Q: My spouse and I constantly argue about money, or don’t talk at all. He wants to freely spend our money on whatever he wants and resists my efforts to save and be frugal. Can you help me?
A: First of all, let me say that you are not alone. Many couples find it difficult to agree on how to spend their money.
My husband and I have had our own hardships in the past and we have had to do some work to overcome them. Marriage can be a wonderful, beautiful partnership, but the road to get there is a rocky one because two people who have their own ideas, personalities and habits are trying to come together to form one unified team.
Each of you have expectations (based on the way your family handled money and the habits you have formed) and belief systems, and many times those expectations and beliefs conflict. The key is to talk about what each of you want and to work through the details to come to an agreement.
Here are some ideas to get you started:
The Money Date
Regular communication is key to making your relationship work, but money can be one of the hardest things to talk about. To make it a little easier you can set up weekly “money dates” where you drink coffee (or eat dessert) and talk about your money and your financial goals. Just keep the dates fun and limit the time that you discuss your money to 15-20 minutes max.
Dave Ramsey says that in almost every marriage there is one spouse who is a “nerd” (very money conscious, a saver, good with numbers) and a “free spirit” (spender, not good with details, doesn’t want to budget). The “nerd” will want to bring all of the details to the meeting and discuss ways to save money, while the “free spirit” will want to talk about all of the fun ways there are to spend the money. The key is to find a way for each partner to get what they need.
Be The First
When you talk about money, you will want to avoid fighting as much as possible. An article from Divorce Source* states:
According to a 2009 study by Jeffrey Dew at the Utah State University, one of the best indicators of marital discord is what he terms “financial disagreements.”
According to Dew, couples who disagree about money less than once per month run a 30 to 40 percent increase in the risk of divorce. This rate increases steeply when the partners fight several times per month, once a week, several times a week, to almost daily, when the risk increases to 125 percent to 160 percent.
Fighting about money is harmful to your relationship, and if not curbed, can easily result in divorce. Disagreements are inevitable, but disagreements only become fights when neither spouse is willing to compromise, or when one spouse feels that the other is not listening or understanding.
Why not determine to “be the first”: be the first to listen, the first to agree, the first to be willing to give up something. It may seem counter-intutive, but by giving something up, you make your spouse feel loved, valued and appreciated and he will probably be willing to give something back. Compromise is not easy, but it’s an essential component of a good relationship. (Note: If you have been the only one to compromise in your marriage for years, it may be time to seek some marriage counseling.)
Many marital arguments occur because one spouse assumes the other spouse knows how he feels or what she is thinking. These kinds of arguments can easily be avoided by simply communicating specifically what your needs and desires are.
During your money dates, talk about specific numbers, specific ways you want to spend and save money. Talk with your spouse about exactly what is important to each of you, both short term and long term (How many times will you eat out this month? How will you spend the $200 bonus check? How much should you give to charity? How often should you take a vacation?)
Once each partner has had a chance to talk about what is important, make a prioritized list together of where you want to spend your money.
Honor the Heart
While you are discussing your spending priorities, be sure to honor your spouse’s emotional needs. If your husband feels deprived when he can’t eat out with his friends, try setting a specific spending amount that you both agree on (this will probably be a little higher than the saver of the couple will want it to be). When the money is gone, there are no more outings until the next month. If your scrapbooking hobby is very important to you, set a budget amount together for spending on supplies and stick to it.
The partner who wants to save money usually doesn’t see the need for “fun” money, but if the spender doesn’t have some money to play with, your budget plans won’t work. The “free spirit” will spend money anyway in order to meet an emotional need.
Set A Goal
Once you have your list of spending priorities, agree on a savings goal to get started. Having a common financial goal can be very strengthening for your marriage and a great starting point for other financial discussions.
Once you have decided on a goal, set up a specific place for the money to go. You will be much more likely to curb your spending when you know you have somewhere to put the extra money. You can set up separate accounts through ING or other online banks, and have the money direct deposited.
Once you have some savings to cover emergencies, you can save for a special vacation or a motorcycle, or whatever you and your spouse want to save for. Even if there is only $5 a month going into an account, seeing the total amount increase can be very encouraging and motivational. Once you agree on a plan, make sure to report on the amount saved during your weekly dates.
It takes a lot of learning to adjust to your spouse and many times we have to make adjustments that we think are “unfair” for the sake of the relationship. We were in a similar situation years ago and it really helped us to attend Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace class together. It made it much easier to talk about money and it made Dave the bad guy instead of me–haha!
If after all of your efforts, your spouse still refuses to talk about money or attend a Financial Peace class, you probably need to seek some marriage counseling from a pastor or other professional.
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