As married couples, we make purchases all the time. Most of the time we are pleased with our purchases. At other times we wish our precious cash would not have been wasted. Because purchases are often made in marriages and those decisions in turn influence relationships, it is important to understand what contributes to a financially happy marriage. This article describes the role that communication, equal partnership, the value of purchases to both spouses, financial reasoning and avoiding the wrong motivation have in making purchases and marriage more satisfactory. It also describes the importance of balance between being a lover and a saver.
Let’s Talk About Money…And Do It Nicely
One of the most important ways to be happy with what you spend money on is to have good communication. Research shows when partners don’t agree about what to spend money on and buy something anyway, they tend to be unhappy with the purchase.7 Also, when couples use high-quality communication partners are usually happier with what they spent money on. Examples of this include not yelling or belittling one’s partner.3 Further, it is important not to force or pressure one’s partner into buying something. A pressured partner is less likely to be happy with a purchase.6
Having some rules about spending money can be also helpful. For example, setting a limit ahead of time for how much a partner can spend before talking to the other spouse can be helpful. As couples remember the rules they have set together, they will be more likely to be happy with how they spend money.5
Better Together: Equal Partnership in Purchasing
Having equal say in financial decisions also plays a part in a happy marriage. One study found that couples with more equal partnership have the highest satisfaction.2 Another study found that perceiving one’s money as a shared resource between spouses can lead to financial satisfaction. This viewpoint can lead to better communication1 which can in turn lead to better purchase satisfaction and a happier marriage. Research shows that spouses who feel involved in a decision have higher satisfaction with the outcome.3 These facts show that having an equal partnership when it comes to purchase decisions is one important way to be financially happy in marriage.
We Love it! The Importance of a Purchases Value to Both Spouses
Another way couples can enhance their marriage is by buying things that have importance to both spouses. Research shows that when a purchase benefits both spouses, couples are more satisfied with that purchase. On the other hand, when the purchase strongly benefited only one spouse, satisfaction with the purchase decision was lower.3 Bud Poduska, a family finance researcher, put the value of purchases in perspective by saying, “money spent on things you value usually leads to a feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment. Money spent on things you don’t value usually leads to a feeling of frustration and futility.” 5 Accordingly, spouses should consider how what they want to buy would be of real value to themselves and their spouse.
Be Smart with Your Money: The Role of Good Financial Reasoning
Another way to potentially make purchases more satisfying and thus strengthen marriage is to use good financial reasoning. Good financial reasoning could include making sure one gets the best deal or really thinks through the long-term costs of a purchase. For example, when buying a car, trying to get the best deal and considering the costs of insurance. Research shows a connection between improvements in financial reasoning and increases in decision satisfaction.4 Couples who feel they lack knowledge or skills when it comes to financial reasoning should consider improving it. Helpful sources include websites like personalfinance.byu.edu or books such as Fundamentals of Family Finance: Living Joyfully Within Your Means.
Avoiding the Wrong Motivation: A Key to Marital Relationships
Sometimes partners make purchases for the wrong reasons. One researcher found four motivations which lead to being unhappy with purchases and relationships:
- Superiority – Purchasing things in order to gain the upper hand in a relationship. For example, buying a more expensive gift than one’s spouse normally gives to you, to show you are more generous. Another example is becoming a martyr. Martyrs might say things like, “I bought this for you and you don’t love me back,” or “I sacrificed not buying anything for myself and you don’t appreciate it.”
- Control – Limiting what a partner can buy to control them.
- Pleasing – Buying something or allowing one’s partner to buy something to please them. For example, a partner might say “I don’t want to say no so I don’t upset my partner.”
- Comfort Seeking – Purchasing things to comfort oneself.5
It is important to remember that things you buy can’t make up for poor relationships. Bud Poduska put it well when he said, “you can never get enough of what you don’t need, because what you don’t need can never satisfy you.”5
A Balance – Being a Lover and a Saver
It is important to be a lover and spend money in a way which will build a relationship with one’s spouse. But it’s also important to not be reckless with one’s money either. Being reckless with one’s money would certainly hurt relationships just as never using financial resources to benefit one’s partner would. There are four ways to make a purchase decision when it comes to couple relationships:
- Be Irresponsible and Inconsiderate. This is being unwise with one’s money and not using it to benefit one’s spouse – the worst of the four ways.
- Be Responsible but Inconsiderate. This means being financially wise, but possible too stingy or failing to meet a spouse’s desires. A person in this situation should remember that extra money can be used to build relationships – not just as a contribution to savings.
- Be Irresponsible but Considerate. This means having a big financial heart for one’s spouse but spending money unwisely. For example, a person might buy their spouse an expensive gift to surprise them even though the couple can’t afford it.
- Be Responsible and Considerate. This means being a wise financial manager and using money to build relationships. An example of this is getting a gift for one’s spouse that is within the couples’ means. Of the four ways, this is the best.5
Other Thoughts for Purchases and a More Merry Marriage
In addition to the ideas discussed above, there are other ways purchases can contribute to a financially happy marriage:
- Make purchases within your income (don’t try to move too far, too fast)
- Set limits on your needs and wants. Decide what would be “enough” house, care, income, and so on (don’t fail to understand what one really needs)
- Agree to build in time delays appropriate to the size of the purchase being considered (don’t impulse buy).
- Calculate hidden and indirect costs along with the original purchase price (don’t forget to determine the true cost of a purchase).
- Consider whether renting, borrowing, or sharing might be more economical than buying (don’t forget to remember the cost per use).
- Think lines of credit as lines of debt. Only use them only for emergencies and pre-planned purchases of durable goods (don’t abuse credit).
- Seek professional help regarding addictive or compulsive behaviors (don’t shy away from help for addictive behaviors).5
The ideas this article has outlined – communication, partnership, putting the correct value on items, being financially wise, having the right motivation, and being a lover and a saver – are some key ways to bring more joy into marital relationships. Purchasing in partnerships is a life-long effort. As couples follow the ideas outlined above, they will be more likely to purchase things which will be more satisfying and lead to happier marriages.
Written by David B. Allsop, Research Assistant, edited by Stephen F. Duncan, professor in the School of Family Life, Brigham Young University.
- Boyle, J. (2012). Shared money, less conflict, stronger marriages: The relationship between money ownership perceptions, negative communication, financial satisfaction, marital satisfaction and marital instability (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Kansas State University, Manhattan, KS.
- Gray-Little, B., & Burks, N. (1983). Power and satisfaction in marriage: A review and critique. Psychological Bulletin, 93(3), 513.
- Kirchler, E. (2001). Conflict and decision-making in close relationships: Love, money, and daily routines: Psychology Press.
- Kourilsky, M., & Murray, T. (1981). The use of economic reasoning to increase satisfaction with family decision making. Journal of Consumer Research, 8(2), 183-188.
- Poduska, B. E. (1995). For love and money. Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book.
- Su, C., Fern, E. F., & Ye, K. (2003). A temporal dynamic model of spousal family purchase-decision behavior. Journal of Marketing Research (JMR), 40(3), 268-281.
- Wagner, W., Kirchler, E., & Brandstätter, H. (1984). Marital relationships and purchasing decisions—to buy or not to buy, that is the question. Journal of Economic Psychology, 5(2), 139-157.