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Marriage & Money: 5 Benefits of a Spending Cap Rule

Guest post from Leah of Simple. Home. Blessings

You have probably all heard the statistics reporting that approximately 50% of all marriages end in divorce — and that the most common factor/reason stated for ending a marriage is finances.

Indeed, the way a couple deals with money is often a very good indication of the way they deal with one another in a myriad of ways. The communication that exists (or doesn’t exist) regarding money lends itself to general conversations about goals, dreams, needs, and wants important to the health and viability of marriage.

So, it goes without saying that having open and honest dealings with finances is extremely important in any marriage.

The best bit of advice I would give to a newly married/engaged couple is to commit to a spending cap — or a specific amount of money you can spend without asking one another. It doesn’t matter what the dollar amount is, the promise you make to one another is what matters.

Once you determine together that you will not spend over that set amount without a conversation and an “okay” from the other person, you will probably find that your communication about other things really opens up, too.

Here are 5 benefits of a spending cap rule:

1. You create trust.

The most basic thing a marriage needs is trust — and trust regarding money is no different than regarding fidelity.

Knowing your partner has committed, and will stay committed, to what you have entrusted him/her with is the starting point of a healthy marriage, whether it be money or your heart.

If you pledged not only your hearts to one another, but also “all your wordly goods,” you have laid a lot on the line. Setting a spending cap on your purchases when you are away from your mate, helps build trust in a small way that will pay dividends later.

2. You create a firm financial foundation.

When you are assured your partner is spending within the limits of your agreed spending cap, you know you are staying within the limits of your budget.

The money fights that tend to break marriages up are usually not related to having too much money, but having too little money. Spending over the limit and splurges are budget busters that can lead to marriage problems.

This is not to suggest you can’t splurge every once in a while, rather that you communicate your desires to spend over the spending cap to insure both of you are on board with each purchase. You are both in the same boat, building your financial future together.

3. You create communication.

Talking about each purchase over the spending cap leads to more conversations about all manner of things. It opens up opportunities to work through conflicts in your marriage in a positive way. When the item you want to purchase is over the cap, a conversation is necessary.

Sometimes you may not agree with your spouse about spending over the cap. This can lead to a good back and forth discussion of the merits or disadvantages of a purchase, while still having a safety net of assurance that your spouse is not going to just go out and purchase an item without thinking of you and the commitment you made (this can lead to another rule we have around here, “If it is a no for one of us, it is a no for both of us.”).

4. You discover needs, wants, desires, and goals.

Discussing even the smallest purchase reveals to our spouses what we value and what we dream of owning. It also helps us discover what we don’t find valuable or what we don’t understand about one another.

You may see value in purchasing a particular item your spouse would never buy. That doesn’t mean you should never have it, but it does create an opportunity for them to see it through your eyes and for you to see it through theirs.

These conversations are also great for getting to know what your spouse would really like to have (something handy for birthdays and holidays).

5. You develop a teamwork relationship in regards to money.

This is almost an automatic by-product of positive communication about money with your spouse. Setting a limit or a cap on spending creates a “you have my back, I have yours,” kind of understanding. You know you would not want your spouse to violate your agreement, so you honor it as well.

Because of the trust and communication you create through your spending pact, you take all the questions and problems about money to one another to solve together. This is not a give and take kind of relationship, where you are on opposite sides of the table, negotiating a kind of peace. Rather it is a couple sitting down together to face the problems they have head on.

As I stated before, the limit of your spending cap does not matter as long as it fits with your budget and your marriage. Each couple will have a different limit, for different reasons.

We came up with our spending cap in the early days of our marriage and it has never changed. Our spending cap is $20. We find we discuss almost all of our purchases, even the ones that fit under our spending cap.

How is the health of your marriage when it comes to finances?

If it is on shaky ground, you might consider sitting down with your spouse and discussing or creating a spending cap. Even if your finances and your marriage is good, you still might think about discussing a spending cap with your partner to insure bumps in the road don’t throw you off course.

Leah is a wife to her wonderful husband and mother to 2 girls under 2. She loves homemaking and tries to find the joy in the everyday. She writes about it over at Simple. Home. Blessings.

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  1. ashley says

    We did/do this too – right down to the $20 cap (exceptions are gasoline, groceries). It has been a good guideline for our marriage.

  2. says

    My husband and I do this too, and I can not tell you how it has helped our marriage in terms of finacial planning. Another helpful idea to to regularly review this. We meet weekly to review our finances and discuss upcoming purchases.

  3. curious says

    What if a couple has set a spending cap, but one spouse makes a lot of purchases which are individually under the cap? When added up, these purchases obviously total much more than the cap. Any recommendations for someone who’s being loop-holed by a spouse who is following the letter of the law but not the spirit of the law?

    • says

      This is hard when your spouse is not completely on board. First I would say to pray for your spouse in this area. Just as we all have our stumbling stones finances may be theirs.
      Then I would say to simply ask about setting a time to talk about weekly purchases when you talk about your budget.
      You may even suggest lowering the cap. For instance my husband and I have a weekly cap of $50. We each have $50 in cash that is outside of our budget (gas, groceries, etc…) Once this cash is gone we have to talk about other purchases with each other before we spend.

    • Rachel says

      I agree with Jessica. For us, it was important to set a weekly cap. We each receive a small amount of cash and once it is gone, it is gone. Some weeks we will save up our “allowance” towards larger purchases and other weeks it is gone in a hurry. But this helped my husband feel in control while also helping our bottom line.

      • Miriah says

        My husband & I set a monthly cap.. $100 each per month. We each have a Paypal account & transfer it each month there. (this works better for us as we live in AK & the majority of our purchases are online. We have PayPal debit cards if we want to buy locally) This way our purchases are private if they are a gift for one another & there is no way we can overspend. We’ve done this for 3 years now & it’s been a huge blessing to our marriage & bank account! It’s also really taught us generosity towards one another..my husband saved his “allowance” & added it to our “dishwasher” fund & replaced our broken one while I was out of town!!

  4. says

    we have one too! honestly it doesn’t come into play very often because we generally buy more expensive things together but I’m glad we set one!

  5. Rebekah says

    We have a money “rule”. If it costs $10, wait 1 day, talk about it, then go buy it (if we’ve agreed on it and you still want it). If it’s $20, wait 2 days, talk about it, go buy it; if it’s $30, wait 3 days, etc. We’ve found that that plan alone has cut 75% of our frivolous spending. It’s amazing how much walking away from an item will lower your “need” to have it – especially if you have to make a special trip to the store to go back and buy it.

  6. Stacy says

    I could really use some advice about how to talk to a husband who “agrees” to a spending cap, but then sabotages the purpose of it by making lots of purchases just under it. We struggle to see finances the same way, and it’s really hard for me to trust him. Especially when he isn’t really cooperating. If he can’t stick to a spending cap (although very technically he does), I don’t have much hope we could ever agree to and live on a budget. Help?!?

    • says

      I would encourage you to sit down with your husband and have an honest, distraction free conversation with him. Let him know that his “sabotaging” makes it hard for you to trust him and that you want to work together as a team.

      As far as your budget, get your husband involved and let him see how difficult it is when he keeps spending. When my husband wants to spend money that I don’t think we have is for us to sit down together and look over the budget to see exactly where that money’s going to come from. Sometimes when he sees our current situation he realizes we don’t have the extra cash right now or he has a creative idea of where to take the money from.

    • Tricia says

      Have you tried separate checking accounts? It works AMAZING for us. We still check in with each other with purchases over $50, but as long as he can pay the bills that he is responsible for and I can pay the bills that I’m responsible for, we don’t have any problems. In 8 years of marriage, we rarely fight about money.

    • Meg says

      I’m late to this, but what you need is a spending cap And a budget.

      At various times in our marriage, my husband and I have each been the, “Guilty,” party in terms of spending.

      It comes down to one person being in charge of the day to day bill paying but both of you knowing what the budget is and what your weekly spending can be (my husband likes to call his the “slush fund.”)

      When we have had conflict in this area it’s been because of a lack of understanding about our financial picture. If your husband has a clear picture of your weekly income and outflow and you have shared goals for savings or debt repayment, the other pieces will be much easier to follow. Prayer helps, too!

  7. Suzanne H says

    We now have a $200 spending cap. It was lower when we were in debt. We felt that $200 was more than I would spend on groceries, clothes for the kids, etc. It is high enough that we aren’t driving each other crazy asking “permission” for every single thing but also low enough that it keeps either one of us from making a serious financial decision alone. Rarely do either of us spend that much but it’s a good stop gap. We’ve been very happy/successful having a spending cap regardless of the amount. I definitely recommend it!

    • says

      My husband would have a fit if I talked to him about all the purchases I need to make for the family!

      Just today I bought $50 of some vitamins we always use, saving $30. I couldn’t have done that if I needed to consult him. I’ll buy flours in bulk, get bras for my girls, or buy shoes for the kids without consulting him, too.

      He trusts me to not waste our money and doesn’t want to know the details. I suppose that’s partly because he’s seen me be frugal for over 26 years, and partly because he’s so busy. I sometimes think of Proverbs 31: ‘the heart of her husband trusts in her.’ Because I spend wisely and always have, he has absolutely no concerns about my spending.

      Sometimes I’m slightly concerned about his spending, though, but since he hates any semblance of being ‘controlled’ I’ve decided it’s better for our marriage–and our finances–for me not to comment or react at all. Instead I praise his frugality whenever it shows up.

      A budget and a spending cap is important, but a good marriage is much more important.

  8. says

    I’ve never even heard of this; I guess because my husband and I both are tightwads! We have to MAKE each other spend money (would you PLEASE get yourself some non-holey socks???) But I think this is a great idea for couples who have trouble in this area! It would definitely contribute to keeping a peaceful home!

    • Melissa says

      Haha. I’ve heard of it before but didn’t impliment it in my own marriage because my husband and I have to “make” each other spend money too. lol. We tend to discuss most purchases anyhow mostly because we live in a small space and anything that takes up much room should be something we agree on having around. So I guess we have a ‘space budget cap’, not a dollar amount cap. lol.

  9. says

    My husband and I do this. It really helps us to trust one another. I don’t have to worry about him going out and buying a PS3 and he doesn’t have to worry about me going out to buy a wheat grinder or a sewing machine. It helps to talk about the budget. We are always looking for deals on the things we want, on craigslist, at yard sales, etc. We wait, and in the end, the waiting helps to save us money.

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  10. Sarah says

    I think this is a great idea. Arguments with finances can be a huge problem in marriages today. My boyfriend is already a little nervous about joining bank accounts due to previous relationships. He is afraid I would get on the account and nag at him for what he is spending his money on. I spend money on random things even though I been trying to get better at it this. I think we marriage does come this is something that I will talk to him about and hopefully ease the tension.

    • Tamara says

      We do not have a “cap” per say but it goes without saying that we consult each other before spending/loaning/giving a substantial amount of money.Mainly anything over $100.His parents wanted to borrow $1000 and asked my husband and he said I have to talk to my wife about it.They looked at him like he was CRAZY.They expected him to make the decision alone.Nope.We make it together and together we are one with EVERYTHING.If money is not respected by both parties it could make marriage hard.I have always been thankful that we have been on the same page about this.Neither one of us like to spend but we LOVE to save :-)

  11. Diane says

    The only things we buy without asking each other are from our personal envelope. We get 10 dollars/month each plus if we get any gifts for birthdays or Christmas that’s ours to do with what we want. Otherwise yes we discuss any extra purchases.

  12. says

    My husband and I started doing this when we first got married and it works great! I agree that it encourages communication. There have been many times when my husband has asked about a purchase and we talk through whether or not we have the money in our budget right now. This communication can encourage teamwork and also make the person doing the budget feel respected!

  13. says

    About 2 years after we were married, a salesman came to my door, selling a tile cleaner. We had tile right by the front door, and he demonstrated his product. I liked it a lot and it worked a lot better than what I had been using, and I was interested.

    Our finances were super tight, and we had already established the habit of telling each other about every single purchase (even $1 purchases) , and we would usually talk about any purchases first.

    So, I told the salesman I would need to talk to my husband first.

    He mocked me.

    That mocking instantly cost him the sale.

    If he wouldn’t respect my family and the respect we had for one another to talk about out purchases, then he didn’t need my sale.

    My husband and I talked about it when he got home from work that night, and my husband found a tile cleaner that worked just as well and came in bulk at Home Depot (and actually cost us less!)

    • Lisa says

      Good for you! There have been a couple of times when salespeople have responded in bewilderment when I say that I need to talk it over with my husband first. A trainer at the gym said, “Well, husbands usually let you spend x, so why don’t you buy that package and then see if he okays anything else?” Wow, disrespectful on so many levels!

  14. Amy says

    I think this would be a great idea for us–it would benefit both of us but limit only me. My husband NEVER BUYS ANYTHING. He seems to like the idea of providing for his family to whatever extent I need to spend, and he while he is super frugal himself, he treats me kindly no matter what I spend (that said, I’m pretty frugal, too.) Ironically, we have been debt free for a couple of years (aged 33) but have never had a budget. Anyway, while he doesn’t want to set a budget, I think this idea of a spending cap would work well for us.

  15. says

    We don’t buy anything without talking about it first…except snacks. That is our downfall! It’s so easy for the hubs to grab a pop or candy bar at work or for me to do the same when I’m running errands…definitely something to talk about a la your 5 steps; thanks!

  16. bjd says

    we have a line item in our budget called ‘blow’ and we each get a certain amount to spend each month. once it’s gone, its gone…but no judgement or nagging on either side. it gives us freedom, challenges our creativity and still remains within our budget.

  17. Tonia says

    I can’t agree with this post enough. My husband and I set out in our marriage discussing pretty much every purchase. We don’t have a spending cap exactly, but we basically discuss all purchases about £10 with each other, except presents, and we always have a limit on the amount we can spend on gifts for each other. Every discussion we have on spending means we make sure we really want the item and has reduced impulse buying. The funny think is my husband didn’t like this approach when we first got together, although it is the way I was brought up. He is now trying to convert his brother to this method as there is a lot of financial antagonism in that relationship! Like I said, I can’t agree with this post enough!!

  18. Maura says

    We don’t have a spending cap, but we do determine what our budget looks like together. We also each have a personal account that isn’t very big that is our “mad money” or whatever you want to call it. Within our budget, we each have accounts that we naturally tend to protect. For example, I keep a close eye on kids and school/enrichment. And we do talk about bigger purchases, we just don’t have a rule about it.

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