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Dave Sather's Money Matters: Managing money and marriage

Feb. 8, 2011 at 6:02 p.m.
Updated Feb. 7, 2011 at 8:08 p.m.


Like many couples, Carol and I are different when it comes to money management habits.

Carol chuckles that she has had a checkbook since she was 12, and it has never balanced. She also claims black shoes are her favorite investment category.

Being a certified financial planner, you can imagine that my money habits are a bit different. Despite these differences, we make it work. However, it requires creativity, patience and an occasional referee.

Whereas my parents have operated out of one checkbook their entire marriage, we have three. We have a joint checkbook, but also have our own to do with as we please.

We have certain goals when it comes to savings. Saving is the first item that gets paid jointly each month. This one item has caused the most conflict because it is easy to put off savings for another day. However, after getting into a routine, it becomes much easier.

After setting aside money for savings and investing, we pay our joint bills - the mortgage, utilities, insurance, food, etc. After that, we distribute money to our individual accounts that we can allocate as we want to.

Carol likes to spend money on every stray dog and cat in a seven-county area. Our house is often referred to as the "overflow" for Adopt-A-Pet.

She also loves her sweet tea from Sonic and can be a clothes hound. Early in our marriage, prior to the three checkbooks, this created some hard feelings.

Although Carol thinks I want to save every last penny, this is only partially true. I truly love the investment business and as such, more of my attention goes to investing. However, I have always had an eye for cars - generally old cars that break frequently. My spending desires understandably caused some gnashing of teeth from Carol.

Given the difference in spending habits, you can quickly see how the three checkbook plan of attack developed.

Early in our marriage, we attempted to operate out of one checkbook. However, our dissimilar spending habits added quite a bit of stress to a young marriage. If Carol spent money on clothes, I was upset. When I spent money on car parts, she was upset.

Given that money problems are such a huge contributor to our nation's divorce rate, we did not want to become another statistic.

It took several years to figure out a plan that would work for us.

In working through these issues, there are certain rules of thumb that still apply across the board. Saving for the future needs to be a consistent, top priority. Everyone should have between three and six months worth of living expenses that are readily accessible in an emergency. Unfortunately, air conditioners have a funny way of breaking without warning.

Living below your means is also a must. Just because you can blow a wad of money, does not mean that you should.

Once your joint bills and savings have been taken care of, don't judge how the other spends their extra funds.

Credit cards must be paid off each month. If you can't pay them off then you haven't saved enough in your emergency funds or you don't really need that item in the first place.

Finally, as with so many problems in life, good communication solves 90 percent of the world's problems. Some couples can talk it out themselves while others need a therapist or other qualified third party to facilitate the process.

There is no shame in admitting that you need help working through these difficult matters.

Dave Sather is a Victoria certified financial planner and owner of Sather Financial Group. His column, Money Matters, publishes every other Wednesday.

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