Why Living Within Your Means Won’t Guarantee A Happy Marriage (& What Actually Will)

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Family, Self

Sometimes being money-wise means cutting loose a little!

Certain things in life are hard to come by.

Ask Diana Ross, music icon, film star and gorgeous talent. She's been nominated 12 times for a Grammy over five decades, but she has never won. That’s a minimum of a dozen nights of happy clapping for someone else with a pasted-on smile.

A happy marriage can feel a bit like that sometimes.

You are trying to do all the right things in order to have a happy marriage, but you just can’t seem to win.


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If some of those “right things” you’re doing are budgeting, saving money, and cutting costs so much that you've wrung every ounce of fun out of your life, then you’ll never get to use your acceptance speech. You won’t win. And happiness will be more of a grin pasted on your gracious-loser face.

Living within your means won’t guarantee a happy marriage. (And learning how to make more money won't either.)

Now, hold on though — put the credit cards back in your wallet. We’re not suggesting you pay zero attention to your money, your expenses, and financial plans for the future. These financial issues are all super important. But you can’t let “saving money” or "making more money" be your ultimate goal as a couple.

We are both financial planners, but we think that, with the divorce rate being as high as it is in this country, “Save your marriage” is a more important rallying cry than “Save more money.”

Money doesn't equal happiness.

Ask any Hollywood husband and wife who are now exes. They had plenty of money and cash reserves, but millions of dollars couldn’t save their relationship. And it won’t save yours either.

But taking these steps below will.

Here are 3 things you can do to pretty much “guarantee” a happy marriage when it comes to money:

1. Dream together — then put those dreams in action!

Act like kids. Lay on your backs on a blanket under the stars if it helps, but dream!

Remember when you were dating or getting ready to walk down that aisle? You were invincible. You had dreams!

Begin again. Talk about what you’d like to do together in the future. Fun things, serious things, dreams that involve the kids, and dreams that don’t.

Dream dreams that involve experiences — not things.

Psychologists Gilovich and Kumar published their findings, after studying the correlation between money and happiness for two decades, which showed "experiential purchases (such as vacations, concerts, and meals out) tend to bring more lasting happiness than material purchases.”

The study reported that over time, people’s satisfaction with the things they purchased decreased; whereas their satisfaction with experiences they paid for went up.

When you share an experience with someone, it bonds you to him or her and becomes a part of you. You are your memories and your experiences.

Start now to plan for an “experience” you can share this year, or better yet, this month. It doesn’t have to be expensive. Something as simple as renting bikes downtown or going out for karaoke night is a great wy to start. Just find something you two can share together.

2. Open up with each other about your money goals and opinions.

Couples are more likely to talk about sex than they are money. Be a curve-breaker and reverse that trend at your house by getting honest about dollars and cents.

Spend some time with a cup of coffee or a glass of wine and talk about:

  • How do you feel about money? Nervous? Optimistic? Clueless?
  • Did yoru parents fight about money?
  • What is something you’d like to save for?
  • Do you have any fun “new business” “side hustle” ideas floating around your brain?
  • Do you think we have a good money plan? Do you think we plan too much?

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Money — or lack of it — will greatly affect your future and will, over time, really affect your relationship. So invest some time now to talk about it.

Learning your different opinions and different money management styles helps to avoid misunderstandings, tension, and fights.

Understand and appreciating each other will make you MUCH happier than just “living within your means.”

3. When you do disagree about money, be nice!

It may sound simple, but it usually isn’t. Arguments about money hurt us like very few other fights do. They feel intensely personal. We feel attacked and get defensive.

So when — not if — you start to fight about money, stop. Take a deep breath and wait.

That doesn’t mean you never speak up; you have every right to advocate for your needs. But stopping will give you time to simmer down and think about what’s really behind your feelings: fear, worry, mistrust, and possibly a sense of disrespect.

Usually when voices start to rise and tempers get ready to flare,; it’s not about the money itself. So when you disagree about money, try to be nice. Listen. Ask questions. And try your best to hear what they’re saying and how they feel — rather than only hearing dollars and cents.

We have found that 70 percent of all couples are married to their opposite when it comes to money management. So it’s almost a guarantee that disagreements will start, but they don’t have to get ugly. Anticipate not always seeing eye-to-eye (remove the element of surprise), and work towards understanding instead of judging.

Not a day goes by without some type of money decision, so it’s important to be on the same page.

And it’s important to put money to work for you. “Living within your means” is a great way to approach your finances, BUT it will not guarantee happiness.

What good is your savings if it causes you to stalk every purchase they make and for them to feel like they’re under the microscope?

Trust each other, be trustworthy, and dream. Don’t let your only goal as a couple be as boring as “living within our means."

Live it up (within your means) and set your marriage up for financial success and happiness, too.


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Scott & Bethany Palmer, The Money Couple, are financial planners, authors, and speakers who help couples tackle money issues in their relationship. Grab a copy of "The 5 Money Personalities: Speaking the Same Love and Money Language," and take the FREE online Money Personality Assessment.