It’s no secret that many people argue with their spouses about money. According to a study by the Institute for Divorce Financial Analysts, arguments over money ranked third among service providers and their clients as a leading cause of marital problems after basic incompatibility and infidelity. Further, financial issues were considered a greater cause of divorce than alcoholism, emotional abuse or physical abuse.
Just as financial issues have the potential to destroy a marriage, fiscal responsibility seems to be an extremely desirable quality in a spouse. According to a new survey sponsored by the Citi Double Cash Card, 78 percent of those in committed relationships would rather have a partner who is responsible with money than one who is physically attractive.
In light of these statistics, perhaps shrinking your credit card bill should take priority over shrinking your waistline. Here are seven ways that you can better manage your finances, reduce stress in your relationship and stop the arguing about money.
1. Plan Money Dates
Frank communication among couples about money is in dire need. In fact, PR Newswire recently reported that 7 percent of couples claim they have never discussed finances. Similarly, the Citi Double Cash Card survey found that almost 30 percent of respondents would like to discuss finances more often, but almost 70 percent avoid these talks for fear of starting an argument.
An expert in consumer saving, Andrea Woroch suggests that couples plan “money dates” to air concerns or discuss money problems in their marriages. “Instead of bringing up a financial issue in the heat of the moment, save it for your money date when your anger has subsided, and you’ve had time to think it over,” said Woroch. She went on to suggest that spouses discuss everything from monthly budgets and saving goals to necessary adjustments based on lifestyle changes like home sales and new babies.
“This is also a good time to bring up money issues that have been bothering you, for example, if your partner spent too much on entertainment or clothing this past month,” said Woroch.
An expert financial coach, Paul Moyer agrees that more frequent money meetings are crucial. Said Moyer, “The best way for couples to stop fighting over money is to start doing a monthly budget and having a budget meeting each and every month. While the first few meetings may be rough, once you do this for a while, you and your spouse will find that you are on the same page, and the miscommunication about money will slowly fade away.”
While discussing current spending is clearly crucial, couples should also take time to talk about debt. According to a survey by TransUnion, almost 20 percent of respondents said that they owed money to family, and half of respondents said that student loans and car payments were their greatest sources of debt. Take time to talk about debt before signing the marriage contract and taking on your partner’s bills as your own.
2. Know Your Partner’s Money History
Knowing your partner’s debt history is only half the battle. To minimize money problems, couples also need to understand their partners’ perspectives on money.
Ellen Rogin, CPA and wealth expert, emphasizes the need to appreciate your partner’s background and experiences when it comes to money. According to Rogin, “Behavior experts Dr. David Whitebread and Dr. Sue Bingham of the University of Cambridge determined how children learn in general and how they learn about money in particular. They concluded that money habits — including the ability to plan ahead and to delay gratification — are typically formed early in childhood.”
Rogin’s advice is to learn about your partner’s money story in order to understand his or her fiscal style. She suggests asking your partner the following questions:
- Did your parents talk freely about money?
- Was money a secret?
- Were you involved in financial decisions?
- Were your parents savers, hoarders or spenders?
Dr. Nikki Martinez, psychologist and licensed clinical professional counselor, believes that different money experiences change the way an individual handles finances. Martinez said, “Discuss each of your personal money philosophies. Knowing this helps clear up many issues before the start.”
3. Set Shared Financial Goals
A marriage is a partnership characterized in part by joint goals and objectives. However, according to the TransUnion study, while more than 50 percent of engaged couples say they intend to share financial decisions equally, only 37 percent of married respondents actually do so. Moreover, 36 percent of respondents say they make budgeting decisions by themselves.
The CEO of LexION Capital Management, Elle Kaplan emphasizes the importance of shared goals in helping couples achieve milestones together. “It’s okay to have some money disagreements in marriage — no couple out there is going to agree about every single issue, and this includes spending,” said Kaplan. “However, as soon as possible, couples need to hash out their long-term goals, like buying a house, planning for children, retiring and other plans that require significant finances. That way couples have set goals to work towards as a team, rather than letting the big money issues drive them apart.”
4. Seek Third-Party Input to Resolve Differences
For couples experiencing monetary problems, hiring a relationship expert or financial advisor can provide valuable guidance. A financial expert and the founder of Women Investing Now, Stacy Marcus said that couples “tend to argue more about everyday common expenses versus longer-term savings and investing. What one person considers a necessary expense — a facial or round of golf — the other person considers a luxury.”
Gary Spivak is the founder of FidelityDating and a former financial advisor who recommends that couples seek out third-party counselors to help resolve their differences.
“Some couples start fighting when income gets reduced due to the economy, and one of the partners doesn’t want to modify their spending,” said Spivak. “In almost every instance — whether I’m working with a couple alone or along with their extended family — I see amazing shifts take place as individuals face their conflicts, seek common ground and find new ways to communicate more effectively with each other.”
5. Make Sensible Decisions About Home Ownership, Vacations and Retirement
Many couples dream of buying bigger houses or taking extravagant vacations. However, these types of purchases can take a serious toll on a marriage if financial resources are lacking. According to Woroch, couples often make the mistake of overextending their budgets to meet unrealistic goals rather than putting money aside for emergencies.
“The increased purchasing power of combined incomes tempts many married couples to shop for the priciest house (or car, or other big purchase),” said Woroch, “but this will lock you into a lifestyle that doesn’t offer much flexibility, which may cause tension when budgets grow tighter.” She went on to advise couples to avoid monthly spending totaling more than 25 percent of their combined income.
Kelly MacRae is the vice president of financial planning and CFP for Beacon Pointe Advisors. To minimize arguments about money, MacRae advises couples to discuss their preferences with regard to discretionary spending as well as issues like retirement saving.
“Although it may seem far away, ask your spouse ‘When do you see yourself retiring? What do you want to do in retirement?’” said MacRae. “It is important to stay connected about your financial lives.”
6. Agree on a Threshold for Personal Spending
According to the Citi Double Cash Card survey, 77 percent of couples generally consult each other before spending more than a certain amount, on average $653. However, 56 percent admit to having spent a significant amount without consulting their partners. While no one expects couples to discuss every purchase in advance, experts advise running large purchases by your partner in order to minimize relationship problems.
“While it’s important to not pick apart every dollar that each other spends and to ensure that each partner has their own fun money, set spending rules for large purchases in which you must discuss the potential buy with your partner,” said McCrae. “This prevents impulse purchases of unnecessary items and keeps you on the same page.”
Although every couple has a different method for managing the household expenses and divvying up bills, it’s important that both partners feel a sense of control when it comes to money and have an amount in mind that can be spent without recrimination.
7. Nix the Secret Stash
It’s no secret that the best relationships are built on trust. However, according to the Citi Double Cash Card survey, 25 percent of couples say they would never share their monthly spending, bank account PINs or account balances. Moreover, 24 percent of those in committed relationships admit that they have private accounts that their partners don’t know about.
While it’s fine to agree with your spouse to keep independent accounts, secretly putting away money can cause problems. In fact, those individuals who have private accounts were more likely to have financial disagreements with their partners in the past year — 73 percent compared to 54 percent without a “secret stash.” To reduce monetary issues, couples should discuss all important financial news including debts, salary, credit score and spending habits.
The good news, according to the Citi Double Cash Card survey, is that a majority of Americans — 82 percent to be exact — strive to improve their financial habits when they get married. These changes include being more careful with discretionary spending, planning for retirement, maintaining an emergency fund and establishing saving goals.
To give your marriage the best shot at succeeding, set up specific times to discuss financial matters with your partner. The goal is to better understand each other’s perspective in order to make sound decisions together and reduce fighting. Your waistline, however, might require a different approach.