Does Thinking About Your Spouse Change Your Financial Behavior?

By Wendy De La Rosa and Tuo Yang

Take a moment and think about the most important financial decisions you make in your life: buying a house, investing for retirement, or saving for your kids’ education. For most of your life-altering financial decisions, you will likely have your spouse by your side. Making financial decisions with your loved one, however, is stressful. In fact, financial decisions can make or break marriages: finances are the leading cause of stress in a relationship, and the second leading cause of divorce in the United States.

Yet, despite the high stakes involved in making financial decisions with spouses, people often fail to seek out financial advice. In the Survey of Consumer Finances conducted by the Federal Reserve, only 29% of households reported receiving advice on investment and borrowing decisions. Moreover, a study using data from the American Life Panel discovered that only 18% of respondents reported asking for retirement and investment advice. Research indicates that financial advice can effectively improve financial well-being, as it facilitates better goal-setting.

Given the benefits of financial advice on one hand and the difficulty of seeking advice on the other, we were curious to explore the following question: can we get couples to seek out financial advice?

To answer this question, we asked 757 married respondents to allocate their monthly household income across a variety of categories, including food, housing, debt, and saving. We randomly assigned participants to one of two conditions. People in the first condition were asked to think about how they made financial decisions alone in the past month, while people in the second condition were asked to think about how they made those decisions with their spouse. After they allocated their budget, we then asked participants whether they would like to make an appointment with a financial advisor to review their allocation.

We found a surprising result: while our manipulation did not impact how participants allocated their money across the different categories, it did impact the likelihood of seeking financial advice. Participants who were primed to think about their spouse were 25 % more likely to seek out financial advice.


Our results indicate that people are more likely to seek financial advice when they are asked to think about their partners. While it’s still too early to conclude where and how we should offer financial advice to couples, prompting people to have their partners in mind could in itself be a solid first step towards seeking financial advice. Advice to couples: next time you make a financial decision, take a moment and think about your loved one first.