Table of Contents:

Acronyms and Abbreviations



Research on Couple Stability and Economic Stability

Relationship Finances & Asset Development: Providing Financial Information to Couples

Financial Education, Asset Development and Couples

Marriage Education Curricula Focusing on Finances

Additional Resources


Acronyms and Abbreviations

Key Federal Agencies – Departments and Programs:

Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)

ASPE – Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation

ACF – Administration for Children and Families

OCS – Office of Community Services

AFI – Assets for Independence Program

IDA – Individual Development Accounts

OFA – Office of Family Assistance

HMI – Healthy Marriage Initiative

OPRE – Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation

NIH – National Institutes of Health

DWD – Department of Workforce Development

OAP – Office of Apprenticeship Programs

HUD – Department of Housing and Urban Development

USDA – United States Department of Agriculture

CSREES – Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Services, Department of the Treasury

OFE – Office of Financial Education

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Asset Building (as a field): Refers to efforts to develop productive assets (savings, post-secondary education, home ownership and small business ownership) among low-income or disadvantaged populations in order to improve their economic self-sufficiency.

Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. July 2008. Healthy
Relationships and Financial Stability: Marriage Education, Financial Literacy, and
Asset Development Roundtable.

Financial Education: The process by which people improve their understanding of financial products, services and concepts so they are empowered to make informed choices, avoid pitfalls, know where to go for help, and take other actions to improve their present and long-term financial well-being.

Source: Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. 2005. Improving Financial Literacy: Analysis of Issues and Policies.

Financial Literacy: The ability to use knowledge and skills to manage financial resources effectively for a lifetime of financial well-being.

Source: Jump$tart Coalition. 2007. National Standards in K-12 Personal Finance Education.

Marriage & Relationship Education: Marriage and relationship education (MRE) programs provide information and teach attitudes, skills and behaviors designed to help individuals and couples achieve long-lasting, happy, and successful marriages and intimate partner relationships. This includes making wise partner choices and avoiding or leaving abusive relationships. MRE can help single parents (never-married, separated or divorced) learn to co-parent effectively, when appropriate, and have more successful relationships in the future. MRE programs teach couples skills to use in their daily lives and the following core characteristics that most healthy marriages curricula include:

Source: National Healthy Marriage Resource Center


AICPA – American Institute of Certified Public Accountants

CFED – Corporation for Enterprise Development

EITC – Earned Income Tax Credit

FDIC – Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation

MRE – Marriage and Relationship Education

NEFE – National Endowment for Financial Education


The correlation between marriage, family, and economics is well-documented. Family events like marriage, divorce, and childbearing have great influence on economic well-being and vice versa. For example, recent studies have found that many low-income unwed parents consider financial stability as a precondition for marriage. Although this is an issue that affects all families, in this collection we have emphasized resources that focus on low-income couples.

Disagreements over money are often a major source of conflict for couples at every income level. However, when money is really tight or financial circumstances suddenly change-for example, upon losing a job- the stress may lead to the breakup of their relationship or other negative effects on the couple and their children. On the other hand, when couples learn to manage their money wisely, cope with adversity, and make joint decisions about earning, spending, saving and investing, the families can attain a level of economic stability and even prosper.

These family financial decisions have become more complex given the array of new financial tools and instruments available to manage credit and investment decisions. In recent years, three new fields have developed to help individuals and couples, especially low-income persons, become better prepared to manage their finances and handle economic stress. These fields are financial education and literacy programs, asset development and marriage and relationship education. The three fields operate independently and, until recently, had little to do with each other. Financial education and asset development programs generally target individuals, yet for much of their lives individuals live in a family context and household budgeting is often a couples/family endeavor rather than an individual task. The emerging field of marriage and relationship education teaches relationship skills and acknowledges that disagreements over money are a major source of couple conflict and distress. Few, however, provide concrete information to couples about how to manage their money and what institutions and resources are available in their communities to help them.

In the last few years, several projects have attempted to bridge these three fields through conferences, literature reviews and curriculum development. Reflecting these developments, the Department of the Treasury, Office of Financial Education, recently coined the term "relationship finance" signaling its interest in promoting better collaboration.

This collection is not comprehensive. It is an annotated collection of selected publications, programs and other resources, including news articles, pulled together in one place from disparate sources. Many of the resources in the collection should be useful to practitioners helping low-income couples manage their finances and deal with financial stress. Whenever possible, we have selected items and resources available for review online. Additional publications and resources will be posted periodically as they come to our attention.

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Research on Couple Stability and Economic Stability

A significant body of research associates marital stability and quality with the family's economic situation. Financial losses can increase the likelihood of divorce while financial gains can positively influence the decision to marry. Research has also found that how couples manage money is an area of marital conflict.

Economic Stress and Couple/Marital Stability

Research shows a direct connection between financial and couple stability. Finances, and how couples manage them, can be difficult in the best economic times and when couples are satisfied with their employment and earnings. When a recession hits, one spouse is unemployed, or wages are unsatisfactory, the issue of finances can be detrimental to the relationship and even lead to divorce.

Ahituv, A. & Lerman, R. (January 2005). Job Turnover, Wage Rates, and Marital Stability: How Are They Related?  IZA Discussion Paper No.1470.
This study examines the interplay between job stability, wage rates, and marital instability. Using a Dynamic Selection Control model in which young men make sequential choices about work and family, the results capture how job stability affects earnings, how job stability and earnings affect marital status, and how marital status affects earnings and job stability. The study reveals robust evidence that job instability lowers wages and the likelihood of getting and remaining married. At the same time, marriage raises wages and job stability. 

Amato, P. R. & Rogers, S. (1997). A Longitudinal Study of Marital Problems and Subsequent Divorce. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 59: 612-624. 
This study investigated the extent to which reports of marital problems in problems in 1980 predicted divorce between 1980 and 1992, the extent to which these problems mediated the impact of demographic and life course variables on divorce, and gender differences in reports of particular marital problems and in the extent to which these reports predicted divorce. Wives reported more marital problems than husbands did, although this was due to husbands' tendency to report relatively few problems caused by their spouses. A variety of marital problems predicted divorce up to 12 years in the future.

Charles, K. & Stephens Jr. M. (2004). Job Displacement, Disability, and Divorce. Journal of Labor Economics, 22 (2): 489-522. 
This paper examines how job displacement and physical disability suffered by a spouse affects the probability that the person's marriage ends in divorce. Using the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, this paper finds an increase in the probability of divorce following a spouse's job displacement, but no change in divorce probability after a spousal disability. Furthermore, the increase in divorce is found only for layoffs and not for plant closings, suggesting information conveyed about a partner's non-economic suitability as a mate due to a job loss may be more important than the actual financial losses in precipitating a divorce. 

Conger R., Rueter, M. & Elder, Jr. G. (1999). Couple Resilience to Economic Pressure.  Center for Family Research in Rural Mental Health, Iowa State University.
This research project included over 400 married couples in a three-year prospective study of economic pressure and marital relations. Findings affirmed that economic pressure increases risk for emotional distress, which, in turn, increases risk for marital conflict and subsequent marital distress. Regarding resilience to economic stress, high marital support reduced the association between economic pressure and emotional distress. In addition, effective couple problem solving reduced the adverse influence of marital conflict on marital distress.  

Cutrona C., Russell D., Abraham W., Gardner K., Melby J., Bryant C. & Conger R. (2003). Neighborhood Context and Financial Strain as Predictors of Marital Interaction and Marital Quality in African American Couples. Iowa State University. 
This research project suggests family financial strain has an impact on the quality of marriages in the African-American community. Participants were 202 married African-American couples who resided in small towns and rural or suburban areas of Georgia and Iowa.

Dew, J. (2009).  Bank on It: Thrifty Couples are the Happiest. Essay in The State of Our Unions 2009: Money and Marriage, National Marriage Project, University of Virginia. 
This essay summarizes the relationship between consumer debt and marital quality.  Furthermore, it discusses the relationship between how spouses handle finances and their marital happiness and concludes that financial conflict is a significant problem in marriage and a predictor of divorce. 

Gura, D. (2010)  For Many Americans, 'Marriage is an Economic Decision,' Sociologist Says.  National Public Radio interview with Andrew J. Cherlin.
Andrew J. Cherlin, author of The Marriage-Go-Round: The State of Marriage and the Family Today, explains his understanding of the the U.S. Census Bureau reports that show that fewer and fewer young people are getting married in the United States.

Lerman, R. (2002). Marriage and the Economic Well-Being of Families with Children: A Review of the Literature.  The Urban Institute, Washington, D.C.
This paper brings together the empirical evidence on one aspect of the potential gains from marriage-the impact of marriage on the current economic well-being of families with children. While empirical evidence alone cannot settle public policy debates, especially on such value-laden issues as marriage promotion, evidence can inform the discussions and potentially clarify the differences between positions held by competing sides.

Rege, M., Telle, K. & Votruba, M. (September 2007). Plant Closure and Marital Dissolution. Discussion Papers No. 514, Statistics Norway, Research Department. 
This discussion paper estimates the effect of plant closure on divorce using a panel data set comprising more than 80,000 married couples in Norway. Plant closure substantially increases the likelihood of marital dissolution of workers in affected plants. The marriages of husbands originally employed in plants that closed between 1995 and 2000 were 11 percent more likely to be dissolved by 2003 than comparable marriages of husbands in stable plants. Additional analyses suggest that the effect of plant closure on divorce is not due to unexpected reduction in earnings. The results are, however, consistent with role theories in which the husband's attractiveness declines if he fails to fulfill a traditional role as a breadwinner. Research in the United States also shows that a husband's job loss appears to increase the likelihood of marital problems and divorce.

Roberts, P. (2004). I Can't Give You Anything but Love: Would Poor Couples with Children be Better Off Economically if They Married?  The Center for Law and Social Policy, (Brief No. 5).
This brief reviews research by Robert Lerman and other economists suggesting that even among mothers with high poverty rates and low educational attainment, marriage can lead to lower poverty rates and lower material hardship. It reviews the reasons why marriage can bring economic benefits to low-income couples: economies of scale; increased potential for higher joint earnings; the fact that men tend to work harder and earn more after marriage; and the fact that married couples save more and get more support from the extended family and community. Most of these benefits do not apply to cohabiting households. Although the evidence shows increasing marriage rates could contribute to poverty reduction, this finding does not by itself provide guidance about which public policies or programs might result in increased rates of marriage.  Nor should marriage be considered a substitute for other strategies to reduce poverty.

Waite, L. & Gallagher, M. (2000). The Case for Marriage. New York: Doubleday. 
This book discusses the many positive outcomes associated with marriage including increased wages and accumulated wealth over time.  Job stability promotes marital stability by assuring a steady flow of income and improving wage outcomes.  Employment also increases the likelihood of marriage.  Job instability and transitioning may cause strain on a relationship and ultimately lead to a separation or divorce. 

White, L. & Rogers, S. (November 2000). Economic Circumstances and Family Outcomes: A Review of the 1990's. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 62, 1035-1051. 
Despite nearly full employment and growing income and wealth for many Americans in the 1990s, persistent racial gaps in economic well-being, growing inequality, and declining wages for young men were noted as problem areas. The review generally supports the expectation that both men's and women's economic advantage is associated with more marriage, less divorce, more marital happiness, and greater child well-being. Important issues regarding measurement, reciprocal relations between family structure and economic well-being, race and gender effects remain unresolved.   

Wilcox, Bradford. State of Our Union: Marriage in America, 2009 Money and Marriage Report.  The National Marriage Project, University of Virginia. 
This annual report of key statistics on marriage has a special focus on new research on how the current recession is affecting marriage and divorce and how the state of family finances affects couples relationship and gender roles. Wilcox predicts that although the divorce rate fell in the first full year of the "Great Recession," this may have been only a temporary response. Wilcox highlights what he terms the "mancession"-that men, particularly working-class and poor men, experienced 75% of job losses since 2007. This may increase the divorce divide between college educated and less educated couples.

This report also includes the following essays available separately:

Economics and Entry into Marriage

Financial resources are often reported as a precursor to marriage. Many individuals considering marriage want to complete their education and have a stable job before committing to marriage. The following papers examine entry into marriage and the economic barriers that dissuade couples from marrying, especially among financially disadvantaged individuals. Some research refers to these economic goals as the "white picket fence dream," indicating that marriage is only a viable option for those with some economic stability/financial attainment. One paper does report that lower-income couples are just as likely to marry as more affluent individuals.

Research indicates that unemployment and asset building influence the decision to marry and/or make people more appealing marriage partners. These decisions also vary by gender as most studies indicate that men tend to be more likely to marry if they have (or have the potential for) greater earnings. This research also examines if these barriers to marriage impact why cohabiting relationships may or may not move into marriage relationships.

Burgess, S., Propper C. & Aasve A. (2003). The Role of Income in Marriage and Divorce Transitions among Young Americans. Journal of Population Economics, 16: 455-75.
The paper investigates the importance of income in young Americans' decisions to form and dissolve households. Data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY) suggests income plays an important role in the formation and dissolution of households among young American men and women. High earnings capacity increases the probability of marriage and decreases the probability of divorce for young men. High earnings capacity decreases the probability of marriage for young women and has no impact on divorce.

The Center for Research on Child Wellbeing. (2002). Is Marriage a Viable Objective for Fragile Families? Fragile Families Research Brief No. 9.
A substantial number of unmarried parents have low educational attainment, irregular employment, income at or below the poverty line, health limitations and problems with substance abuse.  Given that most parents believe a steady job is important to a successful marriage, these findings suggest that unmarried parents face significant challenges in maintaining their unions.

Edin, K. & Kefalas, M. (2005). Promises I Can Keep: Why Poor Women Put Motherhood Before Marriage Berkeley: California University Press. 
The authors interviewed 162 low-income single mothers in Philadelphia and Camden. They learned that these mothers placed a high value on marriage and wanted to marry some day. However, they considered both relationship stability (commitment) and financial stability a prerequisite for marriage. These women share the middle-class "white picket fence" dream and expect their partner to have a steady income, be able to pay a mortgage and afford a proper wedding. If these expectations could not be met, since they highly valued children, they saw no reason to wait to marry before they had a child.

Fein, D. J. (Working Paper – July 2004). Married and Poor: Basic Characteristics of Economically Disadvantaged Couples in the U.S.  MDRC. 
This paper looks at whether economically disadvantaged persons are less likely to marry or stay married; differences between poor and affluent couples; the use of government assistance among married couples; and differences in marital quality by economic status. This paper assembles and assesses recent descriptive statistics on the formation, stability, characteristics, and quality of marriages in the low-income population of the United States. In addition to culling findings from published reports, the paper also provides new findings from several recent surveys.  One finding is that people who are economically disadvantaged are just as likely to marry as other people, but their marriages are substantially more unstable, they tend to occur at a younger age, and one partner is more likely to have a child. 

Holland, J. (2008). Is there an Economic Bar for Marriage? Center for Demography and Ecology, University of Wisconsin.
This study investigates the hypothesized "economic bar" to marriage, the economic threshold couples must reach before they will marry. It considers differences by socioeconomic status in levels of combined couple earnings associated with increased odds of marriage among cohabiting couples. Earnings are most important for those with a high school degree or less. For couples with less than a high school degree, combined earnings of $26,000 or greater increased the likelihood of marriage. For high school graduates, the increase in marriage odds is found after $34,000. Because the earnings bar for marriage is above the poverty and phase-out threshold for many government transfer programs, it is unlikely that income supplements or tax credits would push disadvantaged couples above the bar.  

Lerman, R., Acs, G., Bianchi, S., Bir, A., & Pilkauskas, N.  Marriage, Employment and Family Functioning: A Literature Review.  U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families. (Appendix) 
A comprehensive literature review of the interaction between marriage, employment and family functioning highlighting how men's employment and earnings affect marital status as well as the effects of employment and earnings on marriage among women. The work reviews 257 working papers, reports, studies and journal articles. 

Mamun, Arif A. (December 2008). Effects of Employment on Marriage: Evidence from a Randomized Study of the Job Corps Program. Mathematica Policy Research, Inc.
The study finds clear evidence of a positive effect of employment and earnings on the likelihood of marriage for women from economically disadvantaged backgrounds in their twenties, but no significant effect on the likelihood of marriage for men from economically disadvantaged backgrounds in their twenties. This finding suggests that a positive association between men's employment and marriage relates to unobserved individual characteristics that make men more successful in both work and marriage. It is important to note that this study is based on a sample of younger individuals.

Mamun, A. (2006). The White Picket Fence Dream: Effects of Assets on the Choice of Family Union. Mathematica Policy Research, Inc.
In a qualitative analysis of 75 unmarried young couples in the Fragile Families study, it was concluded that marriage signals the "arrival" of the couple, both financially and emotionally. Because marriage is valued so highly, it is perceived as a family status to be chosen after certain economic and relational preconditions are fulfilled-after the individuals have achieved the so-called "white picket fence dream." For both men and women, this model indicates a positive association of asset ownership with transition into marriage. 

Manning, W., Lyons, H. & Porter, M. (Working Paper – July 2008). Cohabitation and Child Poverty in Metropolitan and Nonmetropolitan America: 1995-2006.  Bowling Green State University, Center for Family and Demographic Research.
Although cohabitation may provide short-term benefits to families, the potential positive economic implications for child well-being may not be long lasting. Couples living together outside of marriage in nonmetropolitan areas of the United States fare worse than those in metropolitan areas. The barriers to marriage are especially high due to employment and economic constraints in nonmetropolitan areas.

Smock, P. J. & Manning, W. D. (1997). Cohabitating Partners' Economic Circumstances and Marriage. Demography, 34(3): 331-41.
This report focuses on cohabiting couples and the impact of both partners' incomes on marital outcomes.  Using the National Survey of Households and Families, the authors looked at two time periods (1987-1988 and 1992-1994) and found cohabiting couples were more likely to marry and less likely to separate if economic circumstances among the men were more favorable.  Furthermore, the study showed that the higher the men's annual earnings, the greater the likelihood for marrying than continuing to cohabit with their partner.  According to this study, women's economic circumstances made very little difference in the likelihood of marriage over cohabiting.

Watson, T. & McLanahan, S. (2009). Marriage Meets the Joneses: Relative Income, Identity, and Marital Status. Princeton University, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Center for Research on Child Wellbeing. This report concludes people are more likely to marry when their incomes approach a level associated with idealized norms of marriage. The "marriage ideal" is determined by the median income in an individual's local reference group. For white men, relative income considerations jointly drive co-residence, marriage, and fatherhood decisions. For black men, relative income affects the marriage decision only, and relative income is tied to marital status even for those living with a partner and children.

Key Issues Couples Face in Money Management

Regardless of how much money a couple has, their ability to agree on how to spend and save can greatly influence relationship dynamics. Research has examined how family of origin, values, roles within the marriage and the pooling of economic resources affect couple relationships. Especially among low-income couples, economic insecurity can cause stress and increased conflict in marriage. Similarly, studies looked at couples who faced difficult economic times (such as the Great Depression) and their coping mechanisms and found a relationship between finances and family stability.

Callan, S. (2009). Sandbagging the Family: The Impact of Recession on Couple and Parenting Relationships. The Maxim Institute, New Zealand. 
This article summarizes the stressors on couples during difficult economic times and highlights various coping mechanisms.  Married couples may be more resilient to break up during a difficult economy because of their commitment to the relationship and connectedness. The article indicates the current financial challenges facing families due to the poor economy will likely cause more families to break up and that cohabiting couples are at greater risk for dissolution.  

Centre for Applied Microeconomics. Pooling of Income and Sharing of Consumption within Households. a) Rockwool Foundation Research Unit, Sejroegade 11, DK-2100, Copenhagen, Denmark; b) Department of Economics. University of Oxford, Manor Road, Oxford, OX1 3UQ, England (2009).
This report notes there is extensive literature within economics and economic psychology on the allocation of household income within the household (referred to as "income pooling"). In economics, this refers to the independence of household decisions from who receives the income within the household. In economic psychology, it refers to the management of household finances. The report finds that sharing does depend on who receives the income within non-pooling households, but not on the economic psychological income pooling regime, per se.  

Cogner, R., et al. (1990). Linking Economic Hardship to Marital Quality and Instability. Journal of Marriage and Family, 52, no. 3: 643-656. 
This study found that economic pressures had an indirect association with married couples' evaluation of the marriage by promoting hostility in marital interactions and curtailing the warm and supportive behaviors spouses expressed toward one another.

Dakin, J. & Wampler, R., Money Doesn't Buy Happiness, but It Helps: Marital Satisfaction, Psychological Distress, and Demographic Differences Between Low- and Middle-Income Clinic Couples. The American Journal of Family Therapy, Volume 36, Issue 4. July 2008, 300 – 311. 
This study reviewed characteristics of 51 very low-income and 61 middle-income couples receiving mental health services from a university-based community clinic offering a sliding fee scale. These were compared to a number of demographic variables. The study results show that finances are an important factor in marital satisfaction. There were significant differences between the low-income and middle income groups and the levels of marital satisfaction they reported.  The low-income couples presented with less marital satisfaction and more psychological distress than middle-income couples. The authors suggest that therapists should consider the effects of household income when working with distressed couples.

Kenney, C. (2008). Cohabiting Couple, Filing Jointly? Resource Pooling and U.S. Poverty Policies. Family Relations, Volume 53, Issue 2, June 28, 2008, 237-247. 
This study concludes that ssocial policy in the United States is inconsistent in its treatment of cohabiting parent households. Although welfare policy generally assumes that marital status should not affect the extent to which children benefit from each adult's income, tax policy and poverty classification assume income pooling among married but not cohabiting parents. Data on couples' money management and expense division from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study is used to examine household availability of cohabiting fathers' income. While mechanisms for combining income differ, the results suggest that cohabiting parents generally do pool resources, so the income of both parents should be considered in setting family policy.

Papp, L., Cummings, L. & Goeke-Morey, M. (January 2009). For Richer, for Poorer: Money as a Topic of Marital Conflict in the Home. Family Relations, vol. 58, no1, 91-103.
Guided by a family stress perspective, the researchers examined the hypothesis that discussing money would be associated with the handling of marital conflict in the home. Contrary to findings from previous laboratory-based surveys, spouses did not rate money as the most frequent source of marital conflict in the home. However, compared to non-monetary issues, marital conflicts about money were more pervasive, problematic, and recurrent. They were also more likely to remain unresolved, despite more attempts at problem solving.  

Vogler, C. (2005). Cohabiting Couples: Rethinking Money in the Household at the Beginning of the Twenty First Century. The Sociological Review, Blackwell Publishing Ltd. 
This is an investigation of the different ways couples organize money. It looks at cohabiting couples and how money management differs between cohabiting and married couples.  Cohabiting couples typically operate financially independently whereas married couples tend to pool resources.

Voydanoff, P. (1990). Economic Distress and Family Relations: A Review of the Eighties. Journal of Marriage and the Family, v52 n4 p1099-115. 
This study reviews research documenting complex processes in which macroeconomic and family demographic factors are associated with economic distress among individuals and families. It shows four components of economic distress-employment instability, employment uncertainty, economic deprivation, and economic strain-to be negatively related to individual adjustment and family relations.

Relationship Finances & Asset Development: Providing Financial Information to Couples

Couples often have financial and relationship goals but find it difficult to express, plan, and execute them. Learning to set financial goals, develop budgets and stay within them are critical skills, as are learning to save and invest for the future. Financial education programs have long been available to individuals but are less common for couples. Low-income couples have few or no assets to help them weather periods of financial stress and uncertainty. In recent decades, there has been emerging interest in providing asset development and financial literacy resources to couples. This has become even more imperative during this period of great financial stress and difficulty.


In the late 2000s, several forums of policymakers and practitioners were convened to review existing literature and discuss leveraging the strengths and experiences of the marriage and relationship education, financial literacy and asset development fields to help families weather turbulent times.

The Marriage Education, Financial Literacy, and Asset Development Roundtable Meeting Summary report summarizes research, presentations and discussions from the symposium held by the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE) in February 2008. This symposium was hosted by RTI International in collaboration with ASPE. The summary report presents the views and opinions of respected leaders in the marriage education, financial literacy, and asset development fields who were charged with identifying new approaches for collaborative service delivery to couples. 

Weathering Relationships through the Economic Crisis (March 2009), a webinar hosted by the National Healthy Marriage Resource Center (NHMRC) featured William Bailey, associate professor, School of Human Environmental Sciences – University of Arkansas.
Dr. Bailey provides a historical context between the economics of the Great Depression (1930s) versus the recession of 2008.  Selena Webb Ebo, marriage and relationship educator with the Center for Self Sufficiency, reported an increase in couple services including relationship education. Brent Orrell of ICF International shared an overview of the Workforce Investment Act/One-Stop Career Status and its role in curbing unemployment through job readiness.

Center for Best Practices, National Governors' Association (2006) State Policy Options to Encourage Asset Development for Low-Income Families. Issue Brief.
This brief describes a wide range of strategies to help low-income individuals and families gain the resources (assets) to become more financially stable and self-sufficient. These strategies include promoting savings and increasing income by utilizing available tax credits, leveraging Individual Development Accounts (IDAs), increasing home ownership, implementing legislation to curb predatory lending practices, providing financial literacy education, etc. The brief provides examples of states that have actively supported these strategies. 

McKernan, S. M. & Sherraden, M. (2008).  Asset Building and Low Income Families. Washington DC: The Urban Institute. 
Low-income families have scant savings to cushion a job loss or illness and can find economic mobility impossible without funds to invest in education, homes, or businesses. Although a lack of resources leaves such families vulnerable, income-support programs are often closed to those with a bit of savings or even a car. Considering welfare-to-work reforms, the increasingly advanced skill demands of the American workforce, and our stretched Social Security system, such an approach is inadequate to lift families out of poverty. Asset-based policies-allowing or even helping low-income families build wealth-are an increasingly popular strategy to facilitate financial stability.


News Articles and Blogs 

An increasing number of stories in the media are related to the strain couples are experiencing related to the economy. These articles are generally not based on research, but on anecdotes.  They are included as examples of the growing information about financial strain among couples highlighted in the media. Some of the resources presented may be useful to marriage and relationship education practitioners who work with couples experiencing financial challenges.

Couples and Money, a special program produced by Minnesota Public Radio (MPR News) as part of the U.S. in Recession series, was broadcast July 31, 2009.  Guest Ruth Hayden, a personal finance consultant and author of several books on personal finance, noted how the recession heightens money disagreements among couples. One observation is that more couples are deciding not to divorce because it's too expensive. 

A Marriage Survival Guide for Tough Times was compiled by popular TV show host Dr. Phil to assist couples experiencing trouble and stress in their relationship.  Presented on his show, Families Under Fire, Dr. Phil talks to two couples who say their marriages are collapsing along with the economy. They are coping with mounting debt and rising tempers.  Another couple is fighting because the wife says she's tired of being the sole provider in her household. 

Marriage Alert! Can Your Relationship Survive the Financial Crisis? offers five steps to help relationships survive the economic crisis. Marriages and relationships are buckling under the stress of these uncertain economic times, according to author, Richard Nicastro, PhD.  Dr. Nicastro is a marriage and relationship expert with more than fifteen years experience helping individuals and couples live more fulfilling lives.  

Money as the Perfect Partner, published in "The Guardian" in May 2008, contends, "the significance of marriage today is what it represents: stable circumstances." Anastasia de Waal, head of family and education at Civitas, a social policy think tank in Britain says, "Marriage is a pointer to economic stability."

Never Let Money Be an Issue – Financial Crisis and Your Marriage offers several practical suggestions on how to use the financial crisis as a stepping stone for your marriage's growth and maturity. Author and relationship coach, Ruth Purple, recommends prioritizing expenses, distinguishing between needs and wants, asking for manageable payments from creditors, and avoiding blame.

"$ingletary $ays" is a national half-hour personal finance reality show on TV One. In each program, host and Washington Post syndicated columnist, Michelle Singletary, visits people in their homes to help resolve various financial issues. Singletary is the host of an online chat on the Post's Web site, Her electronic newsletter has more than 200,000 subscribers.

6 Smart Ways to Stop Money Stress in Your Marriage emphasizes that agreeing on goals and priorities is the single most important thing a couple can do for money and marriage. Read stories from real REDBOOK reader couples as they reveal strategies that have helped them through financial uncertainty.

Six Survival Steps for Relationships is a blog for persons going through a tough time due to the current economic crisis.  Advice is given through the bloggers. Readers are advised that now, more than ever, they need relationships to provide a loving, supportive shelter from the storm occurring around each of us.

Tips for Couples

Getting to Know You, Your Co-Spender, and Money. This fact sheet provides an exercise that helps couples compare values about money. (Ohio State University Extension)

The Importance of Communication in Learning to Manage Money. This fact sheet discusses the importance of communication about money issues and presents a plan for couples to follow for learning how to deal with this important issue. (Ohio State University Extension, 2003)

Money Mechanics: Communication. This publication provides tips for couples on communicating about and resolving conflict around financial matters. (Iowa State University Extension, 2004)

Financial Education, Asset Development and Couples

Many of the systems referenced below have offered financial literacy and financial management resources to individuals for a number of years in schools, communities, and financial institutions. Recently, a few of these entities have made a concerted effort to offer more integrated couples and family-based approaches in programming and assistance in coping with the current economic climate (home foreclosures, bankruptcy, credit default, job loss, etc.).

Public Systems

Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service (CSREES) hosted the "Futuring for Families" think tank session, which brought together national program leaders in family economics, family science, and housing and indoor environments. Session objectives included: understanding the benefits of addressing family issues from an interdisciplinary perspective; gaining exposure to integrated extension programs with potential for national reach; and framing priorities for program leadership at the national, state and local levels.
CSREES is working to integrate the financial side of the house with the relationship side of the house.  CSREES has developed resources that can help address pressing concerns while maintaining focus on long-term financial outcomes. A sampling of the targeted topics and tools available at Money Management in Tough Times includes:

Department of Education As a result of the financial crisis, the education community is increasing their efforts to offer financial literacy programs for students in order to better prepare them to make smart financial choices. The Jump$tart coalition, founded before the recession, is a useful resource.

Department of Health and Human Services' Assets for Independence (AFI) is a federal program that provides grants to enable community-based non-profits and state, local, and tribal government agencies to implement and demonstrate an asset-based approach to help low-income families out of poverty. Asset building is an anti-poverty strategy that helps low-income people move toward greater self-sufficiency by accumulating savings and purchasing long-term assets.  The AFI program is administered by the Office of Community Services (OCS).  AFI uses several tools and strategies to achieve the goal of creating asset wealth for low-income people including individual development accounts (IDAs), earned income tax credits and financial literacy.

AFI projects help client families save earned income in special matched savings accounts called Individual Development Accounts. Every dollar in savings deposited into an IDA by a participant is matched from $1 to $8 by the AFI project. The IDA mechanism promotes savings and enables participants to acquire a lasting asset after saving for a few years.  Clients can use their IDA savings, including the match funds, to acquire any of the following assets: a first home, capitalization of a small business, post-secondary education or training.

Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has formed an alliance with some 65 entities through the Homeownership Preservation Foundation called "Hope Now." This alliance between counselors, mortgage companies, investors, and other mortgage market participants is designed to maximize and coordinate outreach efforts to homeowners in distress to help them stay in their homes.

Department of the Treasury, Financial Literacy and Education Commission  The Financial Literacy and Education Commission coordinate the presentation of educational materials from across the spectrum of federal agencies that deal with financial issues and markets. The commission established a Web site,, dedicated to teaching all Americans financial education basics like balancing a checkbook, buying a home, and saving for retirement. 

The Relationship Finance Summit was sponsored by the Department of the Treasury and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in January 2009. The conference, presided over by Dan Iannicola, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Financial Education, articulated the case for a couples-based, relationship approach to financial education and coined the term "relationship finance."  Dr. Craig Israelsen's opening presentation laid out the summit's overarching purpose of advancing financial literacy among Americans. The conference was an effort to promote more collaboration between the fields of financial education and marriage and relationship education.  Two briefs resulted from the summit:  and

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) created a memorandum of understanding with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to establish a national partnership to promote financial education using Money Smart, FDIC's financial education curriculum for teens and adults.

HUD also has a Web site to assist families facing foreclosure. A section of the Web site is entitled "Tips for Avoiding Foreclosure." This effort also sponsors housing counselors throughout the country who can provide advice on buying a home, renting, defaults, foreclosures, credit issues, and reverse mortgages.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Extension Service is recognized in all 50 states and provides education in finances to rural couples and families.  Working through land-grant universities and other partners, these programs provide information resources and programs for youth, financially vulnerable populations, and consumers making financial decisions throughout their lifetime.

Military Programs

The Association for Financial Counselors & Planners (AFCPE) actively trains military families within the deployment process and provides retirement planning and financial management.  Approximately 500-600 financial counselors work in this program, the majority through Navy Family Support Centers.

First Command Educational Foundation has been granted approval to conduct educational programs for four of the five military branches. The military has also historically delivered services, including financial literacy, through family support centers worldwide. A specific program, developed independently by Dr. Taffy Wagner, D. Min., focuses on assisting military spouses in the areas of managing money and credit.

Private Sector Systems 

American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) has developed several tools couples can use including the Couples & Marriage Financial Literacy Kit and the Couples Quiz about Financial Compatibility.

Grameen America provides micro-credit lending loans to low-income U.S citizens to counter the impact of the economic crisis.

 Home Based Business & Financial Education "Home Based Business & Financial Education for Couples" by Greg Six is an approach to help families overcome the limited job market by utilizing entrepreneurial opportunities and developing livelihoods that allow for more couple and family time.

Smith Barney and Citigroup Financial  have made an unprecedented 10-year, $200 million commitment to support and promote financial education programs around the world. In support of Citigroup's commitment to financial education, Smith Barney launched a Financial Education Initiative to support relationships with local and national non-profit organizations that have or will work with Smith Barney to develop financial education programs. Smith Barney seeks to give back to communities by increasing the level of financial literacy and entrepreneurial skills, beginning with America's young people.

Non-profit Systems

Corporation for Enterprise Development's (CFED) is a non-profit organization that aims to expand economic opportunity by helping Americans start and grow businesses, save for their children's and their own future, go to college and own a home.  CFED promotes and provides training and technical assistance for a variety of projects and activities including Individual Development Accounts (IDAs) projects and Saving for Education, Entrepreneurship and Down Payment Initiative (SEED). SEED is a multi-year national initiative to develop, test and impel matched savings accounts and financial education for children and youth.  
Finding Paths to Prosperity is a new curriculum to aid IDA programs in providing financial literacy education. The effort is an alliance between the National Endowment for Financial Education, the Corporation for Enterprise Development, and the Fannie Mae Foundation.

Crown Ministries developed and launched the Road to Financial Freedom curriculum series, an introductory outreach program for launching a financial teaching program in the church. The series consists of a sermon series along with supporting student materials for Bible study, Sunday school, and/or small groups.

Financial Peace University, Inc. is a non-profit organization committed to empowering individuals, families and students to become financially self-sufficient by combining accountability with education. They provide in-kind support and fund development assistance for non-profit organizations that promote financial literacy.  A variety of curricula is available for church members, military families, and elementary and high school students.  Also available at:

 Institute for Financial Literacy provides bankruptcy related pre-filing counseling and post-filing debtor education services.  They also have created the National Standards for Adult Financial Literacy and have a number of resources available.

National Endowment for Financial Education (NEFE) operates the Financial Education Clearinghouse with curricula and resources on a variety of topics, including credit management, entrepreneurship, and homeownership. 

United Way of Los Angeles operates and funds a regional financial literacy grant program called Providing and Funding Financial Literacy Programs for Low-income Adults and Youth.  The program focuses on three principles used in the design and delivery of financial literacy programs for low-income workers and youth.  Principles for youth include designing age-appropriate themes for all age levels, and encouraging savings and financial opportunities from an early age.

Women's Opportunity Resource Center (WORC) launched Building Blocks to Financial Success, an internet-based financial education course developed to teach low-income participants money management, financial planning and how to create savings goals. Registrants can qualify for Individual Development Accounts (IDA) and for Family Savings Accounts (FSA) which supply matching funds for savings dollars used to meet specific financial goals.

Women Speak has developed resources on money management directed at couples.  These include 25 Financial Tips for Couples by Kathleen Gurney, PhD. and Ginita Wall, CPA, as well as resources dealing with money issues throughout different life stages.


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Marriage Education Curricula Focusing on Finances

Traditionally, few marriage education programs included content on financial management. However, this is beginning to change as government-funded relationship and marriage education is now being offered to low-income individuals and couples in response to the stressed economic environment.  The following is a list of curricula that contain significant content related to money management. These materials are typically for couples in a committed relationship or who are engaged or married.

A Guide to Low-Cost Curricula and Resources for Marriage and Relationship, Fatherhood and Parenting, and Financial Education, (2009) compiled by the Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services,  offers a list of low-cost or free curricula to support efforts to strengthen relationships for singles, couples, parents or families.  This document contains 17 Financial Education curricula and 23 Financial Education resources.

Building Assets, Building Stronger Families: A Guide for Combining Asset Building with Family-Strengthening and Healthy Marriage Services (BABSF) is the product of a two-year project funded by the Office of Community Services, Administration for Children and Families (ACF), in their Assets for Independence Program (AFI). The project was an effort to integrate relevant information from marriage education with financial education.  The guide provides a wealth of ideas, resources and activities for AFI practitioners interested in integrating marriage and family strengthening services into their projects.  It should be useful for relationship and marriage educators and others. Included are such important topics as money values and attitudes; family dreams and goals; family budgeting; family saving; banking and investment; and credit and debt. Although tailored to the needs of AFI grantees, the BABSF resource guide is available to the public online. 

Couple Communication I and II programs (Miller and Miller) include the THRIVE Online Collaborative Inventory, an online self-partner-relationship awareness tool comprised of 67 questions that gives a couple a comprehensive picture of their relationship, including strengths and challenges, on a single page.   

Money Habitudes cards were developed by Sybil Solomon. This game-like activity is associated with a positive social experience. The categories, statements and interpretations are based on the most common themes found in financial and psychological research and popular publications. After being tested on multiple focus groups, the cards were reviewed by professionals around the country including consumer educators, financial planners, accountants, psychologists, counselors, personal and professional coaches, military personnel, career counselors, human resource professionals and leaders of financial associations and community programs. 

PREP Inc.® has a full day (six-hour) Money Management Workshop that teaches money management skills (teamwork orientation, developing a budget together, discussing debt, etc.). The focus is on developing a few essential skills. This is offered as part of the Within Our Reach curriculum which PREP designed to help economically-disadvantaged couples achieve their goals in relationships, family, and marriage. PREP curriculum developers, Howard Markman, Scott Stanley and Natalie Jenkins, along with William Bailey authored the book, "You Paid How Much for That?" a popular resource offering financial management tips for the couple relationship. 

Together We Can: Creating a Healthy Future for Our Family focuses on improving co-parenting relationships of single parents. Lessons in this six-module curriculum include: positive co-parenting relationships, stress and conflict management strategies, ongoing involvement of both parents, money management/child-support payment, and healthy decisions about romantic and couple relationships.

The Utah Commission on Marriage has a section on Money Management.

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Additional Resources

These additional resources provide background information on marriage and relationship education (MRE), policy issues, and financial health, as well as books and tip sheets specifically written for the public.

Products from the National Healthy Marriage Resource Center:

Frequently Asked Questions: Finances and Marriage

Frequently Asked Questions: Work Arrangements and Marriage

The Impact of Divorce on Families (webinar)

Marriage and Money After Retirement

Strategies for Couples Dealing with Financial Strain

TANF Funds and Healthy Marriage Activities

White Papers and Research Reports:

Avellar, S. & Smock, P.J. (2006). The Economic Consequences of the Dissolution of Cohabiting Unions. Journal of Marriage and Family, 67(2), 199-212.

Scifaldi, B. (2008). The Taxpayer Costs of Divorce and Unwed Childbearing: First-Ever Estimates for the Nation and All Fifty States. Institute for American Values; Institute for Marriage and Public Policy; Georgia Family Council; Families Northwest.

Shirer, K., Contreras, D., Chen, G. & London, E. (2006). Together We Can: Creating a Healthy Future for Our Family. Michigan State University.

Stanley, S., Markman, H. & Jenkins, N. (2008). Marriage Education and Government Policy: Helping Couples Who Choose Marriage Achieve Success.

Turvey, M. & Olson, D. (2006). Marriage and Family Wellness: Corporate America's Business?  A Marriage CoMission Report.


Self-Help Books:

Bach, D. (2002).   Smart Couples Finish Rich: 9 Steps to Creating a Rich Future for You and Your Partner. Broadway.

Barnhill, J. A. (2002). Til Debt Do Us Part: Marriage, Money, and How to Talk About It.  Harvest House Publishers.

Collins, V. & Brown, S. B. (1998). Couples and Money: A Couples' Guide Updated for the New Millennium. Gabriel Publications.

Dubin, A. G. (2001). Prenups for Lovers: A Romantic Guide to Prenuptial Agreements. Villard.

Gibson, R. C. (1998). First Comes Love, Then Comes Money. New Leaf Press.

Hayden, R. L. (1999). For Richer, Not Poorer: The Money Book for Couples. HCI.

Jenkins, N. H., Stanley, S. M., Bailey, W. C. & Markman, H. J. (2002). You Paid How Much For That? How to Win at Money without Losing at Love. Jossey-Bass.

 Klontz, B., Kahler, R. & Klontz, T. (2008).  Facilitating Financial Health: Tools for Financial Planners, Financial Coaches, and Financial Therapists. National Underwriter Company. 

Klontz, T., Kahler, R. & Klontz, B. (2005). The Financial Wisdom of Ebenezer Scrooge: Five Principles to Transform Your Relationship with Money.  HCI.

Mellan, O. (1995). Money Harmony: Resolving Money Conflicts in Your Relationships. Walker & Company.    

Olson, D. & Olson, A. K. (2000). Empowering Couples: Building on Your Strengths. Life Innovations, Inc.

Singletary, M. (2006). Your Money and Your Man: How You and Prince Charming Can Spend Well and Live Rich. Random House.