Fighting about money can be a huge stressor on your relationship, especially for couples who are already-stressed parents. Here's how to get on the same page—and make smarter money moves.

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The fact that you've committed to being someone's life partner—and raising kids together—doesn't mean you share the same approach to money. Far from it: 73 percent of married couples consist of one saver and one spender, reveals a survey conducted by Bethany and Scott Palmer, married coauthors of The 5 Money Personalities: Speaking the Same Love and Money Language. This combination can lead to frequent conflicts and flat-out financial dishonesty.

An image of a couple sitting back to back.
Credit: Getty Images.

A recent survey by financial services company Ally Bank found that about two-thirds of those surveyed wished they knew more about their partner's spending habits. The survey—which was taken by over 1,000 adults in the U.S.—found that while 90 percent agree it's important to communicate openly about money, almost half of those surveyed are not doing it effectively. To stay together (and happy), it's critical to get on the same team.

1. Learn your partner's money personality.

Is your partner the type who will invest in a pricey child backpack for the one time you'll ever go hiking? Or, by contrast, do they insist on squirreling away extra cash toward retirement even if it means skipping a new swing set for your kids? Understanding their underlying money values is an essential first step if you hope to reach a compromise, says Bethany Palmer.

2. Make a money date.

Fewer than half of all partners discuss financial matters regularly, despite the fact that maintaining an open dialogue is the most effective way to avoid budget fights, notes Scott Palmer. Sit down with your other half once a month to update your money goals and discuss your needs and wants so that you can work toward achieving them together.

3. Share control of spending.

Regardless of your work status, you and your partner each need some financial autonomy, says Jean Chatzky, founder of Money School, which offers virtual financial classes. Some couples set up a monthly allowance per person. Others put aside a percentage of their individual earnings to spend as they please, whether it's on a workout class or concert tickets. Come up with an arrangement you can both live with, and revisit it every few months.

4. Set an approval limit.

Agree to discuss purchases that exceed a set dollar amount in advance, whether it's $50 or $500, suggests Brad Klontz, Psy.D., coauthor of Mind Over Money. This "checks and balances" approach ensures that your big buys are joint decisions—and avoids unhappy surprises when the bill comes.

5. Meet in the middle.

Whether you're a saver and your partner's a spender (or vice versa), you can each make minor adjustments in your money-management strategies to find common ground.

If you're a spender...

Born shoppers need to cut down on impulse purchases by evaluating buying decisions more carefully. If you fit the description, try adopting these strategies to improve your money habits and build a healthy savings cushion.

  • Shop with a list. Spenders need guidelines, so make a list before you go shopping—and stick to it. It's easy to pick up extra socks for the kids or treat yourself to an iced coffee at the mall, but these "harmless" little expenditures can add up in a hurry. It's important to be mindful of just how these in-the-moment spending choices will impact your family's bottom line, advises Barbara Nusbaum, Ph.D., a psychologist in New York City who specializes in working with couples on financial issues.
  • Never say "budget." The term can be intimidating or carry negative connotations (like the word diet) to someone who struggles with impulse spending. Try calling it a "spending plan" and approach it as such. "Focus on the fact that establishing one will help you afford the things you need and save for those you merely want," says Dr. Brad Klontz. Budgets that are too restrictive can have the opposite effect—so be sure to come up with a family spending plan you can stick to.
  • Avoid the shopping trifecta. Don't buy things when you're angry, sad, or hungry. Rage makes you take bigger risks with your finances than you would when you're calm. Similarly, a case of the blahs can lead to a pricey impulse purchase you think will make you feel better (hello, new shoes!), says Jean Chatzky. And hunger gets your shopping motor going.

If you're a saver...

You have clearly defined financial goals and track your monthly living expenses (such as food, rent, and child care) closely. Chances are, you already have emergency, retirement, and college accounts in place. If not, make sure you do.

  • Automate your investments. Take the busywork out of saving by deciding how much to sock away and where the money should go. Then, set up automatic transfers. Knowing that you're regularly contributing to your savings will help you feel less guilty about spending on the things you and your family truly need, says Chatzky.
  • Allocate funds for fun. Your instinct is to hoard cash, so use this mindset to your advantage. Open an account that's earmarked for discretionary purchases, such as a weekend getaway. "This strategy dovetails with a saver's natural tendency to put away money," says Dr. Klontz.
  • Place a value on your time. Rather than constantly scanning coupon sites in search of the best deal, factor in how much money your free and family time are worth, recommends Dr. Nusbaum. You may find that scouring the internet for bargains on big-ticket items—such as airplane tickets or a big-kid bed—is worth the payoff, or you might find that those precious few moments during your toddler's nap might have been better spent chatting with a friend than trying to save a couple of bucks.
By Maryn Liles and Hiranmayi Srinivasan