Financial struggles are some of the most stressful experiences anyone can suffer. They are one of the top reasons for divorce and marriage problems. Unfortunately, many financial struggles are self-inflicted. It may not be something we want to hear, but understanding that is the first step to resolving money problems. In this article I will share several tips I learned over the years to get finances in order and keep relationships harmonious and loving.
Financial Problems Cause Stressful Living
Jim and Marie are having money problems. They don’t answer the home phone in fear it is a debt collector. They swap which bills to pay each month because they don’t have enough income to pay them all. They are one month behind on their mortgage. They cut back as much as they think they can and still don’t have enough. Credit card and debt consolidation minimum payments seemed to take all available funds. There is no emergency fund. They maxed out their 401k loans. They are out of options.
Jim feels like he has a cinder block on his chest all the time. The pressure never lets up. Sometimes it is hard to breathe. He finds it hard to smile and present a happy appearance. He eats to take his mind off the financial struggles. He gained 15 pounds in the last 4 months. Simple problems set off his anger. He snaps at coworkers and friends. He tries to hide his frustration, but he suspects others know. Perhaps it’s the frozen food entrees he brings in for lunch or the fact he doesn’t eat out with his buddies as much anymore.
Marie doesn’t feel pretty like she used to. She cut back on using makeup and rarely gets her nails done. Her self-esteem is low. It’s having an impact at work as she’s making more errors than usual and getting down on herself. She tries to hide her anger. She wants a new pair of shoes. They are on sale, but still beyond what she can afford. She resents the fact she can’t afford new clothes. She wants to go to the mall but she’s afraid the temptation would be too great. She’s disappointed in the life she has. How can she afford the children she wants if she can’t afford things now?
Jim and Marie are on the verge of divorce. Jim is angry at Marie for spending too much. Marie is angry at Jim for not taking a part-time job. They snap at each other. Communication has broken down. Jim tries to explain money matters, but Marie doesn’t listen. Marie has her own ideas about money management but Jim is set on doing things his way. Discussions turn into arguments. Arguments lead to days of silence. Jim and Marie are leading two separate lives with little in common. The money issues are all they dwell on. The things they loved about each other seem like distant memories.
Financial Struggles, Marriage and Relationships
In marriage, many take vows to love one another for richer or for poorer. Perhaps we underestimate the stress “poorer” puts on us. Or, more likely, stressful times caused by financial struggles test our resolve and personal character. Whatever the reason, money problems destroy many relationships and marriages. The most important thing to do is to keep communicating. Schedule a time to discuss the finances and only discuss finances at that time. Don’t surprise your partner when they don’t expect it. Allow time to think and prepare for the discussions. Leave all remaining time to maintaining the love for each other. Keep talking about life, jobs, dinner, friends, and everything else you talked about prior to the money problems.
Dinner time is a great time to talk. If the two of you are not in the habit of making dinner together, start. It gives both partners the opportunity to cooperate with one another and work as a team. Working together over a family meal builds trust and respect. If the marriage is damaged by the financial struggle, use this time to rebuild trust and love.
When it does come time to talk about finances be sure not to lay blame on anyone. You are a team and will only get through it by working together as a team. A great way to achieve this is to stay focused on the goal. Have you established a goal? If not, get one, three, or ten. Goals establish where your marriage is heading and keeps the mind focused not on the problems but on the solutions.
For example, Jim and Marie were blaming each other for their problems. They decided to correct the path they were on and started to set goals. The first goal they set was to have enough money each month to pay all their bills. By making a budget they realized they were $250 short each month just to break even. They first examined every expense. Jim agreed to cut the football and baseball packages from their cable subscription as well as a couple movie channels. That saved $60 per month. Marie worked on the food budget and found they could save $90 per month by cutting back on the amount they eat out and doing more cooking in together. When looking at income Jim agreed to take a part time job working one night a week. Jim also agreed to pursue a promotion at his full-time work.
Once Jim and Marie were meeting their financial obligations they started working on their next goal, that of saving up for an emergency fund. They looked at the income and expenses and found where they could cut back even further. Having a little extra money in the bank reduced their stress levels dramatically. The weight was off Jim’s chest. Marie got used to not going to the mall all the time and started to like shopping for discounts. Their marriage suffered a major setback but they are on their way to more peaceful and loving times.
Simple Financial Management
Simple financial tips I wish I learned earlier in my life comes from a book called The Richest Man in Babylon by George Clason. It is short book and an easy read. It’s in story format where the struggles and achievements of the main character teach the financial lessons. This is a must read for everyone, especially for kids to learn the principles early. This is the perfect book to talk about during family dinner time.
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One of the first principles he covers is “Pay Yourself First.” As soon as one receives a paycheck, allowance, or any form of income, set aside a set percentage in savings. A recommended amount is 10%. By putting aside money in savings, first, before bills are paid, it guarantees there will be funds for the time you want or need it.
Another vital principal Mr. Clason covers in his book is to “Live on 70%” of what you make. While today this may sound outrageous it is a cure for financial problems. Since we have to pay Federal and State taxes, this 70% is after taxes. Imagine a child growing up understanding that they get to spend or use 70% of his/her allowance and 30% is kept aside for other things. As that child grows up and follows that spending/saving ratio, there will be some delayed gratification, and when he/she does buy something, it is in cash and not on a credit card. As an adult, he/she will get the best rates on a mortgage. There will be money set aside for emergencies. There will be money set aside for retirement. He/she will not have the financial stress so many suffer. The marriage relationship will not have to endure the agony.
So where does that 30% go? The Pay Yourself First 10% is for savings. The next 10% is recommended for charity and giving back to the community. The final 10% is set aside for investment for retirement. I highly recommend the book. It covers these principles in great detail and why it works.
Jim and Marie are working their goals. They are not yet living on 70% but they are working towards that goal. Here’s what happened to Jim and Marie. After reading The Richest Man in Babylon they mapped out their finances. Jim makes 52,000 a year and Marie makes 37,000. Their combined income is $89,000. They assume a 25% tax rate leaving them with $66,750. Seventy percent of $66,750 is $46,725. That is for home, food, clothing, vacation, and everything else. During the year, they pay themselves first $6,675 that goes to savings. Another $6,675 goes to charities they support. Lastly, another $6,675 is invested for retirement. Jim and Marie are in the process of fixing a mistake that will help them meet this goal – they are selling their home and moving to a lesser priced home they can better afford. It was a tough decision for them but they have started to experience the peace of mind of having extra cash on hand to pay for emergency repairs and medical bills.
Simple Relationship Management
While Jim and Marie are fictional, their story is lived every day by countless people in every walk of life. Bad financial decisions are a leading cause of divorce. In the beginning of this article I mentioned that many financial problems are self-inflicted. The problem is simple. We spend too much. We put too much on credit cards. We want that big screen TV so we get it. We want to impress our friends so we buy a home that is more than we can afford. When the bills come in, the fighting starts. Relationships suffer.
It may sound cliché, but it is the absolute truth – we are responsible for our own decisions. Whether we are buying TV’s or clothing, we are spending the money and need to take responsibility for it. By taking responsibility for our actions we help our relationships. Taking responsibility with the finances is an easy way to build trust with your partner.
When sitting down for a family meal, discuss future goals and what it will take to achieve them. Plan the finances. By showing such responsibility and thinking about the future, relationships are enhanced. Financial problems do not need to end marriages. By taking responsibility for our actions we can fix the mess we are in. Communicate with your partner and demonstrate you are willing to see the tough times through.
- Get the book – The Richest Man in Babylon
- If you have children, teach them early about finances
- Set the goal to live on 70% of your take-home pay
- Examine what is coming in and going out – make a budget
- Even if it is really small, start paying yourself first and get some savings started
- Envision what the future will hold when the finances are in order and you are living on 70%
- Keep communications open by talking during family meals