Whether you’re going out on your third date and unsure of who should pay, or you’ve been married for 25 years and still can’t agree on a monthly budget, handling finances with your partner can take its toll on your relationship.
According to the Institute for Divorce Financial Analysis, money issues are responsible for 22% of all divorces, making it the third leading cause after incompatibility and infidelity. This doesn’t have to be your reality. You don’t have to let it get that far.
As a financial coach, I’ve had couples come to me time and time again, seeking advice on how to stop fighting over money and better manage their funds together. Take Joe and Paula, for example. This otherwise happy couple was a few short months away from getting married, but found themselves fighting over the wedding expenses each time a decision had to be made. Who should pay for the rehearsal dinner? What is a reasonable amount to spend on flowers, cake, or a photographer?
The fact that this couple came to me before they said their “I do’s” says a lot about their relationship. They had the willingness to come together and work on their money issues as partners, something that many couples find difficult to do.
Building this relationship can take time, especially if you come from different money mindset backgrounds. Everyone has a money story. Oftentimes, problems boil down to a lack of communication as to what someone’s story is. This was the case with Joe and Paula. They were fighting because they did not understand fundamentally where the other person was coming from — a common cause of many financial disagreements.
Here are seven mistakes to avoid when managing finances with your partner, and what you can do to keep the peace instead.
1. Hiding debt or spending.
No one is proud of entering a relationship with debt. Credit card bills, student loans, even outstanding parking tickets, may all cause you to feel shame, leading you to keep the debt a secret. Conversely, you may have little to no debt but love spending $500 on designer clothing each week. This is fine in theory, but if you never let your significant other know where a big portion of your paycheck is going, you’re opening yourself up to a world of problems.
A key component of any stable relationship is open communication. Agree that there won’t be any secrets, and bring everything to the table, including your finances. It’s time for full disclosure. You may feel embarrassed and have a tough time talking about certain areas of your past or spending habits, but it’s important to understand that your partner is in this with you, and you’ve agreed to manage your finances together.
2. Not understanding your partner’s mindset.
Chances are, you and your partner entered this relationship with some differences. You probably weren’t raised the same way, and you definitely didn’t come from the same household. This means, your money mindset may be quite different than your partner’s…and that’s OK. Once you recognize your differences, you’ll understand how to bring out the best in each other.
Consider the following questions.
· Did you grow up on a strict budget, or spend freely on whatever you wanted?
· Did you talk openly about money in your household, or was it hush-hush?
· Did your parents fight over money?
Sit down and ask your partner what money was like for them growing up, and allow the conversation to guide you to a place of respect for each other’s differences. The next time a financial disagreement arises, remember to bring it back to where it all began and communicate from a place of understanding.
3. Not having a common goal.
You may assume that you and your partner have common financial goals, but have you ever discussed it? While it’s perfectly normal to have different financial goals, you should strive for common goals as well.
A great way to line up your goals is to make a list of money goals that are important to you, and have your partner do the same. Is it important to you that you start saving for a big vacation, or your child’s college education? Do you want to be able to eat out once a week? How soon do you plan on retiring? Prioritize these goals and make time to discuss them together. See where there might be some commonality and overlap in your goals. Identify common financial goals, and outline steps on how you can achieve them together.
In areas where your goals are different, come up with ways to work on achieving these goals together. The idea is to be open about your financial desires so you can avoid fights about spending and saving.
4. Keeping secrets.
Communication is the foundation of a strong partnership. If you’re keeping anything from your partner, now is the time to come clean. 41% of Americans admit to committing financial deceptions against their loved one. Hiding finances from your partner is not healthy for your relationship and will catch up to you eventually. Keeping credit card bills or purchases hidden from your partner, for example, will only do damage to your relationship in the long run.
If you’re ashamed of a particular debt or spending habit, trust that your partner will be open to listening and working on it with you. If you’d like some support in facilitating the dialogue, consider working with a financial coach.
5. Trying to “keep up with the Joneses.”
Comparing your finances isn’t healthy. If you’re constantly looking at what your best friend and her husband are doing (taking vacations to Bali, buying new cars), you’re not giving your relationship enough credit. You and your partner have different salaries, expenses, and life plans than anyone else. Who you and your partner are is completely different to any other couple.
Instead of focusing on other relationships, bring your focus closer to home. Develop a budget and stick to a plan that is completely unique to your relationship. It may not feel as fun at the onset, but you will end up in far less debt and with fewer money arguments over time. If you both agree that you’d like to take a trip to Bali one day, add that into your travel savings goal.
6. Not allowing for money autonomy.
From what I’ve seen, the healthiest relationships allow for money autonomy.
You may be wondering how to handle that tactfully, especially if you have a joint checking account where every transaction can be analyzed down to the very moment of purchase. Agree on a monthly stipend for you and your partner, and stick to it. Each person should be allowed to spend on whatever it is their heart desires, without judgment.
In addition to a joint checking account, it may be a good idea to also keep separate checking accounts or individual credit cards. This way, you can buy yourself a treat, or grab your partner a gift without worrying about seeking permission.
Once you’ve agreed upon a monthly spending limit for each of you, the money is yours to spend as you please. You’ve worked hard for this money, so don’t feel shame in how you choose to spend or save it.
7. Only discussing finances when there’s a problem.
It may not sound sexy, but scheduling regular ‘money dates’ is the #1 way to keep your financial disagreements to a minimum. If you resort to only discussing your finances when there’s a problem, you will undoubtedly dread talking about money. To keep anxiety levels to a minimum, have monthly check-ins to discuss what’s working and what you’d like to improve upon.
Make time to discuss everything from your checking account to your 401k, with each date dedicated to discussing a different money topic. Conversations about money will be easier to handle if you start before there any problems. If you’re already feeling stressed about your finances, this is the perfect time to bring it up!
Managing finances with your partner doesn’t have to be a chore. Keep an eye out for these seven common mistakes that couples make when dealing with their finances, and instead, come to the table with open communication, and an understanding of your partner’s money mindset.
Put simply, grab a glass of wine and enjoy your money dates.
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