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Secrets to a happy (and financially sound) marriage

In Kansas, June is the most popular month for weddings. While many brides and grooms are walking down the aisle for the very first time this month, others are getting married for the second time, or more.

Most people want a marriage that will last a lifetime. Unfortunately, couples entering their first marriage have approximately a 50 percent chance of getting divorced. Remarriage carries an even greater risk, with nearly a 60 percent divorce rate.

What should today's newlyweds do to ensure they can beat the odds and live happily ever after? Start by being wise money managers, according to an Extension research study done with happily married couples.

In this study, 64 couples who identified themselves as having great marriages, reported why their marriages were so great and not surprisingly, many of the reasons were financial. So what exactly did they say were the secrets to a happy -- and financially sound -- marriage?

Of couples with great marriages:

1) At least one spouse handles daily finances. It does not matter if it is the husband or wife, and expertise in financial matters is not extremely important either. In fact, the spouse with the most time or desire might be the best selection.

2) There is ample trust and communication. This does not mean there are never disagreements, but there is a positive pattern for communicating about all financial matters, including freedom for both spouses to spend money as long as they communicate and agree about large purchases.

3) There is little or no debt. Becoming debt-free was a more important indicator of marital satisfaction than having a higher income or having more possessions. Never buying a car unless it was paid for with cash was singled out by several couples as an important way to avoid debt problems, along with fully paying off credit cards each month, and paying off the mortgage quickly.

4) They live within their means. Couples said they did not buy what they could not pay for. Sounds simple enough, but affects all aspects of life. For example, one couple decided the wife should stay home with the kids, but they agreed to make a drastic change in lifestyle to accommodate the decreased income by doing their own car maintenance, painting their own house, making gifts instead of buying them, camping instead of using hotels on vacation, etc.

5) They still had financial challenges. Even living without debt and living within means does not make couples immune to financial challenges such as job loss or medical emergencies.

But following the previously mentioned guidelines, their marriages still were strong in spite of these challenges.

It takes two to make a marriage work, but only one poor money manager to make it fail. We're often quick to point out how our spouse could change, but the next 60 seconds of your life could be marriage-saving if you honestly think about what you could do to improve your financial management skills -- and strengthen your marriage.

Linda Beech is a Kansas State University Research & Extension agent in Ellis County specializing in family and consumer sciences. lbeech@ksu.edu