoxyJ says:

    We’ve been married for about six years. Up until last year we had a shared bank account and a shared budget and just kept track of our spending together. Over that time we’ve had a variety of income types: both employed, only dh employed, part-time employed, etc. I was the one who mostly kept track of bills and shopping and the budget, mostly because I spent most of the money. My husband also rarely spends money; he occasionally buys CDs or books and he gets comics each month, but that’s it. He rarely buys clothes or anything. Me, I can always think of stuff to buy 🙂 So far it’s been working just fine. Last year we switched to separate bank accounts and separate budgets. He’s in charge of paying the rent and other bills, and I take care of the groceries and household spending. That’s working so far for us since I’m working part-time. We also have our accounts at the same bank and have access to each other’s financial information. I like that openness.
    We’re not at the point where we have a home or investments (or savings–we need to work on that), but any bigger purchases we usually consult each other on and work out who is paying for what (like vacations or furniture or big Costco trips).

    For me, secretness in finances is not good. I know someone who got married and never got joint accounts. Now she is a SAHM and has no access to the money. She really doesn’t have any idea how much money they have or how much debt or anything. Her husband gives her an “allowance” in her bank account each month, but if she runs out she’s afraid to ask him for more. There is no way I could be in a money relationship like that, but I guess it works for her. Totally not how I think you should do things though…

  2. Hedgee says:

    I’m a stay at home Mum, and also seem to take care of all financial issues. We discuss most purchases together, especially larger ones, and have thought about the idea of having a budget that we stick to that includes spending money for us both, but it hasn’t really happened yet. We just seem to glide along safely at present. I’m a bit of a bargain hunter, and so splash out when we find good deals, but otherwise don’t. My husband does do some paid photography work, as a hobby, and most of the money from this has gone on more photography equipment. We’ve almost been married 2 years now.. and glad to say all is well on the money front, as well as all others 🙂

  3. Courtney says:

    by default, I have been in charge of paying all the bills in our marriage (2 1/2 years). My husband makes the car payment each month, mostly because he made payments on our car before we were married, so it carried over as habit.
    Money has been a source of stress, though not too severe, because we are poor students. We come from VERY different financial backgrounds. My dad was a very successful CEO and his dad jumped from job to job doing whatever he was interested in at the time. Sometimes they could afford to buy a cadillac with cash, and they also filed for bankruptcy more than once.
    I just came to the realization this past week that my husband is not aware of our financial situation at any given time. He may have an idea of how much is in the bank account, but he doesn’t have a sense of what we can or can’t afford. I’m starting to realize I need to take more of an active role in managing our finances because I just don’t think my husband has the experience of how to do that. I always assumed he wouldn’t suggest we go out to eat if he knew we couldn’t afford it– not the case! So, we are trying to revamp how we handle finances so we can actually get out of debt sometime. Hmmm… it’s really not as bad as it sounds! We just have very different ideas of how finances work. I recognize that if you ever want to get ahead, you need to SAVE, and he focuses more on as soon as you can afford something, you should buy it!
    I am glad we are very open about finances though. Even if we both have bad habits, we can talk about it.

  4. Janna says:

    I am extremely intersted in comments from married women on this topic…please keep them coming. I am not married, but have fears about money when I am. I grew up in a home where money was a source of constant tension and open conflict. I feel wounded from this exposure and have grown up with some unhealthy views of money. On that note, how do you discuss money with/around your children?

  5. Zenaida says:

    I am not married, but I can’t imagine not being involved in the details of money management. The way I manage my own money is very meticulous, so I can see myself being the one to pay bills, etc. I don’t know how I would feel about a husband who didn’t want to be involved in the finances, but I don’t think I could be with a husband who didn’t want me to be involved in the finances other than doing the grocery shopping. Knowing my personality, I would come to resent an “allowance” even if it was a generous one.
    I also plan to continue working part-time even if I have children. I know that marriage and parenthood is about selflessness, but I don’t want to lose my entire identity.

    Is managing money a way of maintaining a sense of self?

  6. Sue says:

    My husband handles the finances, because it gives me hives, looking at all the bills. I know what our bills are, and how much is going out and coming in, and how deep the hole is getting, but I just – let him deal with it. He’s got a stronger stomach.

    But we don’t have ‘his money’ and ‘her money.’

  7. Starfoxy says:

    My husband and I view all money that comes into the home as ‘family money.’ We recognize that our relationship is a joint venture and that we are all doing our part. Just because the capital value of my labor doesn’t get recognized in this economy doesn’t mean it doesn’t help our bottom line.

    I’ve taken the lead on budgeting and managing our money because I have more experience, and because I’m the one most in tune with the household needs and expenditures. My husband has a tendency to just let me take care of it because it is rather a lot of work and he doesn’t want to take the time to sit down and familiarize himself with everything. I’m not entirely comfortable with this, but he trusts me. He also knows that beggars can’t be choosers, so to speak. Which is to say that if he doesn’t like the way I’m running things then it is up to him to get involved and shoulder some of the work of planning and budgeting rather than issue edicts.

    I might suggest reading “the Price of Motherhood” for more insights on how concepts of who really owns the money can impact relationships.

  8. Stephen says:

    Err, remind him that he needs discretionary funds to save up and buy you jewelry with.

    Young men these days, doesn’t anyone raise them right?

  9. Mike says:

    Hey, Caroline! You forgot I also write the tithing checks. And represent the family in tithing settlement.

  10. Caroline says:

    Foxy, I’ve heard that it can be a smart thing to have separate accounts. I’d love to know more about that. What advantages does this have over what you were doing before? As for your friend, having so little knowledge or control of the money sounds like a nightmare situation.

    Hedgee, I’m glad things are working out so well so far!

    Courtney, Mike and I also have different approaches. I want to be responsible and avoid debt, but I also want to have some fun! Mike, on the other hand, is very uncomfortable spending money on anything non essential. I hope you and your husband are able to come up with some good compromises!

    Janna, I think money is often a source of extreme strain in a lot of marriages. One piece of obvious advice is to talk A LOT about money before you marry and figure out if your approaches and long term goals are compatible. Good question about the children…. haven’t had to deal with that one yet. Though I’m planning on teaching them the share/save/spend method. (Divide their allowance into 3 portions and help them distribute accordingly.)

  11. Caroline says:

    Zenaida, I too would resent the allowance method. Sounds unhealthy to me, but I guess it can work for some people.

    I think managing money (or at least knowing what’s going on) is a way to maintain a sense of control. And I think that earning money – or doing whatever you love to do for pay or not for pay – is a way to maintain a sense of self. Does that sound right?

    Sue, you’re in the minority! Most women here seem to be the ones to manage the money.

    Starfoxy, I love this! “if he doesn’t like the way I’m running things then it is up to him to get involved and shoulder some of the work of planning and budgeting rather than issue edicts.”

    Stephen, hah! good point.

    Mike, you’re right! Those must be nearly the only checks you ever write. It’s funny – I don’t have a problem with us paying tithing, but I don’t have any desire to actively write out those checks or go to tithing settlement.

  12. Zenaida says:

    Starfoxy, I love the idea of all incoming money being ‘family money.’

  13. Naismith says:

    We’ve been married for about 30 years, and while we have lots of issues, money is thankfully not a problem.

    We are firm believers in the “our money” approach. When my husband got a raise or bonus, he would always say, “Half of it is yours.” Particularly because his career has involved international travel and moving the family abroad, it is clear that my efforts have contributed to his career success, and it is glaringly obvious that he couldn’t earn what he does without me.

    I have been employed more than half our marriage, but the money with my name on the paycheck is no more “mine” than the money that happened to be earned by my husband. And when I inherited money from my parents, it was also “ours” as well. (The “our” money thing goes both ways.)

    It is indeed important that one person not have more power than the other based on earnings. I just shudder at the notion that only someone who earns money is entitled to spend it–that attitude is so demeaning to the unpaid work of homemakers, and can be so destructive to families. “Money is power” is a worldly philosophy that I refuse to buy into, and I agree with Starfoxy about The Price of Motherhood.

    About allowances…I’ve seen it work well in marriages, but it only works if BOTH partners agree to it (i.e., it is not a matter of the employed spouse granting money to the other, but binding on both.) We’ve never had allowances, but we have had spending limits above which one must check with the other partner. It used to be $5, was at $20 for a long time, and is now $100.

    I also refuse to let money dictate my identity. I currently bring in a good salary. But if I were to ditch that and work for a non-profit, or even volunteer my time (like a friend who runs a thrift shop for Hospice), I don’t think it would change who I am.

  14. FoxyJ says:

    So far separate accounts are working out for us. I was nervous because I’ve always liked the fact that it was all “our money”, and I was nervous about what will happen if there is a time when I’m not working. That doesn’t look like it will happen for a while though. I also don’t know how things will work when we get into bigger expenses, but hopefully we’ll have more income so I guess that will help.

    I also think that it’s good to talk about your attitudes towards money. I’ve heard it said that it’s not the amount of money you have that causes problems in marriage, it’s usually something else. We took a marriage prep class, but the finances section mostly focused on budgeting and financial planning. There was little emphasis on exploring our attitudes about money. At least as far as I can remember; neither of us were very introspective. I’ve recently realized that I have a strong negative predjudice towards people who I see as “rich” or who have nicer things. It’s kind of embarrassing to think about, but I tend to have a defensive reaction towards “snobs”. Unfortunately I live in a ward where many people come from wealthy backgrounds and I realized a while ago that my attitude is making it difficult to relate to people. A lot of this comes from a childhood where we didn’t have much money, but my mom was fiercely proud of the fact that we never bought stuff new and that our old stuff was “better” than spending money. It’s also partly defensiveness because I do feel judged by some for the fact that we buy clothes at DI or things like that. We are students and so are many people in our ward, but many of them have a lot of family support that we just don’t have. Anyways, I think it’s good to examine what money attitudes you have from childhood. Is money good? Bad? Scary? Something useful? Something you can’t control?

  15. madhousewife says:

    I handle the menial money jobs, like balancing the checkbook and paying bills. My husband does the big money stuff, like saving for retirement, stock purchases, blah blah. That just doesn’t remotely interest me. I’m better at the minutae. The big money scares me. I used to do the taxes, but early on my husband got obsessed with it, so he handles the taxes now, and I’m glad. Our tax situation is much more complicated than it was when we first got married, and I just find that stuff tiresome.

    We always talk about major purchases (anything in the hundreds-of-dollars or more). Now that we have more money to spend, we allow ourselves more freedom to spend without necessarily consulting the other first. I think I tend to be the thriftier one because I handle the day-to-day money stuff (like how much money is in the checking account), and also that is just my personality (I’m cheap). But each of us has the freedom to splurge every so often. That’s when we come home and say, “Sorry, but I wasted our money today.” 🙂

    I’ve always considered it “our money.” When we were first married, I was the only one earning a paycheck, and I think my husband did not really consider it “our money,” but my money. Intellectually he knew that I considered it our money, but emotionally it was hard for him to spend the money that I’d earned. Which made it hard for me, when he became the sole breadwinner, to believe that he considered it “our money”–though I certainly considered it our money–I mean, we were married, weren’t we?! But this was probably also a function of us a) being poor, and b) not really hitting our stride in the marriage. It’s certainly all “our” money now. We don’t do allowances, and we don’t have to rein in each other’s spending, as we spent so many years disciplining ourselves to live within our means.

  16. jana says:

    I handle most of the bill-paying and I spend the bulk of the money because I’m buying groceries, stuff for the kids, etc. Even though, we try to have weekly and monthly budget meetings to make decisions about big purchases and/or long-term investments.

    My spouse and I came to marriage with _very_ different ideas about money from our natal families and life experiences. We had to learn (sometimes the hard way) to work together on money management and not to resent each others’ choices.

    My biggest suggestion to couples with money woes: counseling helps. My other suggestion: remember that it’s only money…

  17. Anonymous says:

    I’m a SAHM. I handle all the financial matters. We discuss the general picture and agree on our values (no debt, save for retirement, house, etc.). My husband is completely uninterested in the details and doesn’t remember them if I tell him. He is more likely to spend money on “stuff” than I am.
    It is all “our” money, but the first few years of marriage we did a $50/month personal money thing.
    We don’t really fight about money even though we have different ideas, because we both agree about the no debt thing. So, when my husband gets a bonus and my husband wants to buy a new computer and I want to sock more away in our IRA or save it, we can usually come up with a way to do both either now, or next time.
    We have lived on a very strict budget when we bought the 1st house. No eating out. No buying clothes, etc. I had to tell my husband what we couldn’t afford and would have to sometimes point out that his DVD movie purchase or eating out for lunch might put us in the red.
    Now things are much looser, although with 5 people in a family you can rack up expenses pretty fast. His recent raise meant I immediately said “We need to increase the 401K contributions” and he went along with me. I try to take his preferences into account when I manage our overall picture. He likes the idea of paying down the mortgage early, so I put $100 toward that for his sake, instead of toward a Roth IRA which makes more sense to me.
    He has never said anything or acted in any way other than our money is our money, no matter who makes it. I have never considered money that I made to be mine. Whether I save money by making dinner vs. eating out or convenience food, or get a paycheck, or manage it really well, I am doing it for my family’s benefit.

  18. Suzanne says:


    You should consider speaking with a financial planner about paying the mortgage faster than necessary instead of contributing to a ROTH. If you run the numbers long term and consider the tax benefits and retirement benefits of a ROTH, you will determine it is much much better to invest in a roth! There are a lot of crazy pay the mortgage faster schemes out there right now — especially in Utah. They only serve to make those companies money instead of securing your future. Unless you are very close to retirement or have other extremely unusual reasons for paying the mortgage faster than required, you should definitely contribute to a roth if it is a choice between one or the other.

  19. Lenore says:

    I am a SAHM, but our situation is a bit different because in Europe we receive monthly payments for childrearing instead of tax credits. So we have separate accounts, with my husband putting his paycheck into his account and I put the benefit payments into my account. He pays all of the bills and I have ready cash for whatever comes up. When I get maternity leave payments as well, the cash really piles up in my account, and then I take some of the bills as well and stash the rest in the kids’ savings accounts.

  20. Anonymous says:

    We invest in a Roth IRA and Roth 401K. I manage our investments. The point I was trying to make is that while my research indicates it makes more sense to put it in a Roth, my husband has the right to his opinion, so I try to make decisions based on what is comfortable for both of us.
    $100 extra dollars toward the mortgage isn’t that much of a big deal.
    I also invest a little more “conservatively” than I probably would otherwise, because of his preferences. I actually could do whatever I want since he would never know the difference, but I think it is important to not treat him like a child and that he has no say.
    He also wants to buy things like Xbox 360s or big screen TVs (go figure)….none of which make financial sense to me , lol, but when you share money, you don’t get to decide every purchase.
    Luckily, since we agree on the big stuff like no debt and we should save for retirement, the details become easier to not fight about.

  1. July 17, 2015

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