K-State Research and Extension News
April 12, 2011
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Money Management Styles – His? Hers? or Ours?

 Choose Money Management Styles to Enhance Relationship


MANHATTAN, Kan. – Money matters, but how much you have – or don’t have – may not be the key issue.

When dating, couples and prospective partners are eager to get to know each other and may overlook financial management styles important in building relationships, said Charlotte Shoup Olsen, Kansas State University Research and Extension family systems specialist.

While either prospective partner can appear financially responsible in offering to pay for a dinner date, failing to assess overall perceptions about money, values and spending habits can damage a relationship, said Olsen, who identified disagreements about money as a frequent – and troubling – issue in marriages and relationships.  

So, how and when should a prospective couple or partners begin talking about money?

Olsen, along with Carol Young, K-State Research and Extension financial management specialist, shared tips about financial management in relationships.   

Q: Carol, we’re hearing that money management should be a primary discussion in building a relationship. As a financial management specialist, what do you advise?

A: Young: The topic is essential, as few would consider forming a business partnership without discussing goals, values, financial management and responsibility.

Q: Is there a best time to bring up the subject?

A: Olsen: Be observant, and listen: Does your potential partner complain about bills? Does he or she consider shopping recreation? Has he or she mentioned saving for a short- or long-term goal? Does he or she have school, credit card or other debt?

A: Young: Being able to pay bills and meet expenses should be a priority; identifying short- and long-term goals, and developing a plan to meet such goals also can be telling.

Suppose, for example, a couple is saving for a house. One spouse foregoes shopping for new clothes, but the other decides to use part of their joint savings (for the house) to buy a motorcycle without discussing the purchase with his or her spouse or partner. Taking from a joint account for personal use without discussion compromises the trust between the account holders, and, according to Olsen, the lack of trust spills over into other aspects of the relationship.

In sharing financial goals, couples and partners must be clear (and in agreement) about their goals, and agree on a spending limit ($100 works for some, while $250 or $500 might be an appropriate amount in another income group) without discussion.

Q: Does being in a relationship mean not being able to buy something you really want?

A:Young: While saving and spending plans will vary with income and expenses, it is important for each spouse or partner to have some discretionary money, which, like an allowance, is money he or she can spend without asking. 

A: Olsen: Again, communication is key, in that talking about goals helps to support a spending and savings plan, and eliminates surprises that can fuel disagreements.

Q: Do you have any recommendations for addressing debt, particularly for school and/or credit card debt that younger couples may bring to a marriage?

A: Young: Debt obligates future earnings, and that means that would-be couples need to be honest about their debt load and objective in making a plan to pay it down – and off. Review debt thoroughly, as school loans can support employability and earning power, while credit card debt can signal a lack of financial responsibility and be a red flag for relationships.

A: Olsen: Being open and forthright about debt, and having a plan to move forward to eliminate the debt and build a future is essential in forming, nurturing and sustaining a healthy and satisfying long-term relationship.  Being open also helps to nurture trust that is essential in any successful relationship.

Q: Should couples pool their resources? Or keep separate accounts?

A: Young: Prospective couples will want to assess their financial positions before making this decision; if both are employed, they may want to divide basic household expenses that are paid from a joint account, open a joint savings account, but still keep money in individual accounts. Others may want to pool their earnings and divide them between joint accounts intended for specific purposes. While there is no right or wrong answer, trust has to be an essential element in all decisions.

Q: Are there any rules about who should pay the bills?

A: Olsen: Time can be an issue, as it may be more convenient for one person to pay the bills and manage finances; both do need to know what the bills are, when they are paid, where the money is, and current account balances.

A: Young: We all likely know of a spouse or partner who handled the couples’ finances and died unexpectedly, without the other spouse or partner having a clue about finances. Talking about finances to ensure a spouse or partner is in the loop is recommended. Also, the person or persons who pay(s) the bills should view bill paying as a responsibility and not a power or control issue.

Q: Carol, why is it important to have an emergency fund?

A: Emergencies usually occur when least expected, and that’s why having funds available to buy a new tire, make a trip in the event of family illness, or pay for unexpected household repairs can reduce – or eliminate – the need to borrow or run up a balance on a credit card. The need for an emergency fund is especially important in today’s economy, when job loss or layoffs have become a reality for many.

More information about managing personal and family relationships – and money – is available at local K-State Research and Extension offices and Financial Management.


K-State Research and Extension is a short name for the Kansas State University Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service, a program designed to generate and distribute useful knowledge for the well-being of Kansans. Supported by county, state, federal and private funds, the program has county Extension offices, experiment fields, area Extension offices and regional research centers statewide. Its headquarters is on the K-State campus, Manhattan.

Story by: Nancy Peterson
K-State Research & Extension News

Charlotte Shoup Olsen is at 785-532-5773 or colsen@ksu.edu; Carol Young is at cyoung@ksu.edu