Money is at the top of the list of issues that married couples argue about. There are a host of money-related items to disagree about from not having enough money to differences in how to use the money that they have.
One way to reduce – and ultimately eliminate – these unwelcome interactions is to be open with each other about your “financial IQ” and set out on a course of learning about money and personal finances together. That said, here are a few things to keep in mind.
First, both spouses may not have a genuine interest in personal finances (such as the case with my wife). I would recommend that each spouse really makes an effort to learn the basics and more if possible. We have all heard the story of the widow whose husband handled all of the finances and when he died, she was left not knowing anything about their finances (which included not knowing about his life insurance or his will).
Secondly, you each might have different learning styles, so what works for one may not work for the other. The good news is that financial education comes in many forms including books, videos, personal finance blogs, seminars, and one-on-one sessions with financial professionals.
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The Money Basics That You Need to Know
So what should you seek to learn about with regards to money? Here are my recommendations:
My philosophy on budgeting is to run your family budget like a business budget. Your salary (income) is your accounts receivables (money coming in) and your bills or expenses are your accounts payables (money going out). The receivables HAVE to be greater than the payables.
If not, you have three options: increase the receivables, decrease the payables, or do a combination of both. You can increase receivables by putting in extra hours at work, taking on a second job, or starting a side business. You can decrease payables by looking at what you are spending and finding areas to cut back such as not having a $4 coffee every morning, not having multiple premium cable channels, or canceling gym memberships you don’t use.
(Note from Dustin: In my opinion, all financial success starts with a solid budget and open communication. Personally, I’ve tried a lot of approaches, and I feel that You Need A Budget is the best option out there for budgeting software.)
Learn the power of having and maintaining good credit. In a perfect world, we would not use credit, but if you need it, you will pay far less for the money you borrow if you have good credit. The solution to maintain a good credit rating is never taking out a loan you do not have the means to pay back and always paying back your loans on time.
There are several different forms of savings from the emergency fund to a 3-6 month reserve, to long-term savings for major purchases such as a down payment on a home. It is important to establish your personal savings goals, and learn what financial vehicles exist to help you save. You might be surprised to find certain financial instruments (such as insurance policies) that can serve more than one purpose such as helping you save while also providing a death benefit.
If you have debts, make sure you know the fastest way to pay them off. A great way to pay off your debts is to use the debt snowball method where you pay off the lowest balance debt and then add that payment to the payment of the next debt on the list which allows you to continue to make larger and larger payments on your debts which knocks down the balances faster. Using the Infinite Banking Concept, you can possibly take this to the next level by paying off the debt snowball with a loan from yourself (more on that later).
(Note from Dustin: Our family used the good, old-fashioned Debt Snowball to pay off our debts, and it was one of the best decisions we ever made. We did not leverage our efforts through the use of loans back to ourselves, as suggested here, and I am not endorsing that approach.)
Although many people don’t like talking about insurance, you need to make sure you understand what you need and what you don’t need. There are some types of insurance that you cannot live without (by force) such as car insurance and homeowners insurance. But what about life insurance, renters insurance, health insurance, and the like?
I could write a whole blog post on just insurance alone but suffice it to say, you need to have an understanding on what is available and what will benefit you in your current situation and down the road as your needs change.
Investing / Retirement
I put these together because ultimately your investment activity should be building your nest egg or retirement fund. There are lots of different types of investments out there and I will just say this; if you don’t fully understand what you are putting your money in, why you are doing it, and what the outcome will be, don’t do it.
In general, I would stay away from stocks and mutual funds because they are really a gamble (and this is my personal opinion and experience, not investment advice). One of the best investment vehicles that I have personally found are dividend paying whole life insurance policies. Many will tell you that they are not a good investment and that you should “buy term life and invest the difference” but I will tell you that most people never invest the difference, and those that do have taken huge losses by listening to the “gurus” that preach this because their mutual funds tanked. Dividend paying whole life insurance companies have produced positive returns for years – even during the great depression.
(Note from Dustin: I felt the need to interject here to let you know that I am personally in the “buy term and invest the difference” camp on this issue, so that’s the approach our family has taken. However, like most issues, I like to be open-minded and invite opinions that are different than my own, so here you go. 🙂 )
The Infinite Banking Concept
This is a term that you may not be familiar with, but it is a financial strategy that I am personally passionate about. It is through the Infinite Banking Concept that you are able to leverage certain aspects of insurance policies to create a personal financing system with the additional benefits of retirement funds as well as a death benefit to leave to your family when you graduate from this earthly life. Of all of the arenas of personal finance I mentioned to study, I would put this at the top of the list because it will empower you to accomplish all of the others more efficiently from savings to paying off debts, to building a retirement fund.
(One final note from Dustin: Again, I have not used this Concept, so I cannot personally endorse it. I tend to prefer to keep things fairly simple with our finances, but I also don’t discount other ideas on the sole basis that I don’t have any experience with them.)
As with any new venture, remember that mastering your personal finances is a process and not something you need to become overwhelmed with. Take it one step at a time and every step you take will get you closer to achieving your financial goals.
Those that master their personal finances carry less stress and enjoy life more than those who are always broke or just getting by. In the end, the financially educated have happier and healthier marriages as well – and that is my wish for you!
Anthony Kirlew has been happily married since 2006 and runs the personal finance blog Fiscally Sound. Anthony has worked in the financial services arena for several years specializing in real estate, mortgage banking, and insurance services. A lifelong entrepreneur, Anthony has also been a professional online marketer since 1999.