SMI on the Radio: Money & Marriage (audio & transcript)

Feb 21, 2024
Listen to Article:

To be successful with money, a husband and wife must learn to recognize each other's money-management strengths and be sensitive to each other's financial concerns.

SMI's managing editor Matt Bell offered advice on that topic yesterday on Faith & Finance. Click the play button below to listen. Scroll down for the transcript.

Matt is the author of Money & Marriage: A Complete Guide for Engaged and Newly Married Couples and Trusted: Preparing Your Kids for a Lifetime of God-Honoring Money Management.

Faith & Finance with host Rob West airs each weekday morning on American Family Radio. A different version airs weekday afternoons on Moody Radio.

(For more radio appearances by members of the SMI team, visit our Resources page.)


Rob West:
Each of us has an "inner money manager." So what happens if your's and your spouse's disagree?

Hi! I am Rob West.

Couples who can reconcile differences about handling their finances avoid a lot of conflicts in marriage today. Matt Bell tells us how to do that — and then it's on to your calls at 800-525-7000.

This is Faith & Finance on American Family Radio — biblical wisdom for your financial journey. (opening music ends)

Well, it's always a treat to have Matt Bell on the program. Matt's the managing editor at Sound Mind Investing and the author of several books on personal finance, including Money and Marriage: A Complete Guide for Engaged and Newly Married Couples. Matt, great to have you back with us.

Matt Bell:
Great to be with you, Rob.

Rob West:
So, Matt, you have an article at titled Marriage and Your Inner Money Manager. Is it safe to say that we don't all have the same inner money manager? (chuckle)

Matt Bell:
Yeah, that's absolutely right, Rob, because if you think about it, we all come at marriage from a unique set of experiences and ways of thinking about money. We've been influenced by our parents, the culture we grew up in — even different parts of the country have different habits and practices.

And, so, really, I think one of the most significant differences that we often come into marriage with is a different temperament. And temperament plays a really important role in the ways that we think about and use money.

In essence, temperament is our "nature." It's how God has "wired us up" — which has a lot to do with how we just naturally react to certain situations.

And temperament impacts all areas of our lives, but it certainly comes with inherent strengths and weaknesses when it comes to money. So that's why it can be so important for a husband and wife to understand each other's temperament, and it's really important to use those insights to learn how to manage money together as a team.

Rob West:
Yeah, that's exactly right. But speaking from personal experience, that's easier said than done, right?

Matt Bell:
(chuckle) That's absolutely true. Yeah, I mean, it's interesting that men and women tend to come at money from such different directions — there's a lot of interesting research out there — and these different perspectives on money can lead to conflict.

So here's just a sampling of some of the research I've seen. For one thing, men and women tend to have different spending priorities. When you ask men and women about their indulgences, what they like to splurge on, for example, men are more likely to choose "Electronic Gear" whereas women are more likely to say "Travel."

Rob West:

Matt Bell:
Men and women come at money from different emotional perspectives. And this one, I think, is especially interesting when asked what terms they associate with when it comes to money, men are more likely to say things like "Confidence." Women are more likely to choose terms like "Anxiety" and even "Confusion."

Rob West:

Matt Bell:
Yeah, it's interesting, isn't it?

Men and women are interested in different financial topics. Men tend to be more into investing in entrepreneurship, whereas women tend to gravitate toward articles about how to save on this or that.

Men tend to be more likely to ask for more money — they tend to negotiate when applying for a job more so than women.

And men tend to be more comfortable taking on higher levels of risk with investing — which often doesn't end well. The research shows that men tend to make more investment mistakes than women do.

So, there's just a lot of really interesting natural ways that men and women tend to differ in their perspectives on money.

Rob West:
Yeah, that's so fascinating — and it really explains a lot of the conflict that arises in marriage. Now, making it even more challenging, though, I've heard that financial opposites attract. Is that actually right, based on the research?

Matt Bell:
That is right, Rob. There's some interesting research out of Northwestern University and the University of Pennsylvania. And the research they did found that in moments of clear, rational thinking — when we're just thinking about what would suit us best in a mate — we tend to think of the type of person who is similar to us in how we think about and use money. That seems logical to us.

However, when the real world happens and someone we're actually attracted to walks by, we tend to choose a mate that's very different than us when it comes to money. For example, spendthrifts tend to marry tightwads and vice versa. So, it's not like one person is right and one person is absolutely wrong, but it's difficult sometimes to kind of naturally come together. It takes some time and some work.

Rob West:
What about how men and women differ in how they look at their own financial situation?

Matt Bell:
This one is really interesting, I think. So, women tend to believe their situation is worse than it actually is. Sometimes overstating how much debt they have. And men, they're just the opposite. They tend to believe their situation is better than it often is, sometimes overstating how much they earn.

Rob West:
I'm ready to talk about what we can do about it. So, how can we reconcile these differences?

Matt Bell:
Yeah, well, something that can help a lot is learning more about how God has wired you up, and how God has wired up your spouse — so this gets back to temperament, which we touched on briefly earlier. So knowing your temperament and that of your spouse will go a long way toward helping you understand why both of you do what you do with money and pretty much everything else for that matter. But it can help you work together as a team.

I think temperament is just a fascinating thing to discover about yourself and about your spouse. You never quite finish the discovery, but it's just a fascinating set of insights that comes with this effort.

So, even the simple insight that a person's temperament typically doesn't change. That can be helpful because if you're having some recurring disagreement, maybe it's because you're trying to change something about each other that just really won't ever change. And that isn't horrible news, and it's not like an excuse to say, "Oh, well, my temperament is what it is, and so I can just keep on doing this behavior that irritates you." That's not a great idea.

The better perspective is to discover your temperament with the perspective that you can learn how to manage it and how to maximize the strengths — money-management-wise — that tend to come with each temperament and learn to manage around the weaknesses.

Rob West:
Because if we don't do that, Matt, and lean into it, then we end up living separate — even secretive — financial lives, right?

Matt Bell:
Yeah, that's absolutely true. I mean, back to some of the research on this topic, it's pretty eye-opening when men and women are asked questions that really depict the state of their relationship when it comes to money.

So, for example, 20% of married people agree with this statement, "I don't discuss how much I make with anyone, including my spouse." That's kind of surprising, isn't it, that somebody wouldn't even know how much their own spouse earns?

Nearly two-thirds of married people have no idea when their spouse plans to retire. Can you imagine you're seeing your spouse go out the door in the morning with the golf clubs, and that's your first hint that they may have retired?

Rob West:

Matt Bell:
Something like 44% of married people say, "It's okay to keep financial secrets." The typical, most-common type of secret is debt of some kind — credit card debt and such.

Roughly 40% of men and women confess to lying to their spouse about how much they spent on something.

And this one is kind of interesting: While women have a fairly good feel for what financial issues are important to their husbands, husbands not so much. So, for example, Rob, a relatively small percentage of U.S. men apparently believe that having the right investments is something that's important to our wives, whereas nearly half of women say that's important to them. And less than half of men think that having money set aside for emergencies is something that their spouse cares about, whereas — not surprisingly — more than 70% of women say that is, in fact, something that's important to them.

Rob West:
Yeah, that's fascinating, Matt. All right, so if couples then disagree on their finances, how do they reconcile those differences?

Matt Bell:
Yeah, a lot of it comes down to communication — communication is just a key to so many important good things in marriage. But it comes down to if you understand each other's temperament, then that starts to provide a roadmap for how to get the most from each other's natural wiring around money management and work around those weaknesses, like I said.

So, for example, there's different classification systems out there when it comes to temperament, and they all trace back to Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine. All the way back in 370 B.C., he identified four temperaments: the choleric, the sanguine, the phlegmatic, and the melancholy.

And so if we want to start unpacking some of these, you can start to see how helpful it is to understand, again, both how God has "wired you up" and how God has "wired up" your spouse.

So if just we just choose one of those — say, the choleric if you want to start there. The choleric is the charging, kind of "bottom line," Type-A sort of person. The financial implication is that these folks tend to be really good at crashing through obstacles. You want to set a goal of saving up enough money for a certain purchase? They're the person to kind of set that vision and pursue that goal with a lot of vigor.

But the problem that the downside — they all come with pros and cons — the downside to the choleric is that they can have a tendency to sort of run ahead of their spouse sometimes, even making decisions about investments — or even spending sometimes — without the input of their spouse, which is not exactly a great idea.

Rob West:
Folks are already starting to identify themselves as you're talking here, Matt. Let's move on to the sanguine temperament. What do we need to know there?

Matt Bell:
Yeah, the sanguine is the outgoing, colorful, winsome, kind of "life of the party" sort of person. So when it comes to career choice, very naturally they tend to gravitate toward people-centered jobs. So they tend to gravitate, perhaps, to sales jobs.

However, the other financial implication for them is that they don't tend to love the details. I mean, I heard somebody say one time that he "never met a sanguine accountant" — and that's probably true. So that combination of a "people person" sort of job in sales, where there might be a variable income, that tends to not pair up very well with a lack of interest in budgeting — it can leave their finances kind of messy.

So, if you're married to a sanguine, the advice is don't try to turn your spouse into the keeper of the budget. That's probably not going to end well. Just get them to drop their receipts in the vicinity of the budget, and then you be the one to enter the data.

Rob West:
Yeah, I love how you're building a bridge from the temperament to how we actually then respond to that and assign different roles and appreciate each other's differences.

Let's go to the phlegmatic.

Matt Bell:
Sure. So this is the person that tends to be kind of the "Steady Eddie" — very reliable, dependable, predictable, really good, steady work ethic. They can be counted on to show up and methodically get the job done.

However, they can kinda lack motivation to go the extra mile, and that might have them underperforming in terms of their work potential — their career potential.

They can also be frugal to the point of even being cheap. So, if you hesitate at the idea of leaving any more than a 15% tip at a restaurant, you may be phlegmatic.

Rob West:
(chuckle) That's helpful to know. All right, there's one more. It's melancholy. Tell us about that one.

Matt Bell:
Yeah, so this is not necessarily a sad person — unless you think of budgeting as a sad activity — because melancholies tend to be the type that take most easily to the use of a budget. A melancholy is disciplined, a planner. They tend to have kind of lofty ideals.

Now, while their detail orientation can make them really good at keeping records, they can sometimes be a little too detail-oriented, striving for the perfect budget and getting frustrated if it's off to even a penny. They can also be a bit unrealistic sometimes, setting goals that are really beyond the reach of most mortals.

Rob West:
Yeah, that's helpful. All right, bring this home for us, Matt. After a couple identifies their individual temperaments — and, by the way, there are a lot of resources to help you go deeper on this — how does that then help them?

Matt Bell:
Yeah, again, I think it's a fascinating area of discovery. I mean, let's all be students of our spouse — and of ourselves — of how God has wired us up for our whole lives. I think it's just a fascinating journey of exploration.

And when each spouse begins to really understand their own temperament and that of their spouse, it can foster empathy and grace. We can stop blaming them for certain things and start to understand more of where they're coming from.

It can help a lot in stopping to be so frequently frustrated by each other's financial tendencies and, again, to kind of gain an understanding of where they're coming from and why they're tending to react to certain situations as they are. And that can open up the possibility of learning how to maximize each other's natural money management strengths while navigating around their natural weaknesses.

In essence, it's just a great way for couples to learn to manage money as a team.

Rob West:
Wow. This is a game-changer, Matt. So thankful for your time today, my friend. Thanks for stopping by.

Matt Bell:
My pleasure, Rob.

Rob West:
That's Matt Bell with Sound Mind Investing. Read this article at

All right, your calls are next. The number: 800-525-7000.

I'm Rob West, and this is Faith & Finance. We'll be right back.

Written by

Joseph Slife

Joseph Slife

Joseph Slife has been a news writer for the Associated Press, a college instructor, and a radio host. He and his wife Joye have three grown sons.

Revolutionize Your Investing Approach

Unlock Your Wealth-Building Potential with Sound Mind Investing

Don't leave your investments to chance. Let Sound Mind Investing guide you to financial success. Experience the power of our simple, rules-based strategies and see your wealth grow.

Unlock your wealth-building potential for as little as $0.32 a day.