How to Stop Arguing about Money

May 16, 2010

Money fight!Rarely do couples sit down with each other after they marry to agree on a new set of guidelines for how to manage and talk about money as a couple. Add a child to the mix, and what seemed like small differences in spending and saving become amplified and a major source of tension in the relationship.

No one likes to fight about money, so why does it happen? Most often, it is caused by a communication breakdown and lack of understanding about one another’s past relationship with money. If left unchecked, financial pressures can become too big to handle. The reality is that money is one of the top reasons for divorce.

Instead of focusing on the past and mistakes already made, couples can break the cycle by following the steps below to ensure that they have a non-judgmental platform on which to build a positive financial dialogue for the family.

Decide who is CFO. The job of CFO is a serious one. While you both need to be aware of, and knowledgeable about, your family’s finances, the role of day-to-day money management typically falls to one partner. Decide who wants the role and who is willing to take on the additional time and energy required to do the job well. If your finances are in good order, set a quarterly meeting to run through the family’s financial status. At least once per year, you should convene to discuss your family’s goals for that year (vacation, savings for retirement and education, home improvements, etc.) and make sure that your investments match the timeline needed to meet those goals.

If you don’t know where to start, hire a financial planner to help you get on track so you can effectively manage your family’s finances for years to come. Set rules for talking about money. Most couples argue about money between 6:00 and 9:00 pm on weekdays. This is a recipe for disaster since most everyone is tired from a long day at work or with the kids. Agree to NOT talk about money during these hours. Instead, mutually agree on a time during the weekend or during the day when you can talk about money without distractions.

Understand your partner’s relationship with money. Studies show that opposites attract when it comes to money. For example, the “spendthrift” is attracted to the “spender” initially because he or she exhibits a more carefree relationship with money. Unfortunately, this initial attraction can turn to frustration and lack of communication if not addressed later in the relationship. Write down a description of your relationship with money and of your partner’s relationship with money, then share what each of you wrote. Agree, in advance, that this exercise is not meant to be judgmental but to help you better understand each other.

Determine your family’s goals and money philosophy. Together, decide on what matters most to your family, such as: owning a home, travelling the world, getting the best education, or having a stay-at-home-parent. These goals are not mutually exclusive, but you will need to decide which ones are most important and where to focus your resources. Your family’s money philosophy should remain constant over time and not adjust to suit your changing financial situation. For example, you may decide that you will only take on debt if it directly corresponds with one of your goals and does not add financial stress. This may mean holding off on purchasing a home so that a parent can stay at home with the kids, or postponing a big family vacation until sufficient funds have been saved.

While there may be few things in life you can control, you have complete power over your relationship with money and how you talk about it as a family. Improving this communication is just a few steps away!

Katy lives with her husband and two young children in Mill Valley. Visit her online at www.katysong.com, or contact her at katy@katysong.com