Money and relationships can seem at odds sometimes. Especially when partners have different approaches and attachments to money, everyday discussions can become heated and difficult. If you’ve got some “money troubles” with your partner, know that you’re not alone.
Love and money by the numbers
According to a 2016 Ameriprise study, 20 percent of couples feel that their money relationship with their partner is a work in progress — and 3 percent do not agree at all. On top of that, 3 out of 10 couples say they disagree about money on a monthly basis. Money is the second leading cause of divorce, behind cheating, and it is the leading cause of disagreements in a household.
Of course, disagreeing about money can spill over into other areas of the relationship, making money a difficult obstacle to overcome for many.
If you and your partner are in the same boat as many others having money struggles in their relationship, you can make it better. It all starts with understanding why money is such a struggle in the first place… and that involves communicating.
Know the difference in money and communication styles
Money arguments within a committed relationship aren’t just about who spent more money or which partner brings in the least amount of money. Often, it comes down to one partner being more risk-averse when it comes to money, while the other partner wants to play it safe. This can be reflected in how couples invest their money, what they want to do with their money (invest vs. travel), and how much they’re willing to set aside for the future.
This basic difference in “money styles” is usually at the root of the disagreements, but it doesn’t have to mean a couple is doomed. Instead, it means that they need to get clear on how to communicate with each other about money and seek ways to find common ground. Here are a few ways to do that:
Be a team. The best way to connect with your partner about money is to think from the perspective of “We.” You’re both working hard to build a life together, and that includes your income and finances. Instead of thinking about what you or your spouse bring in or spend, think collectively. How much are we bringing into the household? How much are we spending? What are our goals? It’s easy to get defensive when you start fighting about money, so make sure to connect on common ground here.
Schedule in money talks. If you’ve had big budget fights, the idea of setting aside time to have another one is probably making you cringe. But it doesn’t have to be that contentious. When you set aside time to address where you’re at with your finances, whether once a month or once a week, you can plan to have discussions and work with each other. This way, nobody feels cornered or attacked when the discussion comes out of the blue. Of course, one of the best things you can do is schedule these money talks with your financial planner, who will be able to work through the information as an objective third party.
Work with the other person’s communication style. You probably know by now that your partner needs different things than you do. Maybe your partner likes to be social after work while you want to stay at home, or you want to explore on vacation while your partner wants to relax by the pool. These differences come through in money, too. That’s why it’s so important to evaluate how each person talks about money and understands it. Does one person need a spreadsheet and tons of numbers while the other just wants to know what’s in each account? Does one person want a budget created down to the penny and the other just want to know what they have to spend each month?
With my financial planning clients, this is often where the disagreements come up. One person needs to understand the process behind their financial plan while the other just wants to know what to do so they can move on. Understanding these differences can cut through a lot of the disagreements and give you a tool to work with each other. Once you know how to talk to your partner about money, the disagreements become discussion and there’s a lot more growth and security.
Staying connected with your spouse (and your money)
Getting a grasp on your communication styles, evaluating where you’re at with money, and working as a team will help those money fights become less of an occurrence in your household. But, as you know, relationships take constant work and communication. Your relationship with money as a couple is no different; you’ll need to continue working on it so you can get exactly what you want out of it.
To help you and your partner stay connected with each other and your finances, there are a few tools you can use:
Guiding Wealth’s client portal. Our clients have access to a dashboard that allows them to track their money and see where everything is allocated. This is also helpful during financial planning meetings with couples so that everyone can see what’s going on at a glance.
You Need a Budget (YNAB). This is a great budgeting tool and app that lets you “give every dollar a job.” When you set up the tool, you can track all of your accounts, assign categories to what you spend, and even track goals (like savings or debt repayment). Both partners can download the app on their phones to check in on their own, but the reports and easy-to-read dashboard are also useful for those money talks with each other.
Your bank’s online platform. You don’t always need a flashy tool or a chat with your CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™. You just need to have visibility on what you spend. Setting up online banking with your current bank is super simple; usually, all you need to do is create an online account with email and password and the system does the rest. You can connect multiple accounts at the same bank to get a clear view of what you’ve spent and how much money you’ve currently got to work with.
Of course, there are virtually countless apps out there to help you track your spending, set goals, and maintain a shared approach to money with your spouse or partner. Here’s a great resource with some of the best couple’s money apps.
Hopefully, with these tools and a committed approach to staying on the same level with your partner, you’ll be able to move your relationship into a better place and see your financial security improve as a result.
Work on it — together
We all have to remember that money threatens our security. It threatens our basic instincts, which is why it feels like there is even more on the line.
Once couples start working together to establish security and connect with each other, that fear and defensiveness tend to dissolve. But it does take work.
If you’re looking for a great exercise to help you and your spouse understand your communication styles and how to talk to each other about money, Guiding Wealth has got you covered. You can download the Communications Preference Worksheet below to get started or you can set up a time to discuss your financial planning needs as a couple.