Of course, you love your spouse or partner. But money can be a very contentious subject for a couple. First of all, merging your emotional life with another person can be taxing. When you add the economic mingling to the mix, it is downright stressful. While everything I’ll write here applies to couples that are unmarried or married, I’ll use the term “spouse” or “partner” to keep it tidy.
Over 20 years of being in my current relationship (in 19 of which we have been married), I have developed opinions and ideas about how you can potentially reduce the friction with your spouse or partner around money. Here are six ideas:
Have Common Goals
I cannot emphasize enough that if the two of you have different goals for your financial lives, you are heading for disaster. If one of you wants to save money for a boat, and the other one wants to aggressively pay down debt, there is bound to be frustration and hurt feelings, if not outright conflict.
Ask me how I know.
The fix for this is to sit down and create your financial goals as a couple. Whether it is debt payoff, building an emergency fund, saving for vacation, buying a car, saving for a house, or planning for retirement, it’s imperative that you talk it out and get some consensus. Once you have these goals, be sure not to just stick the paper in the drawer and forget about it. Review them together regularly and update them as life happens.
Find an Appropriate Division of Labor
Sometimes within a couple, one person is better suited to do all the financial tasks of the family. Sometimes the distribution of tasks is more evenly split between the couple. Either way is fine. Both ways can work beautifully.
The important idea is to make sure you discuss your strengths and weaknesses and your passions and dislikes. Would you rather clean the toilet than pay bills? Or do you love building spreadsheets and tracking the minutiae of your financial life? With a solid discussion, you should be able to determine the best division of labor for all those pesky financial tasks (and find out how much your better half hates to clean the toilet.)
Determine Your Money Personality
Everyone has their own unique money personality. Who are you when it comes to money and finances? Are you a spender or a saver? What does money mean for you? Freedom? Security? As a starting point, Olivia Mellan’s book Money Harmony offers a great discussion of money personalities.
Why is this important? It’s vitally important, especially if you are young and in a relationship. You may not have discovered yet that your worldview isn’t the only worldview. People are different, and people’s feelings about money are also different. Spend some time discussing how you were brought up and how your family of origin dealt with money. This will give your partner the insight into how you think about money, and might provide you both with more compassion and better understanding of one another when your views conflict.
Hold Regular Financial Summit Meetings
With any relationship, it’s critical to keep each other informed and keep the lines of communication open and flowing. I established our financial summit meetings in my family because I am the one who does 99.9% of the financial tasks for the house. My spouse, Greg, is fairly uninterested in the day-to-day management of the budget, and only recently has he taken a more active role in the longer-term financial planning for the family. I didn’t want to be a financial dictator, so we committed to regular summit meetings. I prepared summaries of various parts of our finances – our spending, our savings, our debts — and presented them for discussion.
Truthfully, for most of our marriage, Greg’s participation had been limited. He would say something along the lines of “Whatever you think!” when I posed a question. His goal was to finish that meeting as soon as humanly possible. That has changed more recently since we decided to go through Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University online. I invited Greg to participate with me, and shockingly, he enthusiastically agreed. So, this year our meetings have been a bit more interesting with actual discussion.
My point here is this: if one of you does the lion’s share of the financial management for your house, meet regularly to keep the other partner in the loop. If you have more evenly divided the tasks, then this meeting is to bring the other person up to speed on the parts you are overseeing. How often you do this is up to you, but I would suggest you consider monthly, or at least quarterly. Remember you’re a team and approach these meetings with respect and an open mind.
Every January, Have a State of the Union Address
If you are like me and the one doing all the financial work, this is paramount – fill in your partner. The point of this meeting is to have a once-a-year thorough review of everything. January is nice because lots of people set goals that start in the new year, and if you remember that our President gives this address each January, it will remind you to have your own.
This is a more thorough meeting than the regular financial summit meetings. It’s an opportunity to evaluate how you did last year, whether you met your goals, if your goals are changing, what other things need to change. And don’t forget to also recognize accomplishments that deserve celebration. I recommend mimosas if it is on a Saturday morning, or other adult beverages if it will be an evening event. However you choose to celebrate, just be sure you do, honoring what went right in your financial life last year!
If you make your State of the Union boring and long, no one will want to do it again next year. Instead make it an enjoyable event – a weekend morning or some evening when you don’t have to stress about what is coming up the next morning. Prepare a nice dinner, have some wine, and perhaps a nice dessert. We involve our daughter but whether you involve the kids or not is a personal choice. Our daughter is nine, and she is all sorts of nosy about what is going on in our house. So, we welcome her participation to understand how the money works around our household and to give input on the goals we set.
Be sure to prepare well for the meeting. Get the necessary information gathered and reports created ahead of time so you can focus on the big picture commentary versus the nitty-gritty details. Make it fun, people!
Consider Adult Allowances
As I’ve previously described, Greg and I decided several years ago to have monthly allowances. The amount of allowance you choose is a function of your own financial circumstances and is irrelevant for purposes of this discussion. The point is to allow each of you to have access to money that you can spend freely, without the judgmental oversight of your partner. In my house, Allowances = Marriage Saver. If you fight about money, consider implementing this idea.
Even if you don’t fight, allowances have another role to play. Sometimes when you are working hard to watch your spending to reach a goal, it can be stressful, tedious work. Having an allowance – some free money to blow each month – can give you a release valve to keep the rest of your spending on budget. Try it!
These six ideas will help remove the tension from discussions about money and finances between you and your partner. Always be respectful of one another, and remember you’re a team. Communicate often and clearly. You’ll find implementing these ideas will result in sanity, reason, understanding, and creative ideas … and might just help you avoid battle scars.
Share below other ideas you have come up with to avoid financial warfare in your house!
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