Getting engaged to my now-husband was one of the most exciting moments of my life, but, early on, that excitement quickly morphed into a knot of stress. When we started to talk about moving in together, we had a conversation about money. The next day I woke up with a queasy feeling.
I was a free spender, and my soon-to-be-husband had always been a saver. I would have to confess that I had credit card debt -- and a lot of it. I'll never forget the look on his face when I finally mustered up the courage to reveal how much I owed. He was flabbergasted, and then furious. I was sheepish and, of course, defensive.
The argument that ensued wasn't exactly fun, but it was productive. After a lot of talking and negotiating, we came up with a money management plan to meet both our financial and emotional needs. Ten years later, both of us are still on the same page.
Money is the top reason couples fight, but it doesn't have to be. Whether or not your resolutions have to do with strengthening your relationship, now is a great time to refresh the way you connect. I turned to experts Syble Solomon, financial expert and creator of the interactive tools Money Habitudes, and Taffy Wagner, D.Min., author of Bride and Groom Money Talk FAQ. They shared the top eight situations that couples fight about when it comes to money, and how the two of you can get on the same page -- for keeps.1. One of You Is a Spender and the Other Is a Saver
Why you fight: You have very different ideas and values when it comes to money. The spender feels constrained and the saver feels insecure. Couples often see only the negative side of their partners' financial habits.
How to stop: Learn to recognize your partner's financial strengths. Take buying a car as an example. While a saver may gravitate toward an inexpensive used car, the spender may want a new, more costly vehicle. To arrive at a compromise you can both live with, you want to combine the saver's ability to sniff out a good deal with the spender's ability to commit to a purchase.
The bottom line: Aim to make a better decision as a couple than you would as individuals. Before you make any big purchase, have a heart-to-heart about your needs and expectations, and set an absolute limit for how much money the two of you are willing to spend.2. You Have a Single-Income Household
Why you fight: The person who earns the money expects to be in control of the spending; the non-earning partner in the relationship believes the decisions should be made jointly. This dynamic creates stress, conflict, and an imbalance of power.
How to stop: This issue really boils down to control, and marriage is a partnership. Using money to control your spouse -- even subconsciously -- can seriously damage your relationship. Start by broaching the subject at a calm time, not when you're arguing about money, and explain your feelings. One technique that can help is setting a specific dollar amount for each partner's discretionary spending, or agreeing that you'll discuss any purchase over a certain limit before making it.
The bottom line: This can be a long-term issue. If one of you breaks the new rules you set, talk about why you did so, and make adjustments. If you still find yourselves at a stalemate, consider enlisting the help of a marriage counselor. An impartial third party can help each of you understand the other's point of view.3. You Disagree on Spending Priorities for the Kids
Why you fight: You're not really arguing over private education versus saving for college, or designer duds versus second-hand shoes. What you're really fighting about are values.
How to stop: If you don't talk about the real issues, you'll keep having the same fight over and over again. A lot of these conflicts arise from the way each spouse was raised. For example, maybe you went to private school and think that will set your kids up for a successful future, while your partner went to public school and thinks that will make your kids more self-sufficient. Either way, just explaining the emotions underlying each of your beliefs will help you find common ground.
The bottom line: Try to reach a compromise. Always start by asking if you'll have to sacrifice anything to spend the money in question. If the conflict isn't about the expense, hash out exactly what is behind it and meet halfway. Maybe you send your kids to private school but have them buy their own clothing with allowance money, or send them to public school but pay for extracurricular activities to provide extra enrichment.4. You Have Debt
Why you fight: Dragging around debt always causes stress, especially if you can't afford to pay it off -- or if you disagree with your partner on whether to save your cash for a rainy day or pay off your outstanding balances.
How to stop: One of the easiest ways to alleviate the situation is to tackle that debt. For which debts to pay down first and how to balance that with savings, see Resources, below. To get aggressive and take care of your debt once and for all, take our free Get Out of Debt Boot Camp (see Resources, below). Either way, schedule a time to sit down, crunch the numbers (how much debt you have, what kind it is, how much savings you have, how much each of you earns), and decide what's realistic
The bottom line: You have to talk about your priorities; you might define security as being debt-free, whereas your partner feels safer with a hefty savings account. Once you understand each other, it will be easier to agree on an approach.
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