You want to save, your partner wants to spend. What to do?
Or maybe you’re the spender and your partner is always on your case. Whatever your situation, know this – you’re definitely not alone. Did you know that finances are the leading cause of stress in a relationship? The leading cause! Not only that, but couples argue about money an average of three times a month! Who needs this stress? Seriously! Who needs it?
You don’t, and your marriage definitely doesn’t need added stress. There’s enough going on in life already, and as you probably know, stress is the number one cause of all health problems. So it’ll behoove you to take some time to get on top of this. Even if you and your partner are at complete opposite ends of the finance spectrum – you can find ways to come together about your money differences.
But first, please don’t beat yourself up over this. When you think about it – unless you marry your clone, you and your partner have come together from different backgrounds and with different ways of seeing the world, including how you view money. It’s the way the world works. So marriage really is a spiritual practice where you are both called to grow as human beings and find ways to transcend your own views and personal baggage, and open up to those of your partner.
Here are some ideas to get you started:
Learn how to communicate. How’s the pointing fingers and blaming going? Ugh. I’ve been there and you’ve probably been there. We know this style of communicating does not get our needs met – at all! So why do we keep doing it? Because we don’t know any other way. So take it upon yourself to learn how to communicate effectively.
My favorite method is called Nonviolent Communication (NVC). It has nothing to do with violence so don’t be deterred by the name. I cannot say enough about this style of communicating. You can read about the history of NVC on the website, and also find training in your area. If you can’t find training where you live, you can read the NVC book and listen to the founder, Dr Marshall Rosenberg.
The cool thing is that you’ll learn how to get out of the awful cycle of pointing fingers, blaming and arguing, and into each other’s feelings and needs, which is where you can make a huge, huge difference.
Dream together. Do the two of you talk about what you want out of life as a couple? For instance, do you want to retire early, or retire in 5 or 10 years? Does one of you want to quit your job when you have kids? Do you want to buy a house or return to school or start a business? Do you see yourselves spending more time volunteering or traveling? What are your dreams together?
I suggest making this a fun event by opening a bottle of wine or going on a picnic as a way to start the conversation. Having a common dream is hugely important so that the two of you aren’t simply living day by day, which is what leads to crazy spending and arguments.
As you saw in my colleague Norelle’s last post, once she and her husband had a common dream of taking their long awaited trip to Italy, saving money became much easier. Without a common dream, you’re probably both trying to meet your needs by spending on stuff you don’t need as a way to find meaning or happiness. And you know what happens then – you stay on the treadmill of work and spend, work and spend, and wake up later, wondering why you’re both so stressed.
Decide on a budget together. A common reason why couples argue about finances is that each feels that there’s a lack of equity. The spender often feels like the saver is nagging and unfair, while the saver feels frustrated that the spender is undermining his or her efforts to build a more secure financial future. Here’s how to set up your budget:
1. Together, go through your last three months of spending. Take out your credit card and other statements and track your spending in categories, such as restaurants, medical, living expenses, clothes, kids, and so on and put it on a spreadsheet.
2. Do the joy test. With your totals above, decide together which of your discretional categories give you the most joy, and which ones don’t. How much joy did you get from buying that sweater last month? How much joy are you getting from your new TV or your daily latte, or from your new car that requires monthly car payments, and so forth. Decide where you’re willing to cut your discretionary spending according to your joy level.
3. Save for your dream. Remember the dream you both created a few steps ago? Together, decide how much you want to set aside for that dream, and make it an automatic monthly savings plan.
4. Set aside fun money for both of you. This is a big one that takes guilt and nagging out of the equation. Whatever is left you’ll divide equally between you both, and you each get to spend it however you want – no questions asked. Treat it like an allowance every month. This way there is no guilt-tripping, nagging or feeling guilty about what you spend. If one of you is a serious spender, then consider doling out this discretionary money in the form of cash, so he/she cannot go over the limit you two have set. Or, if you’re the saver in the relationship, you can save your monthly “allowance” for a larger purchase or even put it into an IRA or start investing. Whatever you do, it’s yours to spend or save however you like.
Set an approval limit. Big purchases such as furniture, a car, or even a meal at a fancy restaurant can put financial strain on your relationship. To avoid this, set a limit for discretionary spending. For example, both parties must agree on purchases over $100.
Consider splitting all or some of your accounts. Perhaps your joint checking account wasn’t such a great idea. If you continue to fight about finances, consider using your joint checking account for mutual expenses such as rent, utilities, and groceries. Then you can maintain a separate savings and checking account however you wish.
Be honest! No matter what you do, never, ever lie about your spending. It creates a lack of trust with your partner, and could lead to far more serious problems in your own mental health and in your relationship.
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