Arguing about money in marriage is common. Forbes published a study conducted by the Institute for Divorce Financial Analysis citing financial stress is the third leading cause of divorces. This statistic is definitely alarming but financial strain doesn’t need to destroy your relationship. In fact, you can avoid conflict over money by having a few simple (ongoing) conversations.
My friend recently told me how her husband came home with a large bouquet of roses. It wasn’t their anniversary or a special occasion, it was one of those “just because” moments. It was so sweet and unexpected and she normally would have swooned over that moment. However, they had just accumulated some larger bills and were focused on paying those things off, so needless to say, she was furious! The $60 he spent on that bouquet of flowers had already been budgeted for gas that week and his thoughtfulness quickly turned into an hour long argument about his thoughtlessness.
After the air cleared and cooler heads prevailed, their argument taught them both an important lesson: open communication is key to mastering finances as a team. So you might wonder, what are you supposed to talk about, and how? Check out my list below.
The top four things you and your spouse need to discuss to avoid conflict over money:
The Horrid Budget
Most people would rather do a lot of other things besides tracking every penny they spend and creating a budget. What’s the fun in that? However, you’ll likely notice that if you create a budget and stick to it, you’ll enjoy the things you do splurge on more because they are planned and you’ll have less anxiety about potentially overspending or arguing about it. It is crucial that all expenses including bills and miscellaneous expenditures are calculated as well as leaving some margin for unplanned situations. A budget is a roadmap that provides some structure and expectations so couples know what is okay for them to spend without resulting in bills not getting paid or them sleeping on the couch for the night. It is also great for helping couples dream about their future and plan goals to make it happen.
Yes, I’m serious and yes, I’m aware you guys are not children. Although it may sound silly having some spending money set aside for each spouse allows for some self-care or fun spending. Maybe you had a rough morning and want to splurge on a $5 Starbucks coffee? Maybe you want to get a relaxing mani/pedi or he wants a round of golf with the guys to unwind. Having allotted spending money allows you some freedom to choose what you want to do with it rather than having to account for each coffee or pair of shoes you just had to have. Go for it! It’s already a part of your budget! It also comes in handy if you want to surprise your spouse with a night out or a gift “just because.”
Honesty is the backbone of trust within a relationship. Couples sometimes hide purchases from their spouse in order to avoid arguments. In fact, a Time survey indicated that 6% of couples hide a financial account and 35% state it’s to avoid conflict. Talking to your spouse about all the financial responsibilities and goals will encourage trust and communication but will also position you as a team working toward the same financial goals.
We all need things to work toward. What do you and your spouse want to achieve? Goals such as a good retirement plan, house purchase, vacations, planning for children or school. It is important that you sit down and discuss what these goals are so you both can be striving for the same things. When you know you are working as a team, you know there is accountability. This also allows you to take pride in doing your part. Every so often, sit down and reevaluate your goals – it will also be motivating and rewarding as you make progress towards some of them.
Pay Yourself First
Once you have your goals in place, it’s important to pay yourself first. When you have a mortgage, car payment, and other important expenses, this may sound counterintuitive. However, there is none more important than paying you. Financial experts recommend setting aside at least 10-15% of your gross income for savings and retirement. Consistently making yourself a priority can help you achieve your short and long term financial goals. Someone is always telling you where and how to spend your money; make sure you make the decision to prioritize you and your family every single month.
To read more about how to improve your finances, I highly recommend Dave Ramsey’s book, The Total Money Makeover. He’s helped hundreds of thousands of people get out of debt and create a plan for financial freedom.
What have you and your spouse done to minimize stress around finances?