For Better, For Worse; Money Management Tips For Couples

Julia sat alone in the living room. It was past midnight but she was not sleepy. The house was quiet, evidence that everyone in the household had retired for the night, apart from her. Her husband Steve had also retired to bed. She sat there and stared in front of her, not at anything in particular. The TV was switched off and the silence was only broken by the clock ticking on the wall.

Julia closed her eyes and allowed her mind to wander. She met Steve while both of them were in university together. He was two years ahead of her. They were both active members of the Christian Union, where Steve was an official. Steve asked her out when he was in his final year at the university.

Courtship had been very formal. They would go on missions together or have very superficial outings where nothing deep was discussed. They did not discuss such important matters as finances, the extended family or goals. She was now looking back and wondering why they overlooked such important discussions during courtship.

Family and Debt

As she sat there all alone, she blamed herself for so many things. She had just learned that the family home would be auctioned in two weeks’ time over a loan of KShs. 10 Million that Steve took without informing her. He had used the title deed of the property as security.

Both of them had worked really hard to build their own home on a plot Steve had bought before he married her. They moved into the house when it was not complete and used the money they were saving from rent to complete it. The property was in Steve’s name because the plot was still in his name. They had never discussed the issue of the names on the title deed.

Steve had used the borrowed money to buy a prime piece of land on the outskirts of Nairobi, which later turned out to have been fake. He sought help from different departments but recovering his money remained a mirage. He still could not explain to Julia why he made such a major decision without discussing with her. They could have discussed the risks involved and probably noticed something that was not right about the deal. They had disagreed many times about money, especially about Steve’s impulsive spending.

The couple’s 3 children were in primary school. The family had a long way to go before the children could be done with school and become independent. She tried to think of ways she and Steve could repay the bank loan in order to save their home from being auctioned but she could not come up with anything. She put her face in her hands and started sobbing.

Julia and Steve made vows before God and man; ‘In sickness or health, in riches or poverty…’ But this marriage was proving too difficult to sustain. They had differed about money for as long as she could remember. Steve seemed to be always pulling her backwards, with his impulsive spending habits.

They were forever in one crisis or another and Steve never seemed to learn. But they had never sunk this low, to a point of having their home on the verge of being auctioned. Why had she not seen the signs on financial indiscipline in Steve during their courtship days? Why had she sacrificed so much to build a family home yet her name did not appear on the title deed of the property? Why had she assumed so much?

Money is a major cause of conflict in marriage. Here are some tips to help you manage money without tears.

1. Talk About Money

Ideally, a couple should talk about money during courtship. No surprises should pop up after marriage, such as past liabilities or extra responsibilities. This should all be discussed before marriage. In case a couple is already married and has never started to talk about money, the sooner damage control is done, the better. Money is a major cause of conflicts in marriage and does contribute to divorce or even crime, so the topic should never be left to chance.

Couples need to understand where they are currently and where they would like to be in future. Discussing money helps couples to understand each others’ dreams and aspirations as well as spending habits. Some people are spenders, others are savers while others are investors. It is important that a couple understands each other’s habits so that they understand each other’s strengths and weaknesses and how to work around them.

2. Harmonize Your Goals

Two people meet and decide to get married. They are from different backgrounds and their value systems are usually different. Diversity is a great thing if used well. Unfortunately, there are couples who fight over their differences rather than using them to their advantage. Different members of a team bring different skills and talents and together, the team is strong.

A couple needs to be open with each other about dreams and aspirations and plan a road map to make their dreams a reality. It is always easier if they share similar goals.

* Do they plan to have children? If so, how many? When?
* What sort of lifestyle do they want for the family?
* How will they afford that lifestyle?
* Will both of them work or one will stay at home to bring up the children? Do not opt to be a stay-at-home-mom until you read this carefully.
* At what age do they plan to retire?

3. Budget

Anything that is not planned for is likely to get misused. That is true of resources such as money and time. Having a plan is protective against unnecessary wastage. Remember to include unexpected expenses such as replacing some parts in the car or in some equipment in the home. Stuff breaks down all the time, most of the time at unexpected times.

Budgeting together helps to build trust and promote teamwork. Many conflicts arise when one partner feels that the other one is spending too much or is not contributing enough. This is usually because of lack of openness about income and expenditure. Budgeting together ensures that both are on the same page about expenditures and available income. It is also a great way to learn each other’s money habits.

Review your monthly budgets regularly to evaluate whether your spending habits are healthy or need to be improved. It will take some months of practice to get it right.

I would like to assume that a couple starts out when their careers and financial positions are not yet well advanced, so they will need to plan for future growth and development.

The 70/30 Rule

There is a strategy I teach, which I call the 70/30 rule. I learned this strategy from the teachings of Jim Rohn.

NEVER spend more than 70% of your income, no matter what your income is (even if you earn KShs. 200/- a day). That is the only way you will avoid getting into debt and consistently improve your life. This is true of individuals and can work for couples too.

* 70% – Your expenses. Never live beyond your means. Do not borrow in order to afford stuff. Either bring down your expenses or grow your income. There are countless ways to earn extra income in your free time.

* 10% – Give back in order to attract blessings (tithes or charity, whichever works for you.)

* 10% – Pay yourself first (your savings). Do not leave your savings laying in a bank account for decades as by doing that, you are giving the owners of the bank a free loan, which is enriching them and not enriching you. Your savings serve two important purposes.

i. Cushions your family in case of unexpected happenings such as job loss. You should always have in cash that can be easily retrieved, the equivalent of your family’s living expenses for between 6 months to a year. That is the average period it takes to build something from zero to profit, should you suddenly find yourself without a source of income. Savings beyond that amount should go into investments.

ii. Forms the foundation of future investments. Every venture you get into will require capital. That is why a couple must learn to save right from the initial stages of their marriage. Discuss the level of risk you are comfortable with. Be sure to do your research thoroughly before investing for knowledge minimizes risk.

10% – This is the seed that you plant for the future. It is this money that will enable you to increase your value in the marketplace. You will be able to buy tools to help your work such as a smartphone or laptop, pay for your wifi connectivity to ensure that you can afford to spend time learning online or branding yourself, etc. When you need to buy a personal development book, to attend a short course, to attend a networking event that enables you to meet and interact with resourceful people, to take a resourceful person out for lunch or coffee, etc., it is this account that will make it possible.

4. Bank Accounts

Do not open a joint account until you have taken time to learn about each others’ spending habits. Maintain your separate accounts but open a joint account for very clear budget lines and agree how both of you will contribute to the kitty and how the money will be managed. To build trust, maintain very accurate records.

The day one partner will feel like they do not trust the way the money is being spent, building trust again might prove very difficult. If it is for household shopping, keep accurate records about how it is spent, including expenditures that don’t have receipts such as purchasing vegetables from mama mboga.

Record all purchases. If it is for the children’s schooling, keep very accurate records of expenditures such as purchase of school uniforms, books and payment of school fees. Do not throw away receipts but allocate a specific place to store them such as a particular drawer or box file. Building trust takes effort.

Operating a joint account should be a gradual process and is not mandatory. If one partner is not disciplined when it comes to money or hides certain expenditures, it is not advisable to operate a joint account as it will only lead to conflicts.

5. Nurture Effective Teamwork

Learning to work as a team takes a conscious decision and effort. It will not happen automatically. There will be some conflicts but a couple that is looking at the long-term good of the family will weather the storms. Teamwork is only possible if each partner is aware of his or her strengths and weaknesses as well as those of the partner. Then they work to complement each other.

Be completely honest with each other even when you do something you ought not to have done. Keep the channels of communication open at all times and work on your communication skills. Schedule regular meetings to discuss finances, preferably weekly. Evaluate your progress and make modifications where necessary. Take advantage of those meetings to stay focused on your goals.

Money is a major cause of conflicts in marriage but with deliberate efforts to foster teamwork, it can be a couple’s unifying factor.

To book a seat for the couples mentorship forum to be held on Saturday, 26th March 2017, go to


Financial Independence Africa

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