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 communication 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.3,1 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, and edited by Stephen F. Duncan, professor in the School of Family Life, Brigham Young University. May 4, 2018.
- 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.
God commands His children to cleave together and have joy in marriage (Genesis 2:24, Ecclesiastes 9:9). He designed marriage as the union of equal partners who plan and lead their families in spiritual and temporal ways. In marriage, most couples will face some times of financial stress that can lead to unhappiness in the relationship when these troubles are not handled with love, understanding, and compromise.
God promises to help us in our financial challenges. “It is my purpose to provide for my saints. . . . But it must needs be done in mine own way” (D&C 104:15-16). God’s way has been shared in the words of the scriptures and in counsel from modern prophets and apostles. More than 40 years ago, President N. Eldon Tanner taught five principles for financial management that hold true today as families seek to be financially self-reliant.1
God knows that His children have financial needs and has promised them blessings as they keep His commandments, including tithing. As we pay tithing, He promises to “open you the windows of heaven and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it” (Malachi 3:8–10).
Modern-day prophets have echoed that promise. Elder David A. Bednar taught, “as we honor the law of tithing. . . . the blessing that comes to us through heavenly windows may be greater capacity to act and change our own circumstances rather than expecting our circumstances to be changed by someone or something else.”2 By exercising faith through paying tithing, couples can receive the blessings that allow them to improve their situations.
Live Within Your Means
As couples view money as a shared resource and stewardship, they can communicate with kindness to establish priorities and expectations in their spending. Elder Robert D. Hales shared the following: “I have learned that the three most loving words are 'I love you,' and the four most caring words for those we love are 'We can’t afford it.'"
He shared the following personal story that taught him this principle: “Our wedding anniversary was approaching, and I wanted to buy Mary a fancy coat to show my love and appreciation for our many happy years together. When I asked what she thought of the coat I had in mind, she replied with words that again penetrated my heart and mind. ‘Where would I wear it?’. . . . Then she taught me an unforgettable lesson. She looked me in the eyes and sweetly asked, ‘Are you buying this for me or for you?’ In other words, she was asking, ‘Is the purpose of this gift to show your love for me or to show me that you are a good provider or to prove something to the world?’ I pondered her question and realized I was thinking less about her and our family and more about me. After that we had a serious, life-changing discussion about provident living, and both of us agreed that our money would be better spent in paying down our home mortgage and adding to our children’s education fund.”3
Distinguish Between Needs and Wants
Couples can be responsible by choosing to spend within their means and in ways that build their relationship. Deciding which expenses are considered needs and wants can be challenging since spouses often come to the marriage with different expectations. They may be brought up in different financial backgrounds or in homes that prioritized spending in different ways. Navigating these differences and agreeing on financial priorities requires open and frequent conversations. Elder M. Russell Ballard taught, “There is no problem in the family. . . that cannot be solved if we look for solutions in the Lord’s way by counseling—really counseling—with one another.”4
Develop and Live Within a Budget
Couples are advised to create an appropriate budget for their situation. This should account for basic needs, emergencies, and savings. President Marion G. Romney taught that “we have . . . been counseled [to] have a reserve of cash to meet emergencies and to carry adequate health, home, and life insurance.”5 Living within that budget will help meet those needs, but requires discipline and takes practice.
Prophets have warned against going into debt. They counsel that debt should be reserved for critical needs, such as education, a modest house, and basic transportation. President Gordon B. Hinckley taught, “I urge you to be modest in your expenditures; discipline yourselves in your purchases to avoid debt to the extent possible. Pay off debt as quickly as you can, and free yourselves from bondage.”6
Finally, complete honesty and integrity in finances is important. In his address, N. Eldon Tanner closed with this reminder: “The ideal of integrity will never go out of style. It applies to all we do. As leaders and members of the Church, we should be the epitome of integrity.”7
When couples commit to handling their finances with honesty, they can receive blessings that God has promised those who live with integrity (Alma 41:14). President Howard W. Hunter once remarked, “We can serve God by honesty and fair dealing in our business transactions . . . The true principles of Christianity cannot be separate and apart from business and our everyday affairs.”8
God wants His children to be financially secure and to use their resources to strengthen their family relationships and to serve others. Elder Robert D. Hales said, “Only when we are self-reliant can we truly emulate the Savior in serving and blessing others.”9 This Christlike service begins within couple relationships as spouses show love and respect as they work together to make wise purchasing decisions.
Written by Janessa McQuivey, edited by professors Julie H. Haupt and Stephen F. Duncan, School of Family Life, Brigham Young University. February 29, 2020.
- Tanner, N. E. (1979, October). Constancy Amid Change. Ensign.
- Bednar, D. A. (2013, October). The Windows of Heaven. Ensign.
- Hales, R. D. (2009, April). Becoming Provident Providers Temporally and Spiritually. Ensign.
- Ballard, M. R. (2012). Counseling with Our Councils, rev. ed., p. 4.
- Romney, M. G. (1981, April). Principles of Temporal Salvation. Ensign.
- Hinckley, G. B. (1998, October). To the Boys and to the Men. Ensign.
- Tanner, N. E. (1979, October). Constancy Amid Change. Ensign.
- Hunter, H. W. (1961, October). Conference Report, p. 108.
- Hales, R. D. (2009). A Gospel Vision of Welfare: Faith in Action,” in Basic Principles of Welfare and Self-Reliance [booklet], p. 2.