Money issues can cause huge rifts between even the most loving couples. In fact, fights about money play a significant role in 90 percent of divorces.
This is because–when it comes right down to it–money isn’t about money.
Last week in my video blog about money (part I), I touched on the three major issues which cause most money problems; difference in values, imbalances of power, and problems with trust. I suggested starting points for successful money conversations.
But this needs further action. To move through the issues and come out the other side, there needs to be a plan.
Follow these steps for each category to move beyond understanding and into solid agreements for the future.
Money disputes are often about differences in values. One person might want to save for future goals, while the other might like to spend and enjoy things now. The differences often come from different upbringings, and they can be emotionally charged.
It doesn’t have to be difficult, though. Here’s how to initiate and navigate this loaded conversation.
- Just tell your partner you’d like to sit down and discuss the future — what your goals are and how you can work together to achieve them. In the beginning, just brainstorm different things each of you wants — a house, kids, college education for the kids, a healthy emergency fund, nice cars, travel each year, nice clothes, gadgets and computers, etc.
- Prioritize your respective lists and see if there are commonalities. If you want different things, share why and consider the other person’s desires. If that’s what makes the other person happy, you should want to make them happy. However, this must go both ways.
- Look for a win-win solution or compromise. It might take a few meetings to get there, but it’s worth it.
- Avoid escalation. Stay calm and try to look at these issues objectively. This is hard. But for this part of the talk, set the emotional issues aside and just deal with financial goals and habits. No blaming or defensiveness!
- Come up with a plan to meet your goals. Once you’re able to come up with common financial goals (a huge step — celebrate!), you need a plan to get you there. Note: This will take into account your joint income, your debt, your savings, how much you can put towards debt and/or saving each month, whether you want to cut back on certain things in order to meet your savings goals, how long you want to give yourself to meet financial goals, and so forth.
- Get a definite time frame for each goal. Figure out how much you need to save (or pay towards debt) each month to get to your goals.
- Create a monthly spending plan. This is to meet your monthly goal. You might need to cut back on some things, or earn extra income, or both. Or you might discover that your goals aren’t realistic and you need to cut back on them, reprioritize, or push them back a bit in order to meet them. (This plan is how you align your daily and monthly spending with your long-term goals. It’s also a great way to resolve minor short-term disputes — you buy fewer shoes, and I buy fewer lunches out, so we can buy that house in three years, etc).
According to Suze Orman, “To be in control of your money, you have to be in control of your life.”
What this means is that you are secure, whole, and autonomous person–you don’t feel you have to merge every aspect of your life.
A common mistake couples make with money is to put everything into one single account. That means you both write checks and use debit cards out of that account, which makes it very, very difficult to control.
Here are some suggestions to get control. You can modify this to suit your individual circumstances.
1. See who is spending what:
A) Tally up your combined net monthly take-home pay. Then add up all your shared monthly household expenses, such as mortgage, groceries, car payments, and utilities. Leave out your personal coffees or yoga classes unless they are for family.
B) Create a joint account agreement. As an example: Take the percentage of your monthly take-home pay that is used to cover your shared monthly expenses out of each person’s individual monthly salary for household bills. Say one person makes $3,000 a month and one makes $7,000, the monthly take-home is $10,000. If the shared expenses add up to $3,000, that’s 30% of you’re total take-home pay. Each person then contributes 30% of their individual monthly pay to the household account. The rest they keep for themselves.
2. Each person takes control of your remaining cash. Put it in your own checking or savings account, not with your partner’s money.
3. Figure out honestly what you’re spending every month. For two months, keep a daily diary of where your money goes — and no expenditure is too small.
Many couples argue over broken agreements about money, or differences resulting from the lack of a clear agreement.
In order to come up with a plan you can both stick with:
- Develop a system for finances that works for both of you. How will you pay your bills, pay off debt, deposit into savings, or have money for various spending needs (like gas and groceries and eating out)? Someone should take responsibility for each part of the system (it’s better if you’re both involved, but find what works best for you as a couple). One person might go to the bank while the other updates your financial program (like Quicken or MS Money) to make sure you’re in balance, for example.
- Have weekly financial meetings. This is key, and something that many couples overlook. Just because you have common financial goals and a plan doesn’t mean that everything is fine. Review your accounts, your spending plan, what is coming up in the next few weeks, any problem areas, or unplanned expenses. Make sure you’re both caught up on everything, and that you’re working well as a team.
Sometimes dealing with money matters feels like more work, and it’s easy to put this off.
But if you proactively build time into your schedule, you will certainly argue less about money.
Remember, money only magnifies the issues present in the relationship. Therefore, it can be used as a vehicle for greater unity.
Turn money into a source of closeness, and you exponentially increase your odds of a lasting, healthy relationship!
Let me know how it goes in the comments below!