FrHenrySiew.jpgMoney is an important and sensitive issue in married life. Father Henry Siew advises on ways to handle financial matters.

Father Henry Siew, parish priest of St. Anne's Church, is the spiritual director to Mandarin Marriage Encounter Weekend.

It is good to have money

ONE IMPORTANT ASPECT of married life is related to financial affairs. How this is managed will directly affect spousal relationship. If it is properly done, life can be a breeze. But when the reverse is true, its effect on family life can be disastrous. Money is an important and also a sensitive matter. Couples must handle it with care.

Is it best to place the responsibility of managing the family finances on one person,just one person to control all the expenses of the household as well as every member's personal expenses? Let us look at the following situation:

A newly wedded wife suddenly demands that she should be fully in charge of family money. Her husband is taken aback and does not express his opinion immediately. The next day he brings home her favourite durians. When the wife is eating the durians, he asks her, "Ling, do you think you will enjoy it more when I buy you the durians or when you buy them yourself?"

"Of course when you buy them for me!" she replies. "You see, if I let you have all the money, I won't be able to buy you durians," he explains. The wife accepts her husband's point of view and gladly agrees that they should share the responsibility of managing their money.

Depending on their personal taste and consumption habits, members of a household may have different views on what to spend on and how much even for ordinary expenses like utility bills, conservancy charges, groceries, phone bills, rental and children's expenses; or for shared durable goods like the sofa, electrical appliances, computers; or other expenses like renovation.

A family must try to work out their differences and make an arrangement that is acceptable to all. Should a single person be fully in-charge of these common expenses, or is it better to split the responsibility between husband and wife? This question can only be answered by the couple themselves.

People should know their own character and capability, strengths and weaknesses. Between the couple, if one person is impulsive and disorganised, this person obviously should not be the "Finance Minister". The person who is more organised and careful about spending is more suitable for the job.

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Common and individual expenses

Even when it is decided that only one person should be in charge of the family finances, it does not mean that the other spouse should be totally hands-off and not bother at all. The other spouse has the right to express an opinion and should always help out. When circumstances change, they should adapt and alter the management style. The basic rule is this: The best person under the particular circumstances should be the one managing the finances.

Spouses should decide beforehand the amount of money each should contribute every month to an account for common expenses, and the person agreed to by both parties should manage this account. In this way, undesirable behaviour like impulse buying or uncontrollable spending can be avoided.

Besides this common account, husband and wife should maintain separate individual accounts. This is not "secret money" that husband or wife keep from each other; rather it is "open money" owned by each individual. If both are working, they should agree on the amount each one should contribute to their common fund. The formula used to derive the amount could be based on income level or other index agreed upon by both. The remaining income will become the "private property" of each spouse.

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When only one spouse is working

If only one party is working, normally the bulk of the income will have to be in the common pool. However, the working person can also keep some money for personal expenses. The nonworking spouse should be entitled to personal money as well. It is wrong to think "You shouldn't have any private money if you are not working".

The party who is not working actually sacrifices the opportunity to earn an income in order to take care of the family. He or she has the right to some economic power too. It is not fair for one to be totally dependent on the working spouse and not have some degree of financial freedom. A person united to another in marriage should still maintain his or her individuality. Personal rights and dignity should not be forfeited. Each individual has his or her own preferences, hobbies and friends.

Married couples will of course do things together as a family; however, they should also be allowed to have personal choices. For instance, the wife may like to read; she can buy her favourite books with her own money. Likewise, the husband may enjoy music; he can purchase CDs with his own money. This way, the non-working spouse can have the freedom to buy what he or she wants without having to constantly ask for money.

It is unjust to have one party monopolise the financial power and have total control of the spouse's spending. If the person who holds the purse strings says to a spouse, "We are married, and my money is yours. Why bother having a separate personal account?" the retort is: "Give your spouse all the money then."

When a couple have separate personal accounts, disagreements will be easier to resolve. For example, if the wife likes to give her parents a bigger allowance, she can take it from her own account. If the husband wants to give a bigger donation to the church or charity, he can take it from his personal account as well.

Ideally the couple should compromise and agree on these issues through discussion. Through dialogue they can learn responsibility and establish a solid foundation for family unity.

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The problem with "secret money"

The least ideal situation is to keep "secret money". This is likely to cause suspicion. If the husband is the one having a secret account, and the wife finds out, she may suspect that he is having an affair or keeping money for his own family. If it is the wife with the secret account, the husband may "punish" her by giving her less allowance for household expenses.  Whichever the case, it will lead to unnecessary quarrels and conflicts.

Even if the secret is not discovered, the person having the secret account may live in a state of anxiety. A good marital relationship may be ruined because of this. The fact is, everyone is entitled to have some personal money. Rather than play hide-and-seek, spouses should respect each other's right to have such financial freedom.

However, there may be special circumstances that may cause a person to keep a secret account - like fear that wrongdoing may recur and therefore some money should be "secreted away" just in case it is needed. Otherwise, in a normal marital relationship, there should not be such a thing as a secret account.

To summarise, spending should always be wise and within one's means, be it for family or personal expenses; the person who has more self-control should be the one in charge of family expenses; and each spouse is entitled to his or her own private money; money matters are very important to spousal relationship, and a couple must pay due attention to it! And gambling should be avoided because it can ruin a perfectly happy family. â– 



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