I'll never forget the first big money fight that I had with my husband. It occurred during our first month or two of marriage, and we now affectionately call it “The Water Bill Incident of 2010.”
It started out innocently enough. I asked my husband to pay the water bill, and he agreed. But he never got around to it. A week or two later, I got a nasty letter in the mail threatening to turn off all the water if we didn’t pay up.
I was annoyed, but I reminded him to pay it again. He came home from work that day and told me that he paid it, and that was that.
Fast forward two more weeks, and we got another letter saying our water would be turned off within a day or two. When my husband came home, I asked him again if he'd paid the water bill, and he looked me right in the eye and said yes.
I then held up the letter and he looked down, caught in the lie. He went and paid it about 10 minutes later.
Even to this day, the Water Bill Incident baffles me. It was so unlike him to lie to my face like that, but he later conceded that he was incredibly ashamed that he didn’t follow through on one of his first official husband duties. He kept meaning to do it, but didn’t get around to it.
Thankfully, this was one of the only really memorable money fights in our six years of marriage, and it was over something pretty small. Still, money arguments are incredibly common in marriages. Luckily, there are many ways to avoid them altogether.
Recent Research About Couples and Money
In 2014, Money magazine conducted an extensive survey of couples who made more than $50,000 a year. After interviewing over 1,000 couples and digging deep to discover what causes financial strains in marriages, some interesting statistics emerged.
When spouses do argue about money (and 70 percent of them said that they argue about money more than anything else), the top complaint is spending. In fact, 55 percent of money fights are about spending. Essentially, spouses don’t like it when they perceive their partners as being wasteful.
The survey also found that 60 percent of people check their bank account more often than they have sex. Clearly, we all have some work to do when it comes to priorities.
If you’re a couple who wants to get on the same financial page, there are a few things you can do:
Become Passionate About Common Goals
While many couples dread talking about money – out of a fear of confrontation – money talks can also bring people together. In fact, if you are able to become passionate about a common goal, it can help you to strengthen your marriage and work as a team.
When you first start dating someone, it seems so easy to get along with them. You feel like you could do anything, win any race, and conquer any goal together. As you get comfortable, get married, and live with each other for a while, you start to notice more flaws in the other person and, somewhere along the way, you stop working together as a team.
Setting common money goals is one great way to bring purpose and excitement back to your life together. The relationship becomes stronger as you pass each financial milestone.
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Give Each Other Some Spending Independence
In most cases, there is a spender and a saver. This is definitely true in my house. (No prize for guessing who the saver is!) What I’ve learned after many tense money arguments is that each person really needs his or her own money to spend, without any questions asked.
Every month, my husband and I each receive $225 that automatically goes into a pre-paid debit card. This is for fun extras. We have complete freedom to spend it without consulting each other. It might seem like a lot, but we decided extras included things like clothes, shoes, hair highlights, coffee shops, and makeup.
This makes it more challenging for both of us, but it forces us to make conscious choices about spending. Before, I’d go to Starbucks without even thinking about it. Now that it’s part of my “fun money,” I have to really consider if it’s worth it.
Giving each of us spending money with no strings attached has really helped reduce tension at home. My husband has amazing taste and always goes for quality, whether it’s his shaving cream or his socks. So now he doesn’t have to put up with me pestering him about a $12 pair of socks. Instead, he can make a choice to use his fun money.
Just Keep Going
As someone who has had many family budget meetings, I can tell you that some conversations will go well and some won’t. There will be really tense money fights and there will be some very productive conversations.
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The point is to be more open with your spouse and to try to be on the same page when it comes to your finances. Don’t become another statistic about money fights. We all know that money issues can lead to divorce. Instead, take control and put a lot of heart and soul into this aspect of your marriage.
With some effort, persistence, and compromise, you’ll be surprised at how financially well-off you can be with a strong partner by your side. Everything suddenly becomes better, including how often you… cook together!