4 Ways to Budget, Resolve Financial Conflicts with Your Partner
According to the Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, disagreements over money are one of the leading causes of conflict for many couples. As both a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and a Certified Financial Planner, I can confirm that 80-90 percent of the couples we see in our offices have regular fights about money.
For most couples, it’s not that they simply don’t earn enough money as a household and that turns into fighting. Rather, it is that the two individuals running the household are just that— individuals. Both have different ideas about how and where money should be spent, what is a priority, and who should have the final say. These differences in opinions turn into power struggles that lead many couples to ignore important long-term financial goals in the daily process of bickering over who spends what and where.
To break this cycle and get on the same page, couples need to be deliberate about changing the way they do things. Here are four easy tips that can help any household minimize conflict and start taking bigger steps towards financial freedom.
1. Agree on monthly steps needed to reach your big goals. At its core, managing your finances is a tug of war between enjoying your money today and planning for the future. Couples that do not have a clear picture of what that financial future looks like (i.e., how much they’ll need to retire someday, to pay for college, to pay off their mortgage, etc.) can very easily make wasteful spending decisions. By having a joint vision about what needs to be set aside each month to plan for these unavoidable future costs, a couple develops a communal sense of motivation. This will help them control their individual spending and lower their long-term financial stress. To get started, schedule a date night where the two of you spend some time on Google researching how much someone your age should be saving towards these goals.
2. Use online expense tracking. One of the great ironies in financial planning is that most individuals will earn between 1-2 million dollars over their working life. For a dual income couple, this increases to $2-4 million dollars. For most households, that is more than enough to reach their financial goals. However, most couples have a very poor grasp on when and where their money gets spent each month, leading to a lot of wasteful spending and missed opportunities. While creating a budget on paper is helpful in trying to get a handle on where your millions go, the newest generation of personal finance software makes it a breeze. Visit websites like Mint.com and Quicken.com to learn more about software that automatically tracks spending in your bank and credit accounts, sending you notifications when you’ve reached the limits you set based on your budget.
3. Ditch the credit cards and use “spending accounts” instead. Few things cause as many financial fights with couples as their credit card balances. While these cards seem to have great benefits on the surface (the ability to buy now and pay later, earn miles or points on expenses, etc.), these benefits are quickly erased by the cost of carrying a balance or having a huge fight over impulsive spending. To limit conflict, consider opening an individual bank account for each person and depositing the preset amounts for those hard to track, hard to control expenditures. Using these “spending accounts,” combined with taking the credit cards out of your wallet, will ensure that each person spends within the amounts set in your budget.
4. Make sure each person gets a little “fun” money. Most therapists will tell you that it is human nature to give up on a diet that doesn’t leave a little room to cheat once and a while. It falls under that mindset of “all work and no play” makes us dull people. The same is true with budgets, which are nothing more than financial diets. Couples that allocate a little bit “fun” money to each person that can be spent on non-essentials without the other’s permission, often do much better in reaching their financial goals. Even a small amount of “fun” money helps preserve a sense of freedom and enjoyment in life, in the midst of having to buckle down and focus on reaching financial goals. Just $50 per month set aside for having fun may help someone stay on target while paying down thousands of dollars in debt or make a mad dash to save enough for retirement or their kids’ college.