accounting working on budget

Treat Your Marriage Like a Business

How to get the most out of your financial future together

Robert and I got married in 1986. From the get go, one of the things we decided to do was to treat our marriage like a business.

At first, that might seem strange. We like to think of marriage as something much more romanticized than a business. It’s about love and commitment. It’s about self-sacrifice and service.

But when you stop and think about it, business is about all those things too. Business owners must have love and passion. They must be committed, sometimes beyond reason. And they sacrifice much in service to others.

But even on a practical level, marriage is like a business. After all, you’re in a partnership and money is coming in and out! And if anything is mismanaged, just like a business, the marriage will often fail.

Get professional help

One of the first things Robert and I did was hire Betty the bookkeeper. Why? Because a lot of times in a marriage, the wife or the husband will manage the money, even if they’re not really good at it. That was the case with us. At the time, we were working so hard to build our business that we needed to hire a bookkeeper to make sure our numbers were accurate. It was one of the smartest decisions we ever made.

Get your finances in order

First, we realized that if our marriage was to stay strong, we needed to make sure our finances were in order. Having Betty take care of our accounting allowed us to have timely and accurate records.

The beauty of Betty was that she kept us honest on our numbers. Often, it’s so easy to say, “Oh, no. I don’t spend that much money on restaurants,” or “I don’t spend that much money on shopping,” or “No, we bring in more than that.” But actually sitting down with Betty twice a month forced us to be honest about our finances. It was pretty painful because we had to look at all the income that was coming in and all the expenses that were going out (which at the time was more than the income coming in!)

Pay yourself first

Secondly, Betty kept us honest because Robert and I were committed to paying ourselves first. That means that for every dollar coming in, 30 percent went off the top—10 percent for investing, 10 percent for savings, and 10 percent for charity—before anything was paid out to bills.

Though Betty hated it, we had charged her with making sure we didn’t cheat on this system. We knew that if we didn’t make it a priority, we wouldn’t have anything set aside for our future.

Learn to hustle together

It sounds easy, but it wasn’t! When we had a thousand dollars coming in and two thousand in expenses, to take 30 percent and put it aside to pay ourselves first was like torture. But at the same time, it was that shortfall that taught us the most about business, investing, and money.

As entrepreneurs, we worked together to figure out new ways to make up the shortfall. We’d find side jobs, or create a new product. We’d hustle our way forward. And in the end, we paid ourselves and paid our creditors. Betty almost had a heart attack, but it all worked out!

Be creative for today and tomorrow

Now, some people say they are paying themselves first, but what they are really doing is buying a new dress or a fancy vacation. That’s not paying yourself first. That’s being a financial fool!

No, paying ourselves first meant making sure our “business” was healthy with cash—meaning that our marriage life was cared for by putting aside money for investing, savings, and being generous. It was a mindset that prepared us for our future, but also taught us how to be creative in taking care of our present needs too. And it was a lot of fun.

Eventually, we used the money we set aside to make our first property investment in Portland, and the rest was history.

So, the question today for you is: Are you treating your marriage like a business? If you’re struggling financially as a couple, it might do you some good to answer questions about your finances honestly…and to make the necessary changes. You might be amazed at the results.

Original publish date: April 16, 2015

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