Q: My girlfriend and I are in a rather serious relationship and I am thinking about asking her to marry me. One thing that bothers me is that we tend to argue a lot about money – our views are just different. I’ve been told that money can ruin a marriage so I’m just not sure what to do at this point. Any ideas?
A: It seems like most people in relationships argue about money to some degree. Some argue about spending too much, making too little, not saving enough – the list is almost endless. Yet, at some point you’ve got to stop and ask yourself, is it the money that’s the problem or is it just the result of another issue?
The primary reason that couples argue about money is that they fail to gain “alignment” regarding a particular situation. He wants the Chevy Camaro and she wants the Lexus IS – the two items aren’t aligned so let’s start WW III to see who wins! Arguing in general isn’t healthy, and it sure won’t solve any money problems that you’re having. The key is to figure out what the problem is and solve it. In the above case the problem is: we need a car without too hefty of a monthly note. Once the focus is shifted to addressing that problem, then we can address what car we can afford.
Here are some ways for people to constructively talk, not argue, about their money:
Is it really the money? As stated above, the cause of most “money arguments” isn’t really the money itself. It could be related to one person making more than the other. It could be that you all are sharing expenses but not in a way that is “even” according to how much you individually make. When you figure out what the real problem is you should address it and not the money. For example if you make 55% of the monthly income and she makes 45%, why not try splitting the joint bills that way? You’ll both be shouldering your appropriate amount of the expenses and it may make you feel as if you are really being treated as equals.
Don’t shout, talk it out. Shouting gets you nothing but a night on the couch and some high blood pressure – both of which are unnecessary. When you have differing views about a particular item, ask some questions to find out what the issue is. Make sure that you listen to what the other person has to say before you respond. Most of all just make sure that you are respectful of the other person’s views. No one likes to feel as if his or her opinion isn’t important. Besides, you wouldn’t yell at your boss so why would you yell at someone you love?
Set the goals and then put them on autopilot. Let’s say you both want to buy a house and agree that you should be saving up for that gigantic down payment. But when she gets your joint credit card bill she sees that you charged $500 on new stereo components for your car. Then you all argue about who is dedicated to the goals and why one person is holding you both back. Sound familiar? The easy fix is once you set goals, automate their funding so neither of you has to worry about it materializing. Set up a separate bank account, have the money deducted from each of your checking accounts and call it a day. Automate to eliminate the arguing.
Make it a family affair. Family finances are not the sole responsibility of one person – no matter who the breadwinner is. Couples have to make it a priority of discussing THEIR finances TOGETHER – this can’t be stressed enough. So once a month the two of you should sit down and go over the money earned, bills paid, expenses incurred, progress towards goals, banking statements, etc. If you all see something that starts an argument, take a step back and look at your long tem goals. How does whatever you all are arguing, excuse us, talking about fit into your long-term goals? By putting your finances into the open, you all shouldn’t be surprised by something when you see the bill for it.
Work out the kinks BEFORE not AFTER the wedding. Don’t think that the words “I do” will solve anything that you have a problem with now – it will just make you committed to those differences. If you have concerns about your partner’s approach to finances, or vice versa, make sure you all realistically confront those differences. If one person is a spend thrift and the other person is Ebenezer Scrooge, you all need to figure out if there is some type of middle ground between you two. If the other person doesn’t want to change, you might want to reevaluate the relationship. Simply thinking that not discussing the issue will make it go away is like hoping that a bill collector just forgets your phone number – it ain’t gonna happen! Besides, if you don’t address the problem now and you all do have very different perspectives, then you are setting yourself up for one stressed-out marriage – we know some good therapists if you want the numbers.