It’s no secret that fighting about money is one of the leading causes of divorce. In fact, according to a recent study, the number one reason for tension in a relationship is money and 22% of all divorces are due to financial stress!
Whether your disagreements are over budgeting, impulse purchases, or whether to buy or pack your lunch, money-related conflict can take a toll on your marriage in a variety of ways that include:
>> Not agreeing on a basic approach when it comes to saving and spending.
>> One of you feeding a secret (or not-so-secret) shopping addiction that leads you to dip into your emergency fund or kids’ college funds, with or without your partner’s consent.
>> One or both of you bringing an untenable level of debt into the marriage that stifles your plans for the future and creates resentment.
>> One of you wanting to stick to a strict budget with limits on disposable income and the other of you resisting what they feel is a penny-pinching effort to control.
>> A serious medical diagnosis or chronic illness (for either or you or your children) that threatens to deplete your savings.
>> One of you wanting to combine finances and the other of you wanting to maintain complete separation of all money matters.
>> Trying to “keep up with the Jones’s” or simply living beyond your means.
Having seen all of these scenarios in my office, here are 10 things you can do to tackle finance-related stress and finally stop fighting about money in your marriage.
10 Ways to Stop Arguing About Money Matters
Define What Money Means to You
Do some soul-searching about what money really means to you. I’m not talking about the fact that it pays the bills or enables you to buy the things you want. Ask yourself some deeper questions like:
>> What kind of strong emotions come up for you when you think about money?
>> Does not having it (or having to budget or skimp) make you feel angry? Insecure? Less than?
>> Who taught you about financial basics (e.g., how to establish a bank account, pay off credit card debt, balance a checkbook) and did they give you the tools you needed?
Review your earliest money-related memories and see if they give any clues about where these beliefs and feelings come from and why you’re not seeing eye to eye with your spouse on the topic. Then ask to hear their stories in return and see what you learn.
See A Certified Financial Planner
Speaking with a financial pro can help set your mind at ease and ensure that you’re on the same page and have a plan in place that will help you reach your goals. Make an appointment with a certified financial advisor (many of whom offer complimentary first sessions) to discuss their services and how they might help.
Mike and I did this early in our marriage and it was extremely helpful to get input on where we were doing well, where we needed to save more and re-order our priorities, and how we should go about building a nest egg for our future. We continue to use the principles we learned at this very first session in our finances today.
If meeting with an expert isn’t an option, research low-cost opportunities in your area like credit councils or educational events at your local bank. In an age where so much information is freely available, you can easily get some great tips on how to begin chipping away at this.
Get Advice from Friends
It may be humbling to admit that you’re struggling with finances or fighting about money in your marriage, but chances are good that your besties have been through something similar. They can not only serve as a sounding board for you but should be able to give you some good ideas.
You may find that the people you talk to have “war stories” of their own which you’ve never heard before and these can be helpful too. When it comes to money, learning what NOT to do is just as important – if not more important – as learning what to do in these situations.
If you believe your mate might be spending secretly, check out our blog on
Financial Infidelity: What to Do If Your Spouse is Breaking the Bank
Find Ways to Cut Back on Your Spending
If living month-to-month is the issue, take a hard look at your own expenditures and make a list of things you can trim temporarily.
I know it’s hard to imagine life without Prime (or Netflix if that’s your thing), but a quick visit to your local library will likely reveal a treasure trove of DVD’s, games, and music that you could be taking advantage of. You may find that you enjoy life more without all the distractions at home.
Even when you can’t completely eliminate an ongoing expense, you can often reduce it significantly. For example, Mike and I recently found that most of the channels we watch were available on a lower cable tier and made the switch without any noticeable difference. It’s saving us approximately $42 dollars a month, or $504 dollars a year!
You can also use a service like BillFixers to facilitate lowered utility and other monthly bills. They will only take a portion of whatever amount they save you so you’re not out of pocket for any up-front costs.
Define Your Financial Goals and Make Sure They’re Crystal Clear
Sit down together on a regular basis—at least monthly—to discuss your financial goals and the progress you’re making. These goals might include:
>> Establishing an emergency fund and starting to contribute a specific amount to it every month.
>> Building your savings in order to buy a new home or enable one of you to stay home when you start a family.
>> Chipping away at your student loan or credit card debt.
>> Making sure you are meeting the minimum requirements for matching contributions to your employer-sponsored retirement funds.
Keep in mind that your financial goals will change over time, and that’s okay. Just make sure to keep your spouse in the loop as your individuals aspirations shift so you can stay on the same page.
Create an Allowance with Your Disposable Income
No one wants their spouse to harass them and spy on every purchase they make. There is nothing worse than feeling like you must defend every cent you spend!
To avoid fighting about money you spend on luxury (or at least unnecessary) purchases, it’s wise to set aside a specific amount, or “allowance” you’ll both get each month. This basically becomes “fun money” you can spend on whatever you’d like with no questions asked. If you want to blow it all every month—go for it. Or sock it away for a few months and then blow it all on something outrageous and over-the-top. Your choice!
When you’re first starting out, this amount may be very small—like $25/month. It’s not the amount that matters; it’s the fact that you are in complete control of the amount you don’t have to request permission to spend it. And give that same freedom to your spouse. Don’t nitpick or criticize what they choose to spend their money on (if it doesn’t impact you), however foolish you think it is.
Stay Away from Extreme Positions
Be aware of the tendency to take drastic action in order to reach your financial goals or get out from under financial stress. You may not earn a lot early on in your marriage, but if you address money matters “early and often” in this stage of your relationship, you’ll be much farther ahead than if you drift down the river for a few years and then find yourself coming up short.
Be especially careful of demanding something that your spouse can’t handle—or something that may save you money but isn’t smart for other reasons. For example, it’s probably not a good idea to sell your 1,800 square-foot home to move into an RV or a bad neighborhood in order to save money.
Consider Your Lifestyle Choices (and Live Within Your Means)
So often, a couple wants to maintain a certain standard of living but doesn’t want to pay the piper to make this happen. For example, if your priority is to stay at home to raise your children, certain sacrifices may need to be made. When you start to get stressed or frustrated about the lack of income, remind yourself that what you chose was and is more important to you. If this priority shifts, you can always change things up.
The point is to be realistic about what you can do and continue to revisit your priorities to remind yourself of what’s truly important and meaningful to you. You may be surprised at how creative you can be and just how far a little money can go when your non-monetary needs and desires are being met. Remember that all the money in the world doesn’t matter when you or your spouse are unhappy.
Take Baby Steps
If you’ve ever tried to reach a health or fitness-related goal like losing a lot of weight or training for a marathon, you may have noticed that it’s much easier to start with small, consistent habits rather than biting off a lot more than you can chew and then getting so disgusted or frustrated that you give up altogether.
In other words, setting a goal of going to the gym twice a week is better than promising yourself that you’ll go every night after work and then giving up when you haven’t gone for the third night in a row.
The same is true for money. Making smaller contributions to your savings on a set schedule is often much more effective than making larger contributions on a less frequent basis, both because of compounded interest and the fact that healthy money habits tend to build on themselves.
How about giving up your afternoon coffee fix and putting that $5.82 in a cookie jar? That represents a staggering $1,513 a year. Start with one, relatively easy thing. As you find success with that, add something else and go from there.
Work with a Marriage Coach
If, after taking the above steps, you find yourselves still fighting about money, get some outside help. Just like meeting with a financial expert can help you and your spouse formulate a plan for your finances, meeting with a marriage coach can help you learn to communicate about money in a productive and positive way instead of in a way that makes you want to run for the hills.
It’s common for couples to find themselves fighting about money in their marriage and financial stress is a leading cause of divorce. By applying the guidance in the 10 points listed above, you can lessen the stress on your marriage and put yourself back on the road to financial success.