Talk Frankly About Your Family Finances

July 28, 2013 | Kate Horrell

I receive many questions about how military families are “supposed” to organize their finances.  Military spouses asking how much money their servicemember husband or wife is “supposed” to give them.  Servicemembers asking how much money they are “supposed” to give their families.  Parents of both parties asking similar questions.  To me, these questions seem crazy.  There are no rules about this stuff (with the exception of required family support during separation and pre-divorce, and even those aren’t rules but rather guidelines.)

Every family is different and that each couple needs to create a system that works best for them.  However, there are a few things that make up a functional money management plan.

Clear and Frequent Communication

Couples must talk openly with each other about their income, their debts and their expenses.  A couple can not thrive financially if there are gaps in the information shared.  If you’ve never talked about money, it can be hard, but it gets easier until it isn’t an issue anymore.  Different families handle this different ways:  some have weekly or monthly meetings, some use a written method, and some use more casual conversations.

Whether or not you include children in these conversations will depend on your preferences and the children themselves.  Most people find that they share some information with kids, but not all the details.

No Preconceived Ideas

Every family is different.  What works for your friends, your neighbors, or your parents may not work for you.  Not only does each family have different incomes, debts and expenses, they also have different values and priorities.  One family may want a parent to be a full-time caregiver for the children, while another family may prefer that both parents work.  One family may value a big house but another family may like to use their money for travel.

This is not to say that you can’t learn from other people, and get new ideas.  I love to hear creative thoughts on financial management.  Sometimes these ideas are a good fit for our situation, and sometimes they are not.  We use the good stuff and throw out the rest.

Realistic Expectations

As the song says, “You can’t always get what you want.”  It might be right, but I think that most of us can get what we want.  Just not all of it.  You’ve got to pick the wants that are truly important to you.  You also have to be willing to work with your spouse to make sure that some of their wants are fulfilled, as well.  And sometimes, you might have to wait.  Even a long time.

I point these three things out because they are important to whatever structure your family uses to manage your money.  There is no one way to do it, and there is no way you are “supposed” to do it.  As long as everyone in your family is cared for, and both partners feel that their wants and needs are being considered, then you’ve got a good system.

I will say that I think that sharing finances is a good way to develop a marriage.  It might not work for everyone, but I encourage people to try.  When my husband and I married, we combined our incomes into one checking account, and we put all our bills into the same pile.  Working through our bills, talking about our priorities, and choosing our spending, brought us together in a way that wouldn’t have happened if we had separate finances.

Bottom line:  work on it together, one way or another.  However your family decides to work these issues, a thoughtful plan that has been developed together is always better than the perfect plan that only one person has planned.