I keep hearing that money is the biggest cause of arguments between couples… I can believe it.
Few subjects are as complex, as emotive, or as common as money and our relationships with it, so when you put two people together in a relationship, you’ll find they rarely see eye to eye straight away, if ever.
I suppose Lord Balders and I have done well to be able to say that we don’t fight about money. Really, we never do! At least, not yet.
That’s not to say that we’ve never disagreed – I remember having – let’s say- a few stressed out exchanges not long after we got married. We came from such different financial backgrounds: he had never lived alone and coming from a family of 8 kids, his mother was accustomed to taking care of everything and didn’t have time to give lessons in home economics. He didn’t really know what running a home would actually cost, and it was a bit of a shock to him to find that he’d been having such an easy ride in only having to hand over rent whilst at home. On the other hand, I’d been raising my family on my own for years after getting divorced. I assumed that I’d just carry on, and that he could easily hand over the reins. Well, he couldn’t! We sorted it out, though, and here’s what helped.
What Helped Us
First of all, we weren’t really that far apart when it came to our money habits. Sure, we had different backgrounds, but we also were like-minded when it came to being careful with our spending. That’s not so unusual, given that we ended up getting married in the first place – we had to have some things in common!
Second, we decided early on how we were going to divide our money. We weren’t going to divide it. We hold everything in common, as one, even though we don’t earn the same. Our approach is that we support each other’s ability to earn an income, and money isn’t the most valuable thing in a marriage anyway. I know that some couples do things differently, and that’s ok – you can’t compare your relationship to anyone else’s, but you can do what’s right for your relationship. Oh, and you can do your best not to judge how anybody else manages their couple money, unless they always turn up asking to borrow a tenner – then it’s ok to judge a little bit!
Third, although I knew that I was better at money in general, I also knew that my husband had to feel dignified and not stripped of control. For example, he’d run up a small balance on his credit card due to wanting to pay for everything in the run up to the wedding. Just as a result of being caught up in the preparations and 5-hour car journeys to see me in London (and 5 hours back), he’d let it get out of hand. He was embarrassed that it had happened, and I was annoyed because I could have paid for everything in cash in the first place and avoided the late payment fees. I wanted to pay the card off, but he wanted to pay it off himself, which would have taken longer, but felt better because of his pride.
Woah – pride must be the worst reason to keep a credit card balance! I didn’t flip out entirely though, because it wouldn’t have helped. I did explain why pride would cost a lot more in interest and fees, though… which would come out of my pocket as well, since we had chosen to put all of our money together.
He saw my point. I gave him his time to come around to the idea of taking advice, but it was fairly easy to be patient at the time because I knew he would eventually. After a little while he let me sort through the tangle of his bank statements and set him straight. If you’re the one who’s doing the number crunching while your spouse is unaware of what’s going on it might feel like a losing battle, but don’t talk down to your partner. That never helps.
Since getting married, we’ve had a specific money goal. Lord Balders wanted to buy a house, and I decided that I’d get us there one way or the other. A few months after getting married, we started our practice of writing down all of our expenses every day. That kept us so focused on the pennies that we knew exactly what we needed to live on, what we needed to earn, and what we could save. Both of us were committed to that money goal, so we didn’t want to spend much, and we couldn’t bring ourselves to spend anything without both agreeing, since it would feel as though we were keeping the other person from reaching that goal.
Since then, our money goals have changed. We bought our first home together, and now our goal is to renovate it. We’re still writing down everything we spend, but we’ve taken our foot off of the accelerator and allowed ourselves a few treats here and there. We’ve also worked out a system of personal budgeting so that we can have our own money to spend guilt-free: £100 in January and £30 at the beginning of each month, which accumulates throughout the year if it’s not spent. Now he can buy his computer games and I can buy… well, stuff, I guess, without guilt as long as there’s enough in our respective pots. (Oddly, though, we’ve brainwashed ourselves into such frugality that he still asks if he can spend his money, and I’ve only spent a few pounds on flowers since January!) It’s a new plan so we don’t know what happens when it comes to the end of the year and one of us has spent it all and the other still has a small fortune, but we’ll find out soon enough!
It means we haven’t had to get stressed about spending because of the level of transparency that we started off with, and the fact that we talk about our goals all of the time. This probably wouldn’t be as easy with someone who had very, very different goals to me. I guess you have to do the groundwork before you partner up, to know how you’ll end up dealing with your finances.
In our relationship, I’m the Chief Financial Partner. Frankly, I do it all. This isn’t necessarily a great situation to be in, because it means that there’s an imbalance of power and the other person is vulnerable to financial abuse. It also means that if anything should happen to the chief financial partner (illness or death), the other person can be left stranded. I’ve been left stranded in the money wastelands before, and it’s not a happy place to find yourself in. It often does tend to happen that one person just does the job more readily and easily than the other.
Trust me, I’m currently steering the ship, but I’m not a financial bully. I do worry about leaving Lord Balders stranded, though. I’m constantly blabbering on at him about what’s going on with our finances, what credit cards I’m interested in using for stoozing and what bank accounts are offering switching incentives. I ask his opinion. He glazes over a lot of the time, because I’ve spoiled him by being a bit too good at my job. He knows everything will be taken care of… but we’re working on devolving some powers! It would be great for me as well, because it would feel like a bit of a load would be lifted from my shoulders, and I’d feel more confident that everything would be ok if I couldn’t look after us financially.
However you decide to sort out your finances as a couple, it’s important that it works for you – and that’s for both of you. Talk it out and agree on your money goals, and come up with a plan. It may not look like ours, but if it works for you, then that’s what’s important.
Are you the chief financial partner? (I bet you are, if you’re reading this personal finance blog!) What do your money goals look like? What do you think of our married money management?
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