Managing finances as a couple: some tips to avoid or defuse arguments about money.
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.
Why we don’t fight about money
I suppose Ste 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 – and continues to help us – to avoid arguing about money
1 – We chose a partner who shared our outlook on money.
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!
Of course, this isn’t much help if you’re already involved with someone whose money habits are terrible. But if you aren’t already, you can save yourself some trouble down the line by thinking about how compatible that prospective partner really is.
It might not seem very romantic, but arguing constantly isn’t romantic at all, is it?Consider whether you're financially compatible with a prospective partner. Click To Tweet
2 – We decided together how we were going to combine our money, and we did this early on.
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!Decide early how you'll combine your money as a couple, but decide together. Click To Tweet
3 – We dignify each other
Although I knew that I was more experienced at managing 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.
Understanding how pride affects couples’ finances
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.Fighting over money? Talking down to your partner never helps. Click To Tweet
4 – We found common goals
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.
Adapting financial goals as a couple
Since then, our money goals have changed. We bought our first home together, and then our goal was to renovate it. After we did that and sold it on, we bought another home, and have different savings goals.
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: £50 at the beginning of each month, which accumulates throughout the year if it’s not spent.
Now he can buy whatever he wants and I can buy art supplies without guilt as long as there’s enough in our respective pots.
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.Create common money goals with your partner and work towards them together. Click To Tweet
5 – We communicate constantly
In our relationship, I’m the Chief Financial Partner. I used to do it all, but over time it’s been shared a bit more. Still, I take the lead overall.
I’m glad that things have changed from the early days, because a situation where one partner does it all isn’t a great situation for anyone. 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. In order to avoid that, we try to communicate constantly about our finances.
Keeping each other in the loop
While I take a lot of interest in supermarket cashback apps, he keeps on top of getting the best price on petrol. We both keep an eye out for bargains and let each other know about new switching incentives or special deals.
What really helps to keep us both in the loop is getting together at least once a month and going through each account, so that we know exactly where we stand.
Over the years, we’ve been able to distribute responsibilities a bit more according to our interests, and that wouldn’t have happened if I’d just continued to do it all on my own.Communicate constantly (and positively) with your partner about your finances. Click To Tweet
Managing finances as a couple may be a challenge sometimes, but you can make it work.
Remember that every couple is different.
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.