Reader Question: The Tough “Money Talk” in Marriage | Molly’s Money

June 12, 2014·

I’m back for another edition of Molly’s Money! If you’re new here, this is a series I write on this blog where I talk all things personal finance and, well, MONEY. To read more about my background about how I got into debt and how I got out of debt, and more Molly’s Money posts, be sure to check out past posts here. Remember, I am NOT a professional financial advisor (I just happened to be married to one). These posts are just written from the point of view of my experiences, what I’ve learned (and I’ve learned A LOT), and what I’ve done over the years. At the end of the day, it’s YOUR money and you need to do what’s best for you.

Today’s post is answering another reader question. I get so many questions from readers about different things when it comes to personal finance, and every once in a while I get a question (or questions) that really seems like something that MANY people have an issue with, so I answer that question here. I keep the questions totally anonymous, I’ve changed names, and I have removed a few details so as to protect the question asker’s anonymity.

Here’s today’s question:

[My wife] and I have been married for a little over 6 months. We both are very scared and unsure how to combine our incomes. [My wife] had been on her own for about 12 years before we got married. I have been on my own for only about three years. Of course, we both have debt that was in place before our marriage. […]

Currently we have totally separate finances and bank accounts.

I pay $1,500 each month on my debt. I put $1,300 a month in my deferred comp account and I put $500 a month in hers. I also pay $80 for cable, $400 for phones for all of the family (even for some kids that aren’t at home). I pay for my auto insurance, and other health bills. My wife pays $480 for the house, $400 for her car, around $90 for auto insurance, and other health expenses. She pays for her boys activities of baseball and clothes, etc.

We have sat down one time to see where we were at and try to figure out a fair way so we can each get what we want. It went really bad. We have decided to keep things just as they are for now. It is really driving me nuts to be so separated on this issue, but I don’t want to have another fight like the last time we discussed money.

We both felt like it would be a good idea to get a joint savings account when we got our tax return, but when it came down to it, she didn’t want to do it. She had always relied on her return to get her through the year when money was tight, and she felt if the return was in a joint account, it would be too restrictive on her if she needed money.

I feel totally terrible that we can’t work this out together. I have suggested going to a financial counselor but that doesn’t go over too well.

Any ideas you have that would be helpful would be great.



Now, I will preface this entire post with I may step on some toes with my answer to this one. But, I’m going to answer it in a way that I would answer it if it were my best friend asking this question sitting across a table from me.

Last year, I wrote a post on combining finances after marriage, and so if you want to read the whole of that, click here.


You’ve got quite the predicament.

I know you’re in a tough situation, but let’s take a step back for a second. Let’s forget the money situation to begin with… even though I know that’s hard to do. But let’s do that.

Answer me this? Why did you get married?

I’m going to go out on a limb and guess why you got married, because you probably got married for similar reasons to why I got married.

You probably got married because:

  • You love that person
  • You want to spend the rest of your life with that person
  • You want to SHARE your life with that person
  • You want to grow old with that person
  • You want to laugh with that person
  • You want to cry with that person
  • You want to be there for that person in sickness and in health, for richer or for poorer, till death do you part
  • You want to support that person
  • You want that person to support you

And MANY more reasons, I’m sure. Because, if you DON’T want to do any of the above things I just listed, then we’ve got bigger fish to fry.

Now, drilling down a little deeper… as I have mentioned before, when it comes to marriage, TWO become ONE. It’s no longer “his” and “hers” – it’s “ours.” Except when it comes to towels, robes, and sides of the bed. Or something. 

And that means money, too.

And ultimately, that HAS to be what you come to grips with. BOTH of you. I know that it’s hard. I know that it’s awkward to bring up in conversation. I know that it’s not easy. But guess what? I’m sure you’re aware of this… marriage is hard. Marriage is work. Marriage often requires tough conversations to take place.

The MOMENT you both said, “I do” six months ago, at THAT moment, your debt and her debt became “our” debt. Her problems and your problems because “our” problems. Your challenges and her challenges became “our” challenges. You’re in this together. You have to be. If you’re not for each other… then you’re against each other. And the sooner that you really, truly, understand that… the sooner you’ll really start to work and mesh together as a team. 

From what you’ve told me, you guys are really separated on this issue… and to be this separated on this issue so early in your marriage worries me, to be quite honest. You’ve got to be able to address this in a way that is healthy and open. Because if you can’t openly and honestly talk about and address these issues this early on, you’re going to be facing some really, REALLY tough discussions down the road.

It’s NOT going to fix itself magically.

Because the fact of the matter is… this money, this debt… it’s BOTH of yours. Doesn’t matter who accrued what debt prior to getting married… it’s both of your debt now. You share the burden. And that’s totally okay – as long as you both realize that and accept it and work together to fix it.

So, ultimately? What is my advice to you?

My advice is this: 

Take your wife out to dinner. A nice dinner. Get dressed up. Go somewhere fancy… have a great evening. Talk, laugh, share. Remember WHY you married each other. Just have fun.

And, when the moment is right (and honestly, it doesn’t have to be THAT night or at dinner… but soon after), tell her that you want to talk to her. DO NOT tell her you need to talk to her and then not be able to talk to her at that moment… that’s the worst. Talk to her right then and there.

And then, be completely open and honest with her. Share your heart with her. Tell her everything that you are feeling.

BUT, the MOST IMPORTANT THING ABOUT THIS… make sure that you make this about YOU and how YOU feel. Never, at any point, make this about her or use accusatory or “pointing-fingers” type statements. That will put her on the defensive – especially if this is a touchy subject for her. You need to make this about YOU and what YOU are feeling and what YOU are thinking.

It’s important to emphasize that this should be about the both of you sharing each other’s burdens, debts, experiences, etc. That is so important.

Even if she has kids – guess what? Those are your kids now, too. Even if they have a father that is involved in their lives, that’s okay… you’re in their lives, too. And you should be helping to support and nurture them. And that includes helping to pay for their activities, etc.

Remember, every dollar you bring in isn’t just your money… it’s “our” money. Every dollar she brings in isn’t just her money, it’s “our” money. You both really, really, REALLY need to fully grasp that.

With regards to the tax return… guess what? It’s “our” tax return… not yours and hers. If she needs that money throughout the year, fine. But it should be in a bank account that the both of you have access to that the both of you can share and get to if you need it.

Every month you should be sitting down together to set out your monthly budget. Talk about expenses. What do you need? What does she need? What are “we” going to save? How are “we” going to allocate our money this month? Remember, that your money should be working for YOU. You should not be working for your money.

I realize that this is going to be a tough conversation and a tough hurdle for the both of you to get through. But, know this, the second you guys work through it, you’re going to be that much stronger.

So, “B,” I know it’s not necessarily the answer you wanted to hear. And I know it doesn’t solve everything for you. But, that’s marriage – it’s about facing problems, solving problems and working through them with your best friend and partner in life.

Now, what about you? Do you have any advice for “B”? Have you been through this before? Share your thoughts in the comments!