Here is the second article in the series about couples and money. The first one was around effective planning and managing expectations for couples. But as we know in reality, even the best laid plans can change causing tension in a relationship. This article is on how to handle common financial disagreements when they (and believe me – they will!) occur.
Problem: Spending irregularities
Solution: Draw up your household budget together and review it periodically. Even if one of you is much better than the other at managing your finances, both of you need to understand where your money is going. Needless arguments can result if one member of the couple has no idea how much children’s clothes cost or how much the heating bill has gone up in the past year.
Problem: Did you remember to pay that bill? I thought you said you would pay it!
Solution: Keep your financial papers organized. Both of you need to know where you keep bills and other financial papers, such as bank statements and insurance policies. Filing all bills promptly – and going through your file every week – can ensure that you don’t neglect an important bill. You can also use this file to store notes about bills that have to be paid annually or quarterly. If you know that you always have to pay an insurance premium during a certain month, you can put a note in the appropriate slot as a reminder. You might want to have a separate alphabetically organized file for storing things such as tax returns, retirement accounts, and bank or investment-account statements. See more on organizing your financial clutter.
Problem: What’s the best way to manage our money, yet still have control?
Solution: Decide on the number of bank accounts you need. When both members of a couple have an income, many financial planners suggest that they have a joint savings account to provide for long-term goals, a joint checking account for paying household bills, and separate checking accounts for each person. Each member of the couple can make deposits in the joint accounts in proportion to his or her income. Some couples find it simpler to have fewer accounts or to work out a different financial system. In any case, each spouse needs to have some discretionary spending money — at least a small amount that he or she can spend on a “no questions asked” basis. Financial disagreements can escalate quickly when either or both members of a couple feel they can never spend a penny without facing a lengthy interrogation.
Problem: Should I buy that new TV or go for an upgraded kitchen?
Solution: Make joint decisions about big purchases. It’s important to talk about big financial purchases together even if you can easily afford them. Talking about major purchases or investments is a way of showing that you see yourselves not just as romantic partners but also as financial partners.
Problem: How can we get help with our messy finances?
Solution: Talk with financial advisers together. At times you may need help from professionals such as bankers, insurance agents, tax preparers, investment advisers or others who can help you make good decisions about money. As often as possible, talk with your advisers as a couple so that both of you have a chance to ask questions and get the answers you need to feel confident about your decisions. This will help to prevent misunderstandings and also ensure that if an emergency arose and one of you had to handle the finances alone, each of you would have the information needed to do this.
Problem: Is money really the problem?
Solution: Look carefully at the causes of financial disagreements. Marriage counselors say that when couples argue about money, they’re often arguing about something much bigger than that, such as their overall hopes and dreams for their relationship. Exploring the broader causes of your disagreements may make it easier to find solutions. Instead of talking about the specific dollar amounts involved, try focusing on your feelings about a difficult financial situation. You might say, “When you buy expensive things like a new iPhone without telling me, I feel that you don’t value my opinion.” Or, “I love taking trips and going to fancy restaurants with you, but I feel very worried that we have no savings that we could draw on if one of us got sick.”