I came across a fascinating study from Ramsey Solutions conducted in 2017. They surveyed 1000 couples in the United States to understand why people fight about money so much. Here are my top 5 most interesting takeaways from this piece:
1. People are starting a marriage with more debt
86% of married couples 5 years or less start with debt compared to 43% of couples married 25 years or more. This makes sense given the trends we are seeing in the world today. Student loan debt is over $1.7 trillion today and we can see below how many more people are attending college than in years past. Between student loan debt, credit card debt, and car loans, our culture is very debt-driven. This is a big strain on a well-established relationship, let alone a newly married couple. With rents increasing and the average car payment eclipsing $700 per month, this adds a lot of stress to a relationship.
2. The more debt, the more you fight about money as the top issue
The graph below indicates that the more debt in a marriage, the more the couples fight about money. That's because debt reduces the margin in your monthly budget. You've committed to paying $X to this entity for a pre-determined amount of time. The person you lent money to doesn't care if you lost your job or had an emergency in your life, they are expecting their check to arrive on time or they'll start making it your #1 issue quickly.
3. Increased debt levels lead to less communication about money
Almost twice as many "great" married couples are talking about money than the "Okay" or "In Crisis" couples. We see this with clients all the time. Couples that work well together talk about money. They may not know every cent down to the penny (usually one person in the relationship knows that level of detail), but they do talk about the big stuff and trust one another with the spending in the household. This is another reason we strongly recommend joint bank accounts for married couples. Joint bank accounts let everyone see where all of the money is going in the household. Budgeting together is a great way to talk about the big things that are happening that month and agree on your plan for money as a couple. Here's a guide to starting a budget. My wife and I use EveryDollar for our budgeting. It's helpful for communication and for tracking our cash flow mid-month to make sure we are okay.
4. 33% of those who argue about money admitted to hiding purchases from their spouse
As the statistic in #3 indicates, less communication may lead to hiding purchases from your significant other. If you don't believe me, this video below has someone whose husband racked up over $300,000 in debt without his wife knowing. Debt increases stress, stress decreases communication, and decreases communication leading to breakdowns in trust. It's a sad cycle but I've heard this same call on the Ramsey Show dozens of times.
5. 94%!!! of couples with "Great" marriages discuss dreams about money together
I think beneath all of this "bad" news is a hopeful message. 94% of "Great" couples discuss their money dreams together. We also know that twice as many great couples talk about their money daily or weekly. Dreaming together and talking about money is the best way to stay intentional about reaching your goals. By identifying the problems, we can look for solutions.
Reducing debt, increasing communication, and, most importantly developing that joint dream together can lead to a successful marriage. Once you've developed that dream, we can develop a plan to help you get there together.