I was recently out with girlfriends for dinner and we had a conversation about how some couples have separate accounts and financial lives, even while married and with families. While I never judge anyone's personal lives, I really wonder how this works. I wonder, what if one person gets laid off, sick or even dies? How does this work? These couples may feel that by having separate accounts, it reduces the fighting that inevitably happens over money to pretty much every couple I know. You really can't get around it - joint or separate accounts - couples will fight over money. And the unfortunate fact is that money is one of the #1 reasons people fight and get divorced.
I am not immune to the fighting over money scenario and have had quite a few battles with my spouse over the years about money. While we still argue over (or discuss) certain financial topics, we've found a healthy balance when it comes to money and I'm going to tell you how so you can avoid all those years of anger and bitterness about something that matters so much, yet so little.
The number one way not to fight over money is to always be honest. That really is the number one way to not fight over anything! When you are honest, you develop the trust you need to share your life and your bank account with someone else. Even if your partner doesn't agree with your choices, don't hide them. Be honest and discuss where you'd like to see your money go, rather than spending it behind your partner's back. It might lead you to a good conversation about why you want to spend in that direction and you should give your partner the benefit of the doubt that they will trust your judgement. I've heard of a few couples where one partner will smoke behind the other partner's back because they don't want to hear about the money wasted on cigarettes. This just leads to distrust, anxiety while having a secret and the money is still being spent anyway.
Develop a Budget and Stick to It
Developing a budget is much easier than you think. There are many templates on the web that can help you, or you can simply list all of your bills in one category and all of your expenses in another. Figure out how much you bring in and tailor the expense category to make sure your income is more than your total deductions. This conversation is always a tough one to have as partners don't always agree about what money should be spent on. My husband and I disagree on what should be spent on groceries and on the children's activities. In the end, we compromised, giving him a little more to spend on himself and a little less on the children.
Give Yourselves An Allowance
Not all of the money has to be scrutinized so harshly. Give yourselves an allowance where you can spend a certain portion of your money on whatever you want without the other deciding what you should spend it on. My husband is the spender in the family and I am the saver. He likes to enjoy himself so he uses his "allowance" to buy beer and to go out with his friends. I do like to go out with friends, but I am also saving for a new camera and maybe a trip away. By having my own money to spend or save I can get the things I want (like an expensive camera) without having to have a fight about spending $1000 in one shot. In the same token, my husband can go out with friends until his money runs out and he won't hear complaining from me about where the money is coming from.
Set up an Emergency Savings Account
You should be saving money for things like retirement, your children's education, vacations and more, but are you saving for those emergencies that come up? I can bet that many couples get very stressed out when a large financial emergency is put into their lap and they have no other way to pay for it. This can lead to tension in the home and increase the amount of fighting. If you plan ahead and save money for disasters like vet emergencies, car repairs, home repairs and the like, you'll be prepared and feel good that you can pay for this without wondering where the money is coming from.
Don't Have Credit Cards
While credit cards serve a great purpose, they are incredible fodder for fights. It just makes it too easy to spend money when you shouldn't and it can be easy to hide those purchases and the accumulating debt it causes. Simply, don't have credit cards. I have been living without a credit card for two years now and while at times it can be tough, it has really reduced my impulse spending. There also aren't any surprise purchases at the end of the month from either of us that we have to own up to.
Compromise and Don't Give In To Power Struggles
In every relationship, one person makes more than the other. Rarely do two people make the exact amount, and in many cases the woman is the lower income earner. There are many reasons for this, but one big reason is that women take time off from their careers to birth and raise children. While my career is not a huge money maker anyway, I quit a full-time job to move to the city my husband lived in where he had a good salary to start a freelance business. Then, when my children were born I took some time off or reduced my hours to stay home and raise them. My financial contributions were small compared to my husband, but my contributions to our family were great. In many cases the person who brings home the bacon acts like the pig. They think their decisions regarding money should be weighted higher, and this only causes bitterness and tension between couples. If you act like the money is the family's money and give equal weight to each partner, your decisions will be smarter and more fair, and thus cause less fighting.
Have Equal Responsibility in Paying Bills
Don't just hand over the task of paying the bills to one partner. Be involved. That way if anything goes wrong, no blame can be attributed. Also, by both partners seeing how much the bills are and how they fluctuate, they can make decisions together on how best to reduce those bills. For example, my hydro bill can get really high at times and even with my constant nagging to my husband and children to turn things off, I don't get the results I want. I now consistently show him how high the bills can get and compare it to other things we could get if we were not paying all this money out to wasted electricity.
Don't Borrow Money From Family & Friends
Borrowing money from family is always a no-no. It is almost always a no-win situation because your love relationship now turns into a financial one. My husband and I have also been down this road and it has caused some serious heartache for us. The partner whose family you borrowed from feels resentment toward the other partner for their strained relationship with their family or friend. This means fights are inevitable. Life is best when you keep your in-laws and others out of your financial troubles.
Experience What Your Spouse Experiences
It is much easier to complain about the high grocery bills and how much is spent on children's clothing when you don't do any of the shopping yourself. Instead of making a fuss, try doing the shopping with your spouse and see how things add up. Maybe you can make improvements or maybe you'll realize your spouse is doing their best and leave it alone. Try to be understanding rather than accusatory and you'll definitely reduce the level of your fighting.
Set Goals Together
Maybe your dream is to backpack across Europe, but your spouse is dreaming of adding an addition on the house. You can save all you want, but if you don't agree on what you are saving for, someone is going to end up disappointed. Sit down and set goals for your money together. Retirement should always be number one on the savings list, unless you are planning on working until you die. After that is accounted for, you can plan for your children's education, travel, home renovations, new cars or whatever it is you want for your life together. Again, compromise is key so maybe instead of going across Europe, you only hit one country and instead of a total new addition, you renovate the kitchen.
Banner photo credit: Ed Yourdon
Bargainmoosers, how do you stop the money spats in your home?