Marriage and Finances: 10 Ways to Manage Your Finances Together
Traversing the pathway of marriage and finances can be tricky and feel vulnerable. After all, money is one of the most common subjects married couples argue about.
Addressing your debt head-on, however, can help you restore both your financial and marital security. Here’s a look at some of the most common challenges when it comes to marriage debt, and how you can work through them.
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10 ways to tackle marriage debt
Successful couples must figure out how to effectively manage money — especially debt — together. Getting rid of debt can lift a huge burden when it comes to marriage and finances.
Until then, couples must manage debt stress and limit its spillover into their marriage. Here’s what couples can do to manage debt more effectively and protect their relationship from financial stress.
- Be transparent
- Share your life dreams and money goals
- Take a balanced approach to combining money and debt
- Prioritize paying off debt
- Spend less, earn more and pay extra toward debt
- Get strategic with your debt
- Keep each other on track and motivated
- Know your strengths and weaknesses
- Align your financial goals
- Ask for help
1. Be transparent
Before getting married, it’s important to disclose to your significant other where you are financially in regards to your assets, your savings and how much debt you’re in.
A few questions that can help you get started having these types of conversations include the following:
- What’s your income?
- How much debt are you in?
- What’s your approach to budgeting?
- How aggressively do you want to pay off debt?
- How do you prioritize saving money?
Even if you’re already in a relationship, it’s never too late to start asking these questions and developing a more transparent approach to discussing and managing finances in your relationship.
2. Share your life dreams and money goals
When figuring out how to manage your personal finances together, it’s important to not only focus on the numbers but also include conversations around your goals.
In other words, find the “why” you both care about — your shared vision of an ideal life together. Share what your dreams would be if the next five years of your lives could look exactly how you’d like. Write down what you each want and find those common goals you both care about.
Taking the time to find your shared dreams and goals can provide you with a vital touchpoint for you and your spouse to get aligned on what you want to do with your finances — and your lives.
One way to approach this is to consider getting a joint bank account. This way you could combine your finances, remove the idea of what is “yours” and what is “mine” and start looking at it as “ours.” Having joint accounts can also lead to more accountability into how you spend your money.
3. Take a balanced approach to combining money and debt
One big question among couples is whether you should combine finances with your spouse or keep them separate.
Of course, people are different, so there’s no single “right way” to handle marriage and finances.
Some couples will make more progress on money goals when they team up and combine finances, but others might need to maintain more financial autonomy to keep the peace.
With debt, a couple might decide it’s fairer for the partner to whom the account belongs to handle it independently, or they could fully share the responsibility of paying it off — or agree on something in between.
4. Prioritize paying off debt
As part of combining finances and making decisions together, consider how debt fits into your family’s financial goals.
Decide how aggressively you want to pay off debt, and what kinds of sacrifices you’re willing (or unwilling) to make in order to do so.
Often, one partner in the marriage will owe more than the other, so it’s important to hold the mindset that regardless of who originally took out the loans, they now belong to both of you.
Try to think of yourselves as a single team and treat everything financial — debt, income, windfalls and obligations — as connected to that team and not to an individual.
5. Spend less, earn more and pay extra toward debt
To cut down on debt as a couple, you may have to make some sacrifices. While this may sound easy enough, putting it into practice takes diligence:
- Track all household expenses. When you create a budget, it’s important to know not only how much you earn, but how much you spend. Review expenses as a couple to get an idea of where you’re at today, and keep track of every dollar that flows out.
- Analyze your spending habits. Find areas in your budget where you’re overspending and can cut back. This can be difficult if one person sees their spending as worthwhile and the other disagrees, but try to share any financial pain between the both of you.
- Set and follow a budget. Based on your expense analysis, decide on new spending targets that will free up more money. You can also include extra debt payments as their own line item in your budget.
- Reallocate savings to debt repayment. If shopping smarter shaves $200 off your grocery spending, for instance, turn around and apply that $200 to debt.
- Earn extra money to put toward debt. Look for sources of additional income: pick up extra hours, get a part-time second job or start a side hustle. Then use these extra funds to pay off debt even faster.
6. Get strategic with your debt
Employing some clever debt strategies can also help you pay off your debt faster and smarter.
Follow the debt snowball or debt avalanche method
With these strategies, you pay the minimums on all your debts and put all extra debt payments toward a single account.
The debt snowball method prioritizes paying down your smallest debts first, while the debt avalanche method focuses on paying down high-interest debt.
Make extra payments until one balance is gone, and then roll the amount you were paying on this debt (both the minimum and extra payments) over and apply it to paying off the next debt.
Consider debt consolidation or refinancing
Debt consolidation or refinancing your debts can help if you want to simplify your debt, lower your monthly payments or lower the interest rates you’re paying.
You might be able to refinance your mortgage, student loans or car loans. Or you might consolidate credit card balances or other debt with a personal loan or a balance transfer.
Taking such a step can simplify repayment and even save you money if you use consolidation or refinance to secure a lower interest rate or pay debt down faster.
You and your spouse should carefully weigh your options to decide which is right for you, and shop for the right personal loan or other refinance product.
7. Keep each other on track and motivated
As you’re working together toward your shared debt repayment goals, it’s important to keep up your focus and momentum.
- Meet weekly or monthly to review your finances and debts together. Consider putting an untouchable date on your calendars so you can sit down and review where your finances are at. These meetings can help you stay focused on your goals, as well as discuss when you might need to be more flexible.
- Remember your “why” and keep it top of mind. Whether it’s being able to afford an annual family vacation or allowing one spouse to cut back on hours, use it as your motivation to keep up your momentum toward paying off debt.
Give yourself and your debt the credit you deserve, too. In a country that owes a collective $16.15 trillion in household debt, paying yours off is no small feat.
8. Know your strengths and weaknesses
When it comes to managing debt and personal finances, everyone has their strengths and weaknesses.
For instance, perhaps you’re disciplined about paying off debt, but you’re not good at planning your finances or budgeting. Or perhaps you have trouble prioritizing which debts to pay off.
Understanding one another’s personal pitfalls when it comes to money can help you not only work on those weaknesses but also anticipate and plan around them together.
Knowing one another’s strengths and weaknesses can help you understand how you balance each other out and how you can support one another.
9. Align your financial goals
Whether you’re saving up for a new home or you’re paying off debt, it’s important to be on the same page with your significant other as far as what your financial goals are.
Do you both want to prioritize paying off debt, or would you rather put that money toward a down payment on a house or new vehicle? If you have an emergency fund, how large should it be? How much leisure spending do you allot each month?
These are all important questions for you and your significant other to wade through and agree — or at least compromise — on. This can make it much easier to accomplish your goals together.
10. Ask for help
In some instances, you may find both you and your significant other are in over your heads when it comes to your finances.
In these cases, it may be best to seek help from a third party, such as a financial advisor, that can offer you some practical advice on how to better manage your finances.
One form of help you could pursue is as a debt counselor. A financial counselor can help you budget your money and manage your debt.
Because debt counselors typically work for nonprofits, it may come at little to no cost to you, so if you’re in a tight spot financially, this may be a good route for you.
What to know before you say, “I do”
Conversations around money should happen well before you exchange rings at the altar. Here are a few details you should lined up ahead of time:
Pull your credit reports
If you choose to pool your finances and take on debt together, it’s important to know what’s on your credit report. Since the activity on your credit report can help determine your credit score, it’s important to know what appears on there and dispute any errors. You can check your credit reports at AnnualCreditReport.com.
In 2021, the average wedding cost $34,000. Before you get married it’s important to agree on a budget for your wedding. Ask one another whether it’s important to you both to have a big shindig or to keep things simple and put those funds toward other endeavors such as a honeymoon or your first home.
Consider signing a prenup
While this might seem quite unromantic, signing a prenuptial agreement before getting married can help benefit both parties in case of a divorce. Prenups legally outline what happens with debts and assets in the event that a couple gets divorced.
What happens to debt when you get married
Couples with debt might wonder how getting married could affect these financial obligations. Are debts combined after marriage or kept separate? Who is legally responsible to repay debt after marriage?
Fortunately, you don’t have to wonder. The rules about debt and marriage are fairly straightforward:
- If you and your partner take out debt together, either before or after you’re married, you’ll both be equally responsible for repaying it. This includes lines of credit, credit cards or other accounts that are jointly owned or cosigned.
- If one partner takes out debt when single, this debt will remain their sole responsibility after marriage, and the other spouse has no obligation to repay it.
- If you’re married and borrow alone, with only your name on a credit account and not your spouse’s, this debt will likely remain yours. You’ll be solely responsible for repaying it in the case of separation or divorce. The exceptions to this rule are if the debt was borrowed for shared expenses or living costs, or if you live in a community property state.
- If you live in a community property state, almost all debt acquired during a marriage is the joint responsibility of both spouses — even if only one spouse owns the account. The following states are community property states: Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin.
These rules cover most types of marital debt, but every couple’s situation is different, and there can be exceptions. Look up your state’s marital property laws to see when debt is or isn’t considered shared. In the case of a separation or divorce, consult a lawyer to get clarity about your responsibility for debt held by you or your spouse.
Why married couples clash over finances
These statistics prove how damaging debt can be to a marriage, but they don’t quite explain why. Here are some common reasons debt can be so tough on couples:
- Partners have different financial priorities
- Debt can cause marital stress
- Partners aren’t always transparent about money
- Debt can get too personal
- Couples can’t compromise on debt management
Partners have different financial priorities
If you and your significant other have different ideas on where you should or shouldn’t spend your money, that can bring tension into the relationship.
For instance, one person in the relationship may feel that any extra money should go toward paying off debt, while the other feels that money should be put into a savings account instead. Or perhaps one partner might feel strongly about helping extended family members out financially, while the other might prioritize putting that money toward their own household needs.
In these scenarios, it may be challenging to come to a compromise, especially if your priorities seem to conflict with each other.
Debt can cause marital stress
Anyone with debt knows the strain monthly payments can put on a budget.
Debt is a frequent concern that can cause feelings of anxiety, fear and insecurity, according to the Mental Health Foundation.
As debts pile up, the everyday stress of dealing with them can spill over into a couple’s relationship and contribute to or cause conflicts.
One or both spouses might view debt as an obstacle that’s keeping them from moving toward a secure financial future.
Partners aren’t always transparent about money
Couples who struggle to communicate clearly and openly about their finances are more likely to fight about them instead. The most common form of this is failing to disclose debts to a partner as the relationship becomes more committed.
It can also extend to more serious issues, such as spending or borrowing in secret. This can be viewed as what some refer to as “financial infidelity” and have serious consequences and damage trust in a relationship.
Financial problems can get too personal
Dealing with finances can be stressful, and that can raise negative emotions within the marriage. This can cause the issue to become personal.
One person might feel resentful of their spouse’s debt or undervalued if their concerns about debt aren’t taken seriously. At the same time, the other spouse might avoid discussing their spending or get defensive.
When debt and financial matters become loaded with these negative emotions, having a productive conversation can be hard.
Couples can’t compromise on debt management
Couples often disagree about how to handle debt.
If one spouse thinks that debt is just always going to be part of their life, while the other partner is feeling motivated to quickly pay it off, that could be a point of friction in a marriage.
If a debt was taken out by just one partner (either before or after marriage), this can also cause disagreement about whether that partner should pay it off alone or if the spouse should help.
When couples can’t reach a compromise, these opposing views can quickly turn into disputes over how to handle debt.
Frequently asked questions
Dividing finances in a marriage 50/50 doesn’t work for every couple. For instance, one person in the relationship may have a greater income than the other. In this situation, the individual with the greater income may have room to take on a larger portion of the everyday expenses and bills.
When deciding how to split finances in a marriage, sit down with your significant other and go over your monthly expenses such as rent or mortgage payments, debts, utilities and other various bills.
Finances can put a strain on relationships and can even contribute to why some couples get divorced. Roughly a third (31%) of couples who disagree on debt fight multiple times a month over finances, according to a 2020 study published in the National Library of Medicine.
Whether you’re in a long-term relationship or you’re about to exchange vows, it’s important to establish good communication around finances when it comes to aligning your goals and understanding one another’s approach to money.
Whether you have individual accounts or joint finances (and to what degree) will vary depending on the relationship. There are upsides and downsides to both approaches.
While having separate accounts can offer financial independence, it can make it hard for your significant other to access funds in some cases such as your death. Meanwhile, sharing an account may offer less financial independence but make it easier for the two of you to reach your financial goals.