Stumped on how to talk about money with your spouse? Try these ideas.
By: Ruth Soukup
Few subjects can start a fight faster than talking about money. It doesn’t seem to matter how carefully the topic is raised: The second the money card is played, everyone seems to be on edge. Accusations of carelessness and being too controlling creep into the argument, and, suddenly, what started out so innocently can explode into all-out war.
At some point, couples have to talk about money if they want to stay together (and don’t want to go broke).
While every couple is different, these five tips might serve you as a good place to start talking (and stop fighting) about money, and actually make a marriage stronger:
1. Recognize You Are Different
Chances are you did not marry someone exactly like you. (If you did, you probably wouldn’t be reading this article!) In many relationships, there are two very different approaches to money: The first step in opening up a conversation about money is realizing — and accepting — your spouse simply doesn’t see the world in the same way. What makes sense to you doesn’t necessarily make sense to him, and vice versa. This doesn’t make it wrong or stupid or even irrational, it just means you have to find a way to work around your differences.
2. Set Common Goals
The best way to overcome differences in your approach to money is to set goals that you can both agree on. This might take some compromise, since his goal of an 80-inch flat screen might not fall in line with your goal of a week at the spa. Focus on the essentials — getting out of debt, saving up an emergency fund, planning for college and retirement — then set real goals for the big things before getting swept away in a sea of wants.
3. Stick to a Cash Budget
Once you’ve agreed on a few long-term goals, it is time to buckle down and get to work. Sit down together over a cup of coffee and work through your budget. Account for the important things first — fixed expenses and savings — then dole out cold, hard cash to use for the remaining discretionary expenses.
Using real cash is key for a couple reasons. First, it is much harder to spend cash than to use a credit card. Overspending often comes from an emotional place: Using cash hurts more, which helps curb that emotion. Second, sticking to cash will force both of you to stay within your budget. When the cash is gone, it’s gone. There are no surprises — and no big fight — the following month when the credit card statement arrives!
4. Give Each Other a Little Leeway
When it comes to money, it is important that neither spouse feel controlled by the other. Thus, within your cash budget there should be a little wiggle room for both of you. Set aside a certain amount of “His” and “Hers” money each month that you can each spend freely on whatever you want without fear of judgment.
5. Get Help
If all else fails, it might be time to seek help from an expert. Consider seeing a financial advisor together, taking a financial management class or even reading a home finance or budgeting book together. A neutral third party can look at the situation without attaching blame or emotion and can hopefully help you both to do the same.
Ultimately, taking the time to work out differences and maintain an open dialogue about money is always worth the effort, not only for a bigger bank account, but for a better marriage as well.
A mother of two, Ruth is the writer behind the popular Living Well Spending Less — a blog about the adventure of finding the good life on a budget. She covers cooking, entertaining, crafting, DIY projects, couponing and creative homemaking.