Good Money Moves for Couples

Updated January 2022

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Marriage is a coin flip. 


You may never have looked at it in quite those terms, but it’s a reality. According to the American Psychological Association only about half of first marriages survive.  That’s a bit scary. 


If you’re working hard to end up on the glass half full side of the equation, money is or should be a hot topic. Why? Because it’s a common stressor and often called out as a top area for marital discord. That’s especially true as we struggle with the effects of the pandemic. 


These money moves may help you move from survive to thrive:   


Make goals a group exercise. When I first came to USAA, I attended a company-wide meeting and the CEO threw up an image of a rowboat. In the middle of the crew there was an individual rowing in the wrong direction. I don’t remember the exact message, but the image has stuck with me for years. In marriage, you’ve got a team of two and you’ve got to be paddling in the same direction. What direction? I don’t know, but you should. If you haven’t already used more time at home to establish your goals…do it now and do it together.   


Talk money on a consistent basis. Here, frequent, open and honest communication regarding your finances is the objective. Establish your own money chat routine. It could be a daily check-in or a monthly summit. The key: Create a cadence of discussions about money that ensure you and your spouse are aligned and aware. I’ll let you run with “aligned and aware,” but those two words are powerful and cover a lot of ground.  


Create a winning account structure. Over my years of working with couples, I’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly as it applies to what I would call day-to-day “operational set up.” Joint accounts, separate accounts or a combination. While studies have shown that joint accounts are indicative of a healthy relationship, we use a combo at our house. Figure out what winning means to you and execute. 


Draw a line in the sand. Marriage is the ultimate in juggling. Successful marriages are typically characterized by couples who maintain their individual identity, but in the context of the team they are as a couple. While it may seem like a minor thing, I suggest that when it comes to purchases or big financial decisions (portfolio moves, insurance, etc.) you clearly delineate when individual autonomy is turned in for the need to work in tandem. The line in the sand may move, but it should be understood. The ever-changing nature of the line hit me at a recent presentation when a more seasoned individual scoffed at a $200 limit on a purchase without consulting their spouse. Different places in life may mean different lines, but lines are still important.  


Walk through the what-ifs. Who will take care of the kids, if we aren’t here? What happens if something happens to me? Are your parents moving in with us? I could go on and on, but proactive conversations with agreed upon strategies and outlooks can head off real heartache and headache during a crisis. 


Celebrate wins. Hey, it can’t always be nose to the grindstone, save, save, save, cut, cut, cut! Take some time to pat each other on the back and say, you’re a winner. They chose you, right? 


How do you and your significant other handle money in your relationship? Share in the comments! 


About the Blogger: JJ Montanaro is a Certified Financial Planner® professional and part of the Military Affairs team at USAA. He’s a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy and has over 20 years of financial planning experience. 


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We maintain separate accounts for checking and savings.  We do purchase stocks jointly.

Briana Hartzell USAA

Thanks for sharing @JustMe2U 

New Member

My wife and I have not saved much over our 34 years together. We would like to start asap; What steps should we take? How can we get the most on returns if investing?

Briana Hartzell USAA

Hi @BW360,

Thank you for taking the time to comment and I applaud you on starting to save now! I have asked one of USAA's financial folks to put together some tips to share with you and I will update this thread when I hear back. Thank you again!

Limitless Contributor

Over the years, we have evolved to combination checking and savings accounts (for household expenses) and personal checking and savings accounts (for discretionary spending). We set a limit of $1,000 for spending without discussing. So far, that has helped keep issues about money to a minimal.