Asking All the Right Questions

Nate makes twice what his fiancée does, and she thinks he should be responsible for all their expenses. He wants to share everything equally. Dave has some marital words of wisdom for Nate.

QUESTION: Nate in Dallas is having a disagreement with his fiancée over how to split expenses and finances once they’re married. Nate makes twice what she does, and she thinks he should be responsible for all their expenses. He wants to share everything equally regardless of what they make. Dave has some marital words of wisdom for Nate.

ANSWER: The number-one cause of divorce in North America today is money fights and money problems. You’ve identified that this is a breakdown that you’ve got to get on the same page before you get married. This is a deal breaker. That’s valid.

The rest of the conversation, you’re treating it like it’s a joint venture or a partnership—not a marriage. There is a substantial difference. If you go back, for instance, to the old marriage vows, it says, “Does anyone here see a reason why this man should not be wed to this woman?” Those old marriage vows, “for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health,” one of the lines is, “Unto thee, I pledge all my worldly goods.” And the preacher says, “And now you are one.” It doesn’t say, “And now you are two-thirds, one-third.”

What I recommend as a result of that and what works best in marriages that are successful marriages and successful with their money—which there is a correlation between the two, by the way—is that you combine all of your life. You use different pronouns. It’s no longer mine; it’s ours. I don’t have an income; we have an income. I don’t have a house; we have a house—once you’re married. Regardless of who brought it into the marriage, it’s unto thee I pledge all my worldly goods. I’ll take a bullet for you. You’re now mine. If you get cancer, if you get the flu, if you’re broke, if you lose your hair and get a potbelly, you’re now mine. That’s what we’re saying here. Hopefully, the hair loss and potbelly is you—not her.

The idea is that we meld together. Then that takes it to the next step, which is under this question. You’re very rational, detailed, and you’re a finance guy. You see this as black and white. You see math. You see debt. She’s more like, “Hey, let’s just have some fun and live our lives. We’re going to be newlyweds. I want to go on vacation. Shut up. There’s a new dress on sale.” Right? What we call those at our place—regardless of whether it’s the man who’s the detail person or the lady—are the nerds—lovingly. We’re the nerds. We call the other one the free spirit. That doesn’t exempt us from being grownups and from serving each other and loving each other well. As an example, my wife is a free spirit who is a natural saver. I’m a nerd who is a natural spender, which is kind of unusual, really. She doesn’t do details. Spreadsheets and checkbooks that balance to the penny don’t thrill her. They thrill me. I’m a nerd. I’ve got to be everywhere on time. The trains run on time—all that kind of stuff.

Larry Burkett used to say if two people just alike get married, one of you is unnecessary. You need her in your life so you have a life. She needs you in her life so she doesn’t eat Alpo at retirement. When you sit down to do a budget together, it might sound like this. At first, if she’ll be emotionally mature and you’ll be emotionally mature, she’ll get that your natural tendency is over there on the nerd side. You’ll get that hers is on the free spirit side. You’re going to pull her over your direction. She’s going to pull you over her direction. We, together with our different strengths and weaknesses, are going to develop a plan that we both have a vote on. You’re going to do some things that are uncomfortable for you—like approve the purchase of a china cabinet. Men don’t understand china that we don’t use. We really don’t understand a $2,500 cabinet to put it in. Some of these things in marriage though—you don’t have to get them. You just have to get them. That’s the kind of stuff where you’re going to love your wife well by letting your foot off the gas a little bit, and she’s going to love you well by being a grownup and not spending like she’s in Congress. That’s where you’ve got to meet. Look at this as an opportunity to serve each other and bend to that person’s tendencies but not to the point that we break the family. Guys like you and me will plan all the fun out of life if they let us.

Big categories, we save out of that one pot. We spend out of that one pot. We give out of that one pot. Out of that, she wants some living room furniture. I don’t give a rip about living room furniture, but she wants it, and she gets vote in this, so I’m going to back off of this particular savings goal, and we’re going to do it next month. This month, we’re going to do the furniture—or two months or five months. You do some give and take in some of the major items. The little monthly items, you just have an agreed amount. For instance, my wife Sharon is a full-time mom, so she does all the grocery shopping. The grocery budget is given to her, and she buys the groceries within that allotted amount that we’ve both agreed to. I have in my pocket what we call a GEM—gas, entertainment, miscellaneous. Translation: Dave’s pocket money. That money goes in there as an agreed amount, and I don’t have to report back to her on every little thing that that is. It’s gas, entertainment, miscellaneous. It’s not $10,000 a month, either.

It’s going to take a little bit of trial and error. You are asking brilliant questions. Don’t try to solve personal emotional, relational problems with business best practices though. That’s what I’m preaching to you about. I want you to go through Financial Peace University as my guest—the two of you. I want to be a little bit of your premarital counseling as you go through our class together. You’ll see how this stuff all weaves together, and it’s going to cause you guys to get a great start.