Solving The Money Problems In Your Marriage

One of the toughest parts of Susan’s and my job is to help a family through divorce. With divorce, money is often a big issue. Who gets what, when and for how long. Divorce causes money disagreements; that’s obvious, but what’s less obvious is that disagreements over money can cause divorce.
I came across a recent survey last week of 191 CDFA (Certified Divorce Financial Analyst) professionals from across North America. It finds that “money issues” are one of the three leading causes of divorce. One of the CDFA professionals in the survey noted, “Many couples lack the communication skills necessary to navigate financial disagreements in their marriage. The emotional connection of money with safety and security in many people makes the financial disagreements more salient than other disagreements.”
They say that money can’t buy happiness, or love, but it seems that money can certainly interfere with both. Susan and I see it in client meetings with married couples, with each spouse on very different pages. You see, when we think about common money issues or disagreements, our first thought is that people are upset because they don’t have enough of it, or want more of it, but that’s rarely the case. Oftentimes it’s less about how much the couple has available, and more about how they should use it.
Folks, I have said this over and over again . . . a budget is critical to building a financially successful relationship. I find that everyone has different habits and opinions about money. Some are inherent savers, bargain shopping and stashing away every penny that they can for the future. Others believe that money is meant to be spent, and they tend to be less frugal and “treat themselves” more often. It’s easy to say that there is a happy medium there, but it isn’t always easy for married couples to find that happy medium unless they take the time to discuss it and both agree that the final plan is “happy” for both spouses.
Successful couples will sit down and determine how much money should be stashed away, how much is available to spend and what it should be spent on. I’ve found, and I think many of the CDFA professionals in that survey would agree, that the biggest money issues arise from a lack of communication and a lack of transparency. “You spent how much on your golf membership!?” “Your shopping spree added what amount to our credit card?!” Although in many instances, it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission—making a unilateral financial decision within a marriage is usually not one of them.
Part of a couple’s budget should involve some type of slush fund—an agreed-upon amount that each partner is able to spend without consulting the other. That could be $100, $200 or $500. There’s no right or wrong number. It depends on each relationship and financial situation. Folks, I am also speaking from personal experience on this one. Jill and I have a set number (unless I find the perfect set of new golf clubs). As I try to explain to my lovely bride, there are exceptions to every rule.
I have also learned in my almost-23 years of marriage that people should put themselves in the other person’s shoes before judging a purchase, even if those “shoes” are $400 boots that were “on sale.” If you are married, or in a serious relationship, you probably know how to do this already. You’ve learned to look at things from your partner’s point of view to understand where they are coming from. While I cannot comprehend why Jill buys boots that, to me, look exactly like the last three pairs she bought sitting in our closet, she probably thinks I am crazy to have my car detailed as often as I do. But if those boots make her as happy as a clean car makes me, I can understand how they are worth it.
Hmmm . . . at least I try to.
The most important thing is to set goals together. Both spouses need to agree on what they want, and what their end game is. I think that’s where I help folks solve a lot of problems, as I can help be a moderator and say, “Got it, so the goal is to . . . well, in order to do that, you need to cut your spending to . . . Does that sound good? Is the goal worth giving up the shopping sprees and the golf memberships? If not, let’s adjust those goals to something that you both can agree on.”
Now, I’m not a marriage counselor; Jill will tell you I am extremely underqualified for that role. But having a financial professional who is able to clearly set out steps and guidelines to follow in order to reach agreed-upon financial goals, can lessen the number of arguments that go something like, “We can afford it!” “No, we can’t!”
What I cannot help with is advice on how to fight that look in a wife’s eye when she really wants something . . . I’ve yet to figure out how to do that.
Be vigilant and stay alert, because you and your partner deserve more.
1. http://tinyurl.com/y8k28vrv