A Great Tool For Killing Financial Arguments In Marriage

The number one cause for divorce in America is fighting over finances.  I can understand why.  When two people come together in marriage, they bring with them different views of handling money.  The result of such a combination is frustration that leads to isolation.

When this happens, couples retreat to different sides of the home, choosing to claim “their” money and choosing to spend it whichever way they want.  Before long, the couple becomes two individuals sharing a home, with no shared conviction over how they will give, save and spend.

Yesterday I read this article in USA Today.  The basic claim the article made was that a new study shows if you want to be able to pay for “the basics,” save, and cover a “few extras,” then you need to make $150,000 per year.

I couldn’t disagree more.

I’m sorry to disappoint, but I don’t nearly make $150K.  Steph stays home with our kids, and I am in full-time ministry.  But we do pay all our bills, save quite a bit, and give away a large amount each year.

It is not more money that people need.  What they need is a plan.

In 2010, I wrote this post detailing all that Steph and I pay for with cash.  Since then, we’ve met with many couples who want to know exactly how we go about doing it.  The following is what makes it all possible.

About 5 years ago, I was determined to come up with a better plan for how we gave, saved and spent money.  I wanted something that would tell us what to do with our money once we had it, so we wouldn’t have to decide once our bills were due.

I sat down at our computer, and created a simple spreadsheet for us to use.  Little did I know, we would use it religiously twice a month for years to come.

You can download it here.

You might not be a “numbers” person.  I wouldn’t say I am either.  What I do value is a strong marriage.  Once we experienced the tension in marriage as a result of financial issues, I knew we had to do something different.  Maybe you are in the same boat we were.

We loved this system so much, we started telling others about it.  I found myself answering the same questions about how to use it, so I finally created a “sample” version, complete with comment boxes explaining some of the specifics.

When we do pre-marital counseling with couples, this is one of the resources I get most excited to give them.  I know if they use it regularly, it will significantly decrease the amount of miscommunication or unreal expectations they have when it comes to their money.

Here’s how I would recommend using it:

1. Review the spreadsheet.  There is a sample tab on the bottom left-hand corner of the screen, followed by tabs for each month of the year.  Each month is broken down into first and second half of the month, and again, there are comment boxes to explain some of the rationale behind it.  On the sample page, I built it off a straight-out-of-college salary.  Chances are, you will be encouraged to plug in your own salary.

2. Discuss this while on a date with your spouse.  This doesn’t seem like the most exciting date subject matter, but you’ll probably be surprised.  If you approach this as wanting to talk to your spouse about eliminating a big area of tension in your marriage, your spouse will probably be all for this conversation.

3. Fill out the spreadsheet.  Begin by understanding the combined salary of you and your spouse.  Once that number is known, work down from there.  If your salary fluctuates each month, create this budget using the most conservative guesstimate of your monthly income.

4. Start following your own orders.  If you took the time to discuss this, and then you created a plan, now is the time to follow the plan you made.  Make sure you note every penny you spend each month.  This will be important for the next step.

5. Correct your mistakes.  At the end of the month, you will realize how badly you projected on some of the areas in your budget.  This is ok.  It will take you about 3 months to get your system nailed down.  Expect mistakes.

6. Repeat steps 1-5.  You will need to spend some focused attention doing this for a few months.  After that, the plan really begins to diminish the tension in your marriage over finances.

I hope that helps.  It sure has helped us.

Is there anything you use that has helped you and your spouse handle money?

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  1. David March 19, 2012 at 8:14 am #


    My wife Whitney and I have been using a similar technique since about 6 months before we got married (~2 years total). It’s been a real blessing for us to see where our money goes, hold each other accountable to our goals, and even know when we have the opportunity to spoil one another. It’s a great system, and I so highly recommend it. When Whitney first saw it she was frustrated that it (a spreadsheet I created myself) was difficult to understand and, not at all pretty. I handed it over, and we worked on it together, coming out with a much better product that I had on my own. This alone, was a great experience for us – healthy conflict. I’m also glad that you mentioned that you’re not a numbers guy, and you don’t have to be to use this. Thanks for sharing, and I hope this can be a blessing to others.

    David “Banornge” Kelley

    • Kevin East March 19, 2012 at 4:03 pm #

      Financial work in a home is such an opportunity to build a stronger partnership with your spouse. You described that here. You are exactly right – it is healthy conflict. Hats off to you as you work with your wife to iron out a plan that will serve your family well.

  2. Chelsea March 19, 2012 at 12:34 pm #

    Thank you for this! My husband and I were just talking about the need to redo our budget this weekend, and I think your spreadsheet will be a big help. He recently got a new job (which included a 50% pay increase) and we want to be purposeful about the extra income. It made me laugh, though, because your “straight-out-of-college salary” is a little higher than my husband’s new salary. And his is a bachelor’s-degree-married-with-three-kids salary. :o) I’m looking for to having a new tool to keep up with our money. Thanks!

    • Chelsea March 19, 2012 at 12:35 pm #

      *forward. Sorry!

    • Kevin East March 19, 2012 at 4:01 pm #

      Glad to know you’ll soon have an opportunity to put this to work. I imagine you will find it to be quite helpful.

    • Kevin East March 19, 2012 at 8:56 pm #

      By the way, Chelsea, I just noticed the salary listed in this sample budget was way higher than I thought I left it. I think I helped a single mom about a year ago and plugged in her salary into the sample budget and forgot about it.

      You are right. This salary is much higher than a “starter salary” like I had mentioned. Thanks for pointing it out to me.

      • Chelsea March 19, 2012 at 9:39 pm #

        That makes me feel better. Not that it should matter because God has blessed us and we are living well at this income! This post just came at the perfect time. Tomorrow is date night and we have a new resource to utilize!

  3. Michaelsballard March 19, 2012 at 9:38 pm #

    Thanks Kevin. My wife and I have been married for 11 years and still haven’t figured this one out. It is by far our biggest stress. I appreciate your help.

  4. Sampath Burla March 21, 2012 at 1:53 am #

    Thanks Kevin, this is sampath from India. me and my wife did worked out, gradually i couldn’t put into practice, hope i will again start doing it. I appreciate for your post.

    • Kevin East March 21, 2012 at 9:12 pm #

      Good to hear from you, Sampath. Hang in there. I hope you are able to start it again soon.

  5. julie "hoowah" eyler March 21, 2012 at 3:58 pm #

    I really like the spreadsheet, and plan on using it… I was wondering how you keep track of your accruals?? does it do i automatically??
    julie “hoowah” eyler

    • Kevin East March 21, 2012 at 9:10 pm #


      We keep track of our accruals using Quicken. I look at this spreadsheet more like a recipe. This spreadsheet tells me where to spend the money. I actually track every penny in Quicken though. So we make “ATM withdrawals” in Quicken. That money still sits in our account, but we act like it isn’t there.

      For instance, in our Quicken right now, you would see a number of accruals for christmas gifts. That is because we are setting aside money – within our checking account – to pay for presents for next christmas. When we actually finally spend the money, we delete the accruals. Hope that makes sense.

      • julie March 21, 2012 at 9:36 pm #

        does quicken cost? and so you use it as your ledger??

        • Kevin East March 21, 2012 at 10:08 pm #

          It does cost, but there are other online programs you can use that don’t. Yes, we use it as our ledger.

  6. Josh Fortney March 28, 2012 at 1:03 pm #

    This spreadsheet saved my marriage before it started! My Wife and I both share a passion for shredddding and killing our debt and this spreadsheet has made it easy and simple to tell our money where we want it to go. It’s easy for planning expenses, tracking expenses, and setting goals. Thanks for the wisdom Kevin!

    • Kevin East March 29, 2012 at 7:21 pm #

      I’m proud of you, Josh. You and Melissa have tasted blood, and are well on your way of killing your debt. Let me know when it happens.

  7. Conny March 29, 2012 at 10:39 am #

    wow, finally found a budget with almost exactly the salary we have to work with!! Usually budgets show someone making far more than we do, and I am tempted to say we really CAN NOT save money or save for the future because we just don’t have enough to LIVE ON … but apparently, we might have enough!! Well, in the end, I know God provided enough anyway, if we just honor HIM with our salary and budget! THank you for sharing.

  8. tina March 29, 2012 at 10:48 am #

    I plan to use your budget system…I have been looking for something like this for years! I was wondering if this was your true budget? Because our mortgage is roughly four times that here in California!


    • Kevin East March 29, 2012 at 7:22 pm #

      No, these numbers aren’t my budget numbers. I just made up a salary to plug into the sample part of this blog. In fact, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend the breakdown of the actual numbers in this spreadsheet. Those were just quick examples to illustrate how the spreadsheet works.

  9. Cathy March 29, 2012 at 3:45 pm #

    Thank you for sharing this! We recently finished paying off all our credit card debt and are needing to seriously save as we are facing unemployment in a few months. This looks like a great way to keep track of the budget.

    • Kevin East March 29, 2012 at 8:14 pm #

      Congrats on paying off the debt! Way to go.

  10. Laura March 29, 2012 at 8:01 pm #

    My husband and I both get paid by the hour and our time sheets vary each pay period so our salary is only predictable to an estimate. Between that and having a hard time grasping how to budget (or really how much I currently spend on) things like personal products, groceries, household needs, etc., I am having a huge mental block in trying to create a budget. We make enough and are frugal enough to not have to track every penny, so I’m not convinced that the stress of creating and sticking to a budget would be better for us. We tithe and give monthly gifts. We save money every two weeks. We do not have bad debt (student loans, car payments or credit cards that carry a balance). I’m a bargain shopper and use coupons. Finances have no negative impact on my marriage. Should I bother with a budget?

  11. Phil March 31, 2012 at 9:01 am #

    We kept our finances in a spreadsheet for years and experienced the same peace through regular conversations about where the stream of money should go. We were using the spreadsheet for the ledger parts too, where it sounds like you are using Quicken to actually track your spending. Anyway I finally wrote a web app called BudgetFocus.com to make my life easier. Best wishes. Your comments here have really hit the right target.

    • Kevin East April 2, 2012 at 5:31 pm #

      Thanks, Phil. I’ll check out your website.

  12. Abrivst April 1, 2012 at 7:22 am #

    Can youtell me how to download spreadsheet?
    Thank you

    • Kevin East April 2, 2012 at 5:33 pm #

      Sure thing. Once you click on the hyperlink in the post to get to it, you:

      1. Click on “File” in the upper left-hand corner of the screen.
      2. Scroll down to “Download as”
      3. Click on Excel.

      That should take care of you….