Money is a hot-button topic for many couples and can often lead to damaging, long-lasting financial stress on your relationship. Financial issues range from having different money personalities to not understanding — or knowing about — your partner’s debt. These issues can lead to fights at best and breakups and divorce at worst.
In fact, if you and your partner find yourselves fighting about money, you’re certainly not alone. Forty-one percent of couples with consumer debt argue about money, according to a 2017 study by Ramsey Solutions.
Plus, twice as many marriages are starting in debt than 20 years ago, according to the same study. This inevitably leads to more conflict regarding shared finances.
For me, I’m thankful my wife and I no longer fight about money, and our life is relatively free of financial stress. We’ve worked hard to make sure that money isn’t a major source of dissatisfaction in our relationship. Here are some tips that worked for us.
1. Talk About Money Early
I’m not saying you should evaluate who you date based on their money outlook. But if you get seriously involved with someone, I recommend making sure that you’re both on the same side of the ledger, so to speak.
You should at least discuss your credit history, your attitudes about debt, how you spend money, and how much you want to save for your future.
Don’t hold back anything that’s important to you or that you would want to know from your partner.
Surprising your partner about your finances later might not turn out so well.
My wife and I discussed our finances after only a few months of dating. It was easier for us because we were both in college at the time. The financial strains of adulthood hadn’t set in yet, but there were still some tough topics to tackle.
We discussed our current debts and how we wanted to deal with money moving forward. While neither of us had a job or income at the time, financial responsibility was a huge priority for both of us.
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My wife ended up graduating with more than $80,000 in student loan debt. We both knew about her debt long before we got engaged. In fact, we created a plan and were tackling her student loans way before we tied the knot.
I’m glad we did this early and while we were still just dating. If you're already married and are hiding financial woes from your partner, it’s possible to minimize conflict if you communicate clearly and honestly. If you don’t, expect your partner to be less than thrilled to have married into debt that he or she did not know about.
“When you marry, your finances become joint, and your partner deserves to know if you have debt or money problems,” says Tina B. Tessina (aka “Dr. Romance”), psychotherapist and author of Dr. Romance’s Guide to Finding Love Today.
She also recommends that you “get clear exactly what your financial issues are, and see if you can come up with a realistic plan to fix them. The conversation will go better if your partner knows you’re working on fixing the problems.”
After the initial conversation, Tessina says you should give your partner some time to digest the information, then talk about what you want to do to fix the problems. If you were brought up in a culture of secrecy regarding personal finance, you may want to seek counseling to learn how to talk about taboo subjects with your partner.
2. Agree on Major Purchases
I always shudder at those holiday commercials where a husband surprises his wife with a brand new luxury car. That husband likely signed up for years of high car payments without consulting his wife. It’s a perfect example of how financial stress starts.
You should always discuss major purchases in advance.
In our household, buying anything over $200 merits a discussion. You and your partner can set that limit higher or lower, depending on your budget. Setting a hard limit will save you both some awkward conversations.
3. Give Yourselves Allowances
One simple tool that my wife and I use to prevent fighting over money is to give each other an allowance. Every paycheck, we each get a set amount that we can spend on anything we want without having to ask the other person. That amount is usually $50, but sometimes it’s higher — during difficult times, it may be $0. Each of us can do what we please with that money, no questions asked.
4. Set Monthly Reviews
You should review your income, expenses, and progress toward major financial goals at least once a month. It doesn’t have to be a long talk, but consciously setting a time to discuss what’s going on with your money will ensure that you’re both on the same page.
If you’re not on the same page, use the time to have a conversation about what you both feel needs to change. It will also remind you of the goals you’ve set as a couple and help you focus on what’s ahead.