Money is the main reason couples fight, according to a SunTrust survey. But, weirdly, all that financial bickering may be because we’re not talking about money enough, says Jeff Motske, a certified financial planner and author of The Couple’s Guide to Financial Compatibility. “I’m amazed at how many people don’t know much about their significant other’s finances, even after they get married,” he says. “Many people are embarrassed or shy or think it’s taboo to talk finances.” So they stay mum—until some irksome money move from their partner triggers a fight. To stop squabbling and start working together, focus on the financial spats you tend to have—and the fix that may finally end your war of the wallets.
THE FIGHT: YOU FEEL AMBUSHED ABOUT FINANCES
The Fix: A monthly money date night
“If you’re stressed about debt and get a credit card statement in the mail that’s more than you expected, the tendency is to confront your significant other right then, when emotions are running high,” says Motske. In other words: Cue the fight. He suggests couples schedule a night out instead, so both sides can approach the conversation more calmly.
And don’t get lost in the minutiae of every dollar and cent you’ve spent, he says. This night out should be more big-picture stuff: How can we tackle our debt, and how does this credit card statement fit into that? What’s our next vacation going to look like, and how can we make it happen? “Starting with big financial goals can soften the blow of having to make spending changes,” he says.
THE FIGHT: YOU HATE YOUR PARTNER'S MONEY MONITORING
The Fix: Set a discretionary allowance
If you’re hiding shopping bags in your trunk or getting Amazon delivered to your office in order to avoid justifying expenses to your partner, it’s time to rethink how you deal with each other’s spending habits. It’s natural for there to be one saver and one spender in a relationship, but constant monitoring—and commenting—will only build resentment. “Pick an annual amount that each of you can spend, no questions or nagging allowed,” says Motske.
He typically suggests each person can spend 1 percent of the annual household income. “You can blow it all in three months, give yourself a monthly stipend, squirrel it away for a giant expense—it doesn’t matter, as long as you don’t spend more than that,” he says. Spenders can enjoy the freedom of knowing they’ve got money to handle however they like, while savers can relax, knowing that their partners’ purchases have a set limit.
THE FIGHT: YOU LENT $1000 TO YOUR (FLAKY) SISTER
The Fix: Talk what-ifs ahead of time
You might think financial windfalls—like end-of-year bonuses, tax refunds, and birthday gifts—would only be something to celebrate. But they can be a source of relationship tension, because most of us wait until we have the money in hand to consider how we'll spend it. And if one person wants to put that $1600 refund toward credit card debt and another splurges on tickets to Hawaii, well, a fight is inevitable. The same is true for out-of-the-ordinary financial requests, like lending a friend or family member money. “To have harmony, sit down now and talk now about how you’d spend that money together—what amount would you save, what would you spend, who would you lend to and how much,” says Motske. “It is so much less emotional when it’s still a hypothetical.” And if the financial curveball does happen in the future, you’ll already have a plan worked out.
THE FIGHT: YOU CAN'T AGREE ON WHAT YOU'RE SAVING FOR
The Fix: Lean on a pro
You want to save for a down payment; your partner wants to double down on retirement savings. You think you need six months in an emergency fund; your partner would be happy with $1000 socked away. Sound familiar? “When it comes to finances, there are a lot of competing priorities,” says Motske. “A financial planner is one way to get unbiased, objective advice.”
That doesn’t mean dictating what your next steps should be, but it does mean weighing in on whether you can really swing that mortgage payment or you have enough going toward retirement. Don’t be afraid to shop around for a planner that feels like a good fit, and settle on someone you both feel comfortable with. “Because if there isn’t buy-in from both people in the relationship, you’re not going to get anywhere financially.”