Do you believe that arguments about money between couples are inevitable? I used to think so but not any more. My personal and professional experience tells me that 95% of the time, dollar disagreements are rooted in divergent definitions of financial moderation. I’m going to share a very easy way to solve this problem but first let’s fully understand what’s happening.
Moderate vs Spendthrift
What’s frugal or moderate to you might be lavish to your spouse or partner (or the other way around). Your spouse might think that Netflix is a selfish luxury, but you might think it’s an inexpensive way to enjoy time at home. That dynamic can replay itself over and over in different ways in a relationship. And that can cause needless misery and resentments about control and overspending.
What makes this problem more difficult is that our financial situations change over time. When someone is broke and in college, it might make sense to take the laundry home to mom and dad and do it there. But at 30 years old and working, that same behavior isn’t really OK…is it?
When you were in debt, maybe it made sense not to go out. But once you got out of debt, the situation changes. If you still refrain from meeting friends for a cup of coffee because you are afraid to spend the money even though you can afford it, that’s just your past controlling your present.
3 Steps To Stop The Financial Fights
1. Declare A Stalemate
Sometimes people think that if they just separate their finances everything will be OK. I’m not so sure. Everyone has emotional baggage and that includes weird thoughts about money. You have it and so does your spouse. You might as well acknowledge this fact. You might be able to find agreement with your spouse if you have therapy and overcome some of these hurdles. This is a great idea but you don’t have to put all your hope on the shrink.
People ask me to referee spending squabbles all the time. Even though I’m no therapist, the first thing I suggest is for each party to accept the other person’s right to have a different viewpoint. Declare a truce and stop trying to control each other or change each other’s minds. As long as one person is set on changing the other, the problems persist. Just agree to disagree as step one.
2. Agree On Goals
You may not agree on spending priorities with your lovey dovey but you probably agree on life priorities such as retirement, travel, education etc. Make a list of financial priorities and their costs. Then, set up a plan to achieve those goals. Inevitably when you set up your plan you’re going to earmark a certain amount of money to set aside each month to help you achieve those goals. Automate those monthly deposits so you can set it and forget it. I bet you feel better already.
3. Spend Away
Once you agree on life priorities and set up your plan to achieve those goals, you know how much money you need to save each month. Once you reach that monthly savings goal, you can decide to spend whatever is left if you like. Simple. Done.
No More Fights
I grew up in a lot of financial fear. I wanted to save and invest every penny in order to make sure my family didn’t go through what I went through growing up. That was good up to a point but became very counter-productive and led to disagreements that should never have been.
Once my wife and I started using this approach to our finances, the arguments stopped. I was happy because I had a plan to reach my goal of financial security and she was happy because I stopped bothering her all the time and she had the freedom to spend money on things she thought were important without worrying about what I thought. FWIW – It worked for us.
Do you think this would help you? What would be a better approach?
I’d have to agree w/you on that. The question is, does Jim see this as a problem he’s willing to work on?
why do people always run to a divorce? That’s just lazy. Make your own money or see a counselor to help you find a compromise. Clearly Jim needs therapy!
Neal Frankle says
Scott makes a good point.
We do decide who we spend our time with and marry. Deb should look at that otherwise, even if she leaves, she’ll end up with a similar problem.
Sounds like therapy is the best course of action for this couple.
Also keep in mind that this situation was probably exactly the same even before they got married too. She entered the marriage knowing that he was like this, and so she should have no expectation that he’s going to change after marriage. A leopard can’t change its spots, and all that.
But that being said, spouses need to work together, have a common goal, and that dictates how the house money gets spent. It’s not “his money” and “her money” any more – it is their money.
She shouldn’t be expecting 3 vacations a year, but she should expect to have some vote in how money is spent. If it’s important to her, it should be important to him. They should have worked this out in marriage counselling before getting married.
Having been in Debby’s situation, I can relate. My husband made the bulk of our money and never wanted to enjoy it. You had to light a bomb under him to get him to go on vacation or buy a new sofa. I made money too, but I wanted to share good times and the fruits of our labors with him because I loved him. He was incapable of doing that. We eventually divorced.
I think that Debby might benefit greatly by having her own income – but at this point, it’s not going to be an immediate solution. Even if she gets a job, it may not generate the income that gives her the kind of equal footing she deserves w/her husband.
I also like Abby’s idea about using a budget.I think Jim has got to agree to a budget that they mutually come up with. Otherwise, I don’t see much future in the Jim/Debby enterprise.
One word: budget.
I’ll admit it – I can be over-the-top frugal. The only way my husband stays sane is that we agree on categories and goals. So if we save $5000 for a vacation, we can spend $5000 for the vacation. We’re about to start saving for a major trip to visit family in Europe in the next two years. He can appreciate my coupon-clipping, leftover-eating ways because when we do reach a goal, I let go.
Whether Debby & Jim can get there without a counselor is another matter. And while I do think there’s also merit to Debby finding her own income – but I’m not sure that would actually resolve the issue, or just drive them farther apart.
I’d suggest Debby get a job so she’ll have her OWN money to enjoy all the things she wants. Of course, depending on her situation, that may not be practical. It doesn’t really address the core of the situation, though. I think they need some couples counseling.
Uugh, I’d never want to be in Debby’s situation – I’d get my own job and have my own independence. No offense to Debby of course, if she’s comfortable requiring her husband to bring in all the money. But I have more radical ideas about equality. I think financial freedom is so important that without it we might not even be able to have truly equal relationships with anyone. So I think the points you’ve made here are good. When you penny pinch that much, maybe it means you’re focusing on the wrong things.