Money Mistakes in a Marriage, and a Formula for Solving Them

an angry couple sitting on a couch with cardboard boxes over their heads that have drawn-on smiley faces

Money is one of the biggest causes of arguments for 70% of married couples, surpassing disputes about household chores, sex, snoring, what’s for dinner and togetherness, according to a poll by Time Money.1

The complaints include fighting over spending and saving, spending money in secret, and not sharing financial decisions.

Not talking about money is one solution — though it’s likely to lead to more problems.  For couples who want to work together to decide how to spend their money, there’s a possible answer that a mathematician solved 67 years ago.

In a paper called “The Bargaining Problem,” John F. Nash, Jr. proposed an equation on how two people can divide something to the maximum benefit of both people.2  (You may know Nash best from A Beautiful Mind, a 2001 film based on his life.)  His theory isn’t romantic, but it can be used to divvy up anything that’s quantifiable, like money.

An agreement can’t be enforced without each participant’s approval, which requires a mutually beneficial agreement.  With that in mind, instead of a 50-50 split, the money is divided in a way that makes both sides as happy as possible about the outcome.

An Example

Let’s say that a couple has $5,000 to spend, either by putting it into savings or on a vacation.  The husband votes the former, rating his happiness as a 7 if all of the money went into savings.  If they can’t agree and no one gets anything, he rates his happiness as a 3.

The wife wants to spend the money on a vacation, putting her happiness at an 8 if all the money went to that goal.  If no agreement is reached and no one gets anything, she rates her happiness as a 3.

The formula calculates that the best solution is allocating $2,634 for savings and $2,366 for a vacation.  It gives the husband a happiness level of 3.7 and the wife one of 3.8.  Why?  Nash’s equation uses simple algebra to determine the money split that provides the highest value for each person.

Hoping for a simpler solution?

One option is to have regular conversations about money as a couple and talk about financial responsibilities.  This could include going over a family budget that has separate accounts for each spouse to spend a certain amount each month as they see fit.

If money is too difficult to talk about or you want an unbiased third party, or if you just want to make better decisions together, consider working with a Money Coach to help you figure out your financial goals.  If you’re living beyond your means, which is another common disagreement among couples, then a Money Coach can help you set a budget and get out of debt.

Still on the fence?  Here’s what one of your peers had to say about working with a Money Coach:

“[Our Money Coach] did not focus on just one of our concerns or questions, but both of ours.  [She] had a unique ability to answer both our questions while bringing them back to the main goal of the call.  This skill not only aligned my wife and I around finances, but set us up as a team for our financial future.  Since our call, I am glad to report that my wife and I are applying the bi-weekly check-ins on our finances and are on path to achieve our financial goals.  In addition, we have turned a sensitive topic into a positive topic.”

Recognizing the problem can be the first step to better money solutions in a marriage.  In fact, reading this article means you’re being proactive, so you’re that much closer to a better financial future!

The next step is easy.  Call 888-724-2326 to work with a Money Coach and create a financial plan that takes all your hopes and dreams and circumstances into account.


1“Poll: How Husbands and Wives Really Feel About Their Finances.”  Time Inc., 1 June 2014,  Accessed 10 Aug. 2017.

2“The Bargaining Problem.”  Econometrica, April 1950,  Accessed 10 Aug. 2017.