No matter how anyone tries to spin it, for most people, money is a really hard thing to talk about. You’d think that getting married or settling down with someone you love would make things easier, but for many couples, this is not the case. In fact, money is one of the most common causes of divorce in America.
There are many reasons couples fight about money—here are three I commonly see:
- Your values aren’t aligned: Do you and your partner have dis-similar values? Ultimately, values are responsible for driving your behavior… including your spending behavior. If you and your partner value different things, this may cause fights about what money is being spent on. Don’t panic if you don’t think you share similar values, because there is a way to work around this, and it’s more than likely that you have at least one or two values in common.
- Income inequality: We must consider the gender pay gap, which suggests that women tend to make less money than men. For heterosexual couples, this can cause income inequality issues depending on how their financial situation and system is organized. There are also women who make more money than their husbands. Bear in mind that traditional society may leave men feeling vulnerable if in this situation as well.
- Financial infidelity: Yes, this is a thing! When someone keeps their finances out of site from their partner, this can put a lot of stress on the relationship. As a military spouse, I can’t begin to tell you about the number of women who have opened up to me about their husbands controlling all of their finances. What’s most common about these women is that they are stay-at-home moms. They don’t have money coming in, so they are financially dependent on their husbands. Outside of the military, this is not uncommon either. In the short term, much of the stress falls on the partner who may be hiding purchases. In the long-term, this can cause significant stress for the marriage, and the partner who is being kept in the dark.
SOLUTION: MONEY DATES!
Resolving money conflicts, like other conflicts, requires both partners to think and act rationally. Arguments tend to involve lots of emotions, so you’ll want to ensure you and your partner are both approaching the resolution with a calm mindset. I recommend planning a money date! Here are seven tips to ensure yours is a success:
Tip 1: Getting your partner to agree. This is likely going to be the most challenging part of making your money date a success. If you fear that your partner will dismiss your request, consider approaching it from a goals perspective. Here’s an example of what I mean:
“Hi Mark, I’ve been thinking a lot about our next 5 to 10 years together and would really appreciate it if we could sit down and talk about each of our goals. I’m hoping that we can figure out how to financially plan and prepare for our future to ensure we are both on the same page.”
Tip 2: Make it fun! Create the environment of a real date. Order some take-out or cook up a nice meal, enjoy some wine or your favorite cocktail, light some candles…oh, and don’t skip dessert!
Tip 3: Come prepared. Have your Mint app ready or any other financial tools you use to track your finances. Also align on how long you plan to have your money date. Pro tip: For this first one, plan for about 1.5 to 2 hours. The more money dates you have, the less time you may need.
Tip 4: Start with goals. Ease into the conversation by understanding what is most important to each of you. Your goals are a reflection of one or more of your values. You’ll quickly be able to identify where you may or may not be aligned. If there is a common goal, I would recommend diving into this topic first before addressing the goals that aren’t aligned. Here are the big buckets to consider covering:
Tip 5: Talk about your financial system. This one is really important. I asked my father-in-law—a Financial Advisor—about the best way to organize finances when you’re married. Here’s the system he (and many other experts I’ve spoken with) recommended:
- Step 1: Set up a joint bank account where all income streams go into the joint account. That account acts as your “home base.”
- Step 2: Set up two additional accounts: one for you and one for your partner. There are many different terms for these individual accounts, but essentially they act as a “fun money” account for each partner. Agree on an amount that each partner gets for “fun money” purchases each month and set up automatic deposits from your “home base” account. Ideally, you’ll want to make that “fun money” value equal, however, this doesn’t always work for some couples if one tends to spend a lot more on leisure items. Do your best to negotiate calmly what you think is fair. I can’t even express how great this setup is—especially if you tend to argue over misaligned value purchases.
- Step 3: Your “home base” also serves as the account from which all of your bills and savings come out of. I recommend setting up automatic payments for all of your monthly bills in addition to automatic deposits to a savings account. Pro tip: Try out a high-yield savings account to earn more interest than the standard bank and save for your goals faster!
Tip 6: Manage your expectations. It helps to remember that what you both aligned on is something you’re going to experiment with. Be flexible and plan for mistakes to happen along the way. Continue doing your best to have empathy for each other, as money (and life!) can be very stressful.
Tip 7: Pick a day for your next money date. It’s important to hold yourselves accountable to continue making progress together. End the date night by marking your calendars with your next money date!
I can’t wait to hear how your money date goes! Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.