While it may be complicated, your money and relationships can coexist.
Money and relationships – it’s a complicated affair. Marriage comes with many challenges, but money seems to consistently top the list of struggles that couples routinely face.
Sadly, it’s the leading cause of marital and relationship troubles. In fact, 40% of married couples have serious, recurring arguments about money, according to Matt Bell, author of Planning for Fewer Fights with Your Spouse.
Disagreements about money are not necessarily due to the lack of funds. Sometimes it’s more about how money is managed.
The decisions you make as a couple and the habits you cultivate now will have a lasting impact on your marriage, your financial success and your future.
Couples agree that discussing the management of combined finances is important, but few admit to actually having those continued conversations on a regular basis. The combination of money and relationships has always been a tangled one, but not one that can’t be successfully managed. It’s critical for you and your spouse to discuss your financial expectations … your needs, wants, struggles, and short- and long-term goals. Honesty and openness are two of the most important factors in this conversation because this will be the foundation of your financial plan and ultimately, your future.
Many couples make the mistake of visiting this subject sporadically during their relationship, which is usually during some level of financial crisis. Once your financial plan has derailed, it’s difficult to get back on track. One way to avoid this is to schedule a standing weekly or monthly budget meeting – a “financial date.”
Create a budget
The first step to managing your budget is to choose a convenient time for both of you to spend an hour or two creating a budget. Set aside a low-stress time without any distractions so you can focus on it together. You might even consider going to a local coffee shop or grabbing dessert at your favorite restaurant.
You don’t need to look at it as a chore, necessarily, just another way to connect and stay on the same page as your partner.
Come prepared to discuss your income, your spending, your bills, and your needs versus your wants. What’s your plan for the short-term? Are you saving for a vacation? Will an upcoming holiday or event impact your grocery budget?
Next, move onto the long-term. Do you have children that will be going to college? Aging parents? Will you need a new car in the future? Are you planning to buy or sell a house soon? It’s time to dive deep into those conversations.
Although it may seem that some of those financial decisions don’t have to be made right away, the reality is that they do need to be considered. Maybe they don’t need to be finalized, but they need to be on your radar. Planning for the future and knowing what’s coming around the corner is your best defense against financial derailment and for keeping your money and relationships in harmony.
Whether you use a hand-written spreadsheet, index cards, or formal budgeting web-based and software programs, such as Mint.com or Quicken, let your style be the guide. Use what works best for you to manage and track your spending. If it’s too difficult, time consuming, or complicated, you’ll easily find ways to avoid it and quickly fall off track.
Once you come to a budgeting agreement with your spouse, shake hands, pinky swear, or high-five each other. Whatever you choose, make it a genuine promise to stick to the plan and be conscious of your spending.
Your weekly or monthly budget discussion doesn’t need to be a lengthy meeting. You’ve done the major work up front. Now it’s time to review the plan’s execution.
Set aside 15 to 30 minutes and discuss the bills that were paid, purchases that were made, potential areas for improvement, and consider tweaking the money allocated to different categories. Make adjustments to cover upcoming expenses, but be sure to agree to those adjustments together.
Your budget may be about managing your family’s expenses, but it’s also about communication. Your budget is a working plan, subject to successes and missteps. It’s not a time to judge or reprimand each other; it’s the opportunity to work together to reach a common goal – to ensure your money and relationships aren’t working at cross purposes. In time, your meetings will run more smoothly, planning will come more easily and you’ll see the true value and—in the end–be thankful for the monthly budgeting meeting.