With all the stuff two people bring into a marriage, it’s no wonder that money is a very frequent topic of dispute.  They were raised by different sets of parents who did the whole money thing in their unique way.  They had different personal financial experiences.  They have different temperaments, and they bring into marriage different financial expectations, habits, and hopes for the future.

Here are two steps every couple can take to work as a team in building a financial life that works really well.

Play to Your Strengths

When you can’t get your spouse to stop spending so much money (or start spending money, or buy better quality stuff, or stop spending so much to buy better quality stuff, or…), usually the issue isn’t really about the words coming out of your mouth while you’re arguing about it.

It isn’t really about the spending or the saving or whatever else the issue seems to be about.  There’s an issue behind the issue.

It’s that he or she comes from a family where they always did it that way, or it’s because of a desire for more security or more freedom or…

I devoted three chapters of Money and Marriageto helping couples understand all that stuff.  Only by understanding what’s behind the issue can you have any hope of really resolving the issue.

And one of the biggest factors behind any issue that comes up in marriage is each others’ temperaments.  Chances are good that you and your spouse are wired up differently than each other.  That’s what drew you to each other, and it’s what can drive you apart.

There are various temperament classification systems, but they all trace back to this simple four-temperament system: choleric, sanguine, melancholy, and phlegmatic.

Knowing your primary temperament and your secondary temperament, as well as those of your spouse, will help you put each other’s unique strengths (each person has some) to work in your marriage while minimizing each other’s weaknesses (each person has some of these as well).

Become a student – a lifelong student – of how you are wired up and how your spouse is wired up.  You’ll be amazed at how helpful it is in your marriage, and not just financially.

Plan to Succeed

There may be no less romantic topic on earth than the idea of using a household budget.  However, research has shown that couples that use a budget tend to fight about money less often than those that don’t.  And the more detailed the budget, the fewer the fights.

A budget gives you objective information about your finances.  If you’re truly using a budget – you have a plan, you’re tracking your use of money, and you’re managing to the numbers in the plan – you don’t have to debate whether too much was spent on clothing or concerts last month.  You can just look at the budget and see how much was actually spent.

Use my recently updated Budget Quick Start Guide and Recommended Spending Guidelines (found at the same link) to put together a plan.  And keep these tips in mind:

Give Each Other Some Freedom.  Each spouse should have some money they can spend how they want to.  Jude and I have separate clothing budgets.  As long as we stick to the agreed upon amounts, we have some freedom in how we spend that money.  Other couples call these separate budgeted amounts “fun money.”  It’s for lunches with friends or hobbies.