Do you have a question about life, love, or faith? Submit it online, email it to melfert@stjohns-cathedral.org of fill out the form below.

Hey Rev!

Do you think it’s OK for couples to have separate finances?

- Money

Dear Money:

It depends on the couple.

One of the many privileges of my job is that I get to sit with couples who are preparing for marriage. We talk about things such as their strategies for addressing conflict, the place that faith will have in their marriage and whether or not they intend to have children. And we talk a lot about money. That’s because both research and personal experience tells us that conflict over money is a significant predictor of divorce.

During our monetary discussions, there are two big themes that I look for from a couple. First, I hope to hear that they have at least the beginnings of a financial plan. For some couples, having such a plan means staying away from credit cards and spending no more than a predetermined amount of cash every week. For others, it means generating meticulous spreadsheets which map out the coming year’s income and expenditures. And for still others, it means conceptualizing the things that they want to prioritize as “bills” that they must pay every month. (Mrs. FKB and I employ that last method, so that we save for our children’s education, save for our own retirement, and support our faith community at the same time that we pay our mortgage and our telephone bill.) Ultimately, I’m not all that fussy about what a given couple’s game plan looks like. I just want to know that they have one.

Second, I hope to hear that the couple is more or less in agreement about money’s purpose and, in particular, about its purpose within their marriage. Do both partners agree, for instance, that saving is important? Or does one save while the other tends to spend as fast as the money comes in? Do both partners agree about where they would like their income to come from? Or does one expect to be the sole breadwinner while the other expects that they will take on paid work equally? More abstractly — but no less importantly — do both partners agree about what money symbolizes? Or does one see it merely as a tool while the other sees it as a vital metric of success in life? In short, does this couple have a common philosophy around money?

If a couple has done the work of reaching consensus on these two big themes, then they will generally also be in consensus on the subsidiary question of how much — or how little — they will choose to integrate their finances. For some couples, sharing bank accounts, checkbooks and credit cards will be the natural choice. For others, especially in marriages in which one partner is better at math or is better at resisting impulsive shopping sprees than the other, life may be a whole lot happier and more stable if they choose to keep some things separate. Ultimately, as long as the couple has a common money map and a shared set of beliefs about how to use it, either model can work just fine.

 Do you have a question about life, love, or faith? Submit it online, email it to melfert@stjohns-cathedral.org of fill out the form below.

 

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Martin Elfert

Martin Elfert

The Rev. Martin Elfert is an immigrant to the Christian faith. After the birth of his first child, he began to wonder about the ways in which the Divine was at work in the world. Shortly thereafter, he joined Christ Church Cathedral in Vancouver, BC, where he and his new son were baptized at the Easter Vigil in 2005 and where the community encouraged him to seek ordination.

2 Comments

  1. Anna Marie Martin

    Anna Marie Martin

    well done, sir.

    I think, with finances, there is no “one size fits all.”

    Money symbolizes lots of things for people – especially if there is a class difference in the family of origin… so, for one partner, money could symbolize “play time!” where for another, money could symbolize an obligation to pay debts, and if there is anything left over… then play.

    It’s a tough one for couples, and I wish that there was some sort of practical class on marriage & finances for couples – so that I could drag my husband! haha!

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