Managing Family Finances


Bob came running into the house and called out, “Honey! Look at the new DVD player I bought!” Sarah entered the living room with a frown.

As Bob anxiously opened the DVD player and described all its features, Sarah became more and more aggravated. “We don’t have money to be buying DVD players.”

“Of course we do, we’re getting our tax refund. Plus it was on sale. I’ve wanted one of these for so long. When I saw it I just couldn’t wait.”

“We were supposed to save our tax refund towards a down payment on a house!”

“There’s no way we’re ever going to have enough money for a down payment. So why not enjoy the money now? Plus, think of all the movies we can watch together.”
Sarah became flooded with emotion and yelled at Bob, “How could you be so selfish!”

“Me?! Selfish?! I bought this DVD player for both of us! Why are you always such a tightwad?”

Do you and your spouse argue frequently about money? Do you disagree on how to spend or save your paycheck? Does paying the bills escalate into an argument not related to money at all? Do you wish your spouse weren’t such a “tightwad”-or an impulsive buyer?

Money management is critical to the success and happiness of any relationship, including your marriage. The Family: A Proclamation to the World states that parents have a sacred duty to provide for their children’s physical needs. Money management is a key to a happy family. Beyond physical survival, a family’s emotional survival depends on financial stability and tranquility.

Money can enhance or destroy your marriage and lead to mistrust, name-calling, selfishness, dishonesty, and even divorce. Research examining the causes of family financial problems shows money problems are caused by a lack of financial understanding, personal behavior problems, and relationship problems.

Personal Financial Behavior

Although some financial problems are simply caused by poor financial understanding resulting in unwise decisions, research suggests most financial problems are caused by non-financial, behavior problems:

  • Impulse buying
  • Excessive materialism
  • Preoccupation with social image
  • Using money to control others
  • Addictive behavior

Scholars have identified several factors that drive financial behavior, including emotions, personality, and an individual’s attitude toward money.

Money is closely connected to our emotions. Have you spent money on others to control them? Perhaps you have acquired debt to buy gifts and relieve feelings of guilt because you neglected someone? Or have you gone on a shopping spree to overcome sadness or loneliness?

Our personalities also affect our financial behavior. A wife who is carefree and values spontaneity may resist financial planning, budgeting, and saving. On the other hand, a husband who values order, control, and authority may resist spending money on anything but “absolute necessities”; he may also have difficulty sharing financial control with his wife.

Your financial behavior is also influenced by your attitude toward money, which is partly determined by your childhood. Money can symbolize feelings like control, fear, guilt, or abandonment. Do you resist discussing financial matters with your spouse because your parents argued about it frequently? Did your spouse grow up in an affluent family and doesn’t understand the need to budget and save? Do you need to have a new car to feel confident and superior?

Relationships and Financial Behavior

In addition to you and your spouse’s individual financial behavior, your relationship has a tremendous impact on your money. Researchers have identified the following qualities of a marriage that affect financial security:

  • Communication
  • Emotional intimacy
  • Mutual respect and communication
  • Trust and love

If your relationship is plagued by mistrust, poor communication, selfishness, disrespect, or manipulation, you may be likely to have money problems. Some of the relationship issues that can cause financial distress are:

  • Poor communication
  • Control and manipulation of others
  • Ill-defined roles
  • Selfishness
  • Disrespect
  • Mistrust


Effective communication about family finances and goals is critical to money management. Do you know your spouse’s attitude toward money? Do you know and understand his or her financial goals? Do you talk to your spouse before making a large purchase? Do you consult with your spouse about how to spend “extra” money like tax refunds, gifts, or bonuses?

Emotional Intimacy

Do you understand your spouse’s feelings toward money? Do you understand why money matters make your wife anxious? Do you understand that your husband is motivated to save money for a rainy day because his family had money problems when he was a child?

Mutual Respect and Consideration

Do you use money to control your spouse? Do you go on shopping sprees and exceed the family budget because you’re angry at your husband? Do you respect your wife’s desire to save money for new curtains-or your husband’s desire to save money for a trip to Hawaii? Do you consider your spouse’s feelings before making financial decisions?

Trust and Love

Do you and your spouse trust that you have each other’s best interests at heart? Do you communicate openly with your wife about your financial income or do you hide some of your money so she won’t spend it?

Scholars have provided insights and recommendations to help families manage their finances more effectively. These recommendations are based mostly on changing behaviors and attitudes. They include learning to distinguish between needs and wants, communicating openly and honestly about family finances, using a budget or financial plan, and understanding the connection between money and family relationships.

Ideas for Managing Your Finances More Effectively

Seek Understanding

  • Be aware that each individual has different values, standards, and goals that influence his or her view of money and its uses.
  • Understand the family financial rules that existed in your spouse’s family of origin and how they affect his or her perspective.
  • Communicate openly and lovingly with your spouse about your family financial patterns. Assess your family rules and decide which ones you want to keep and which ones you want to change.
  • Increase your understanding and skills by using community resources like libraries, schools, and seminars.
  • Consider the motivation behind your financial habits. Do you spend money to “keep up with the Joneses” or improve your social image? Do you spend money to buy the love and affection of others? Do you control the family money too much because you do not trust your spouse?
  • Plan a family activity to teach all family members about the family finances. For example, cash your paycheck and show your children how the money is allocated to various expenses and savings programs.

Change your Financial Behavior

  • Manage your money with a written budget.
  • Make a list defining each spouse’s financial roles and responsibilities.
  • Make purchases that are appropriate to your income level.
  • Make a list separating basic needs from wants. Keep expenses constant even when income increases.
  • Give family members some allowance to spend how they choose without being accountable to anyone.

Cut Expenses

  • Avoid impulse buying. Make a shopping list and stick to it. Don’t carry credit cards or checkbooks. Set time delays or waiting periods before making large purchases.
  • Establish a limit to the amount of money either spouse can spend before consulting the other. This limit will vary according to the life-stage of the couple; it may be $100-200 for an established couple and only $20 for newlyweds.
  • Share the purchase and use of expensive items. For example, buy a snow blower with your neighbors, or purchase a cabin or boat with your family.
  • Calculate hidden and indirect costs associated with a purchase.
  • Set up a thirty-day menu to plan and save on grocery purchases.
  • Eliminate debt and interest payments. Use an accelerated payment or fold-down plan for debt reduction. Avoid using credit for things you don’t need.

Prepare for the Future

  • Establish an emergency savings fund of at least three months’ income. If the family has only one breadwinner, consider having savings of six months’ income.
  • Review medical, life, and property insurance policies to make sure they fit your circumstances.

The following table lists relationship weaknesses, financial symptoms of these weaknesses, and what you can do about it:


Relationship weaknesses

Financial symptoms

Behavioral solutions

Poor communication Your spouse bounces a check because you didn’t tell him or her about the big gadget you bought last week.You spend the “extra” money from your paycheck without consulting your spouse, who wanted to save the money for your children’s college fund. Make weekly or monthly appointments to discuss money matters with your spouse.Set financial goals together. Talk to your spouse before making large purchases or investments.
Control & manipulation of others Your spouse rebels and goes on a shopping spree because you control the money too much.You control all the financial resources and do not give your spouse an allowance to spend how he or she chooses. Give each spouse an allowance to spend how he or she chooses. Share some of the financial responsibilities like budgeting, shopping, investing, and paying bills.
Ill-defined roles You assume your spouse paid the utility bill when he or she expected you to do it. Sit down with your spouse and outline your duties, such as bill payment, budget maintenance, grocery and clothes shopping, and so on.
Selfishness You spend the family’s tax return on a new DVD player even though your spouse indicated he or she wanted to invest the money.You “hide” some money from your spouse for your own spending desires. Consider the needs and wants of family members before making impulsive purchases.Communicate with your spouse about each other’s expectations and desires. Seek to understand your spouse’s feelings.
Disrespect You criticize your spouse for being a “tightwad” or “spendthrift.”You belittle your spouse’s hobbies or interests and resent spending money on them. Develop understanding and respect for your spouse’s attitude about money.Consider your spouse’s feelings when you spend money or discuss finances.
Mistrust You control all the money because you don’t trust your spouse to spend it on “the right things.” Allocate a portion of the family income to each spouse to spend without being accountable to anyone.

Recommended Readings

Poduska, B. E. (1993). For Love and Money: How to Share the Same Checkbook and Still Love Each Other. Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book Company.

Helpful Websites

Written by Susan Sheldon, Graduate Research Assistant, and edited by Bernard E. Poduska and Stephen F. Duncan, professors in the School of Family Life, Brigham Young University

Managing Family Finances is adapted from the website Forever Families

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