The number of things partners can fight about seems endless. From chores to kids to what’s for dinner, the list goes on. But it turns out that fights over one topic in particular—money—could be linked directly to divorce rates.
One study found that the more frequently partners fought about money, the higher their risk of divorce was. The real question is how much fighting is too much. It turns out that couples who argued about finances every week were more than 30 percent more likely to divorce than those who fought just a couple of times a month.
If you and your partner are fighting about money too often, check out these strategies for helping both sides cool off.
Start talking early
That’s early in your relationship. It may be naive to think that you will never have disagreements or different opinions. Having different approaches to money can be like wanting to eat at different restaurants or do different activities on the weekends.
I’m not saying you have to start the conversation on your first date (beware, however—some potential daters ask about your credit score these days). Wait until you have a sense of how your potential partner spends money and whether it’s different than the way you handle finances. That’s when you should start thinking about having a money talk.
This can be especially complicated when you’re younger, but maybe even more important. Perhaps you’re both new graduates and just getting on your feet financially. As your incomes increase, how will you manage disposable income? It’s important to figure this out early, before you run into problems later.
Understand and accept you may think about money differently
The first step is to realize that you and your partner might view money differently. If that’s the case, don’t try to force him or her to adopt your viewpoint– It’s a square peg/round hole situation.
Psychology Today defines two principal mindsets: the spender and the saver. These two mind-sets are opposites that can lead couples with different approaches to money management to butt heads. Being aware that your partner possesses the opposite mind-set can help you be more open-minded about his or her approach to money. And these differences can actually turn out to be a good thing for your relationship and how you manage money (more on this below).
Plan regular money talks
Having spontaneous arguments as problems arise isn’t the most productive way to handle money issues. This reactive behavior isn’t likely to be as helpful as being proactive and avoiding problems before they arise. No one says money meetings have to be boring or miserable! There’s no need to sit at opposite ends of the negotiation table and stare each other down.
Instead, talk about money on a planned date. Maybe the last Sunday of every month includes going out for brunch. Associating “the talk” with a pleasant experience is more likely to generate a positive, and cordial, conversation.
Focus on the future
It’s easy to get wrapped up in day-to-day life and forget about the future. We’ve all been guilty of this… In my case, I loved learning about engineering, but I failed to consider what jobs I might want to do in the future (and here I am, a full-time writer).
With your partner, think about money the same way. You might argue about one Apple Store purchase or a pair of shoes. But in the end, they won’t matter that much—it’s more about what the future has in store.
Here are four topics that deserve top spots on the agenda for your money talks:
1. Your home – Will you buy a home? Rent an apartment or house? Upsize? Downsize?
2. Retirement – At what age do you hope to retire? How will you start saving and invest? Will you travel? Move to a warmer climate?
3. Cars (and other big purchases) – Are you content to cruise around in a clunker? Or is a BMW more your style?
4. College education for kids – Knowing the cost of college, will you try to pay all of their college costs or just part? Or do you expect them to pay their own way?
There are dozens of topics besides these, and many depend on what stage of life you’re in. The last one alone could fill more than a few agendas for your financial conversations! Just relax and do the best you can. You might find it helps to prioritize your list with your partner. At least you’re not going to run out of things to discuss at your money meetings!
Mix budgeting with freedom
It’s quite possible that your partner isn’t going to be as good (or as bad) at budgeting as you are. While most financial experts agree that having a budget is a good idea, you don’t have to budget for all your spending money. Plan some wiggle room for each person. One idea? Free spending money.
The idea is simple. Each partner gets a set amount of money to spend as she or he pleases—no questions asked. No fighting, no guilt-tripping, no comments even about how each partner spends it. It doesn’t have to be a lot — maybe just $100 a month each. It’s going to depend of course on how much you have after paying bills and adding to your savings. The idea is that both partners are free to spend at least some money each month without scrutiny.
Share the burden
There’s a myth out there that the “head of household” is in charge of all things financial. This turns out to be a bad strategy in most cases, both for managing money and avoiding fights.
Instead, divvy up the responsibility. Time magazine puts it this way: “Manage based on interest, but decide together.” In other words, partners tackle the money issues they’re best at or most interested in, but that doesn’t mean they make decisions on their own. Talk about the important decisions at your regular meetings, and then go to your corners to take care of your part.
When you do make decisions together, aim to make them easy to accomplish. Like hitting many financial goals, the best way to do that may be automating savings.
Say you want to save $100 each month to buy a new car. Rather than trying to transfer money monthly and figuring out where it’s going to come from, make the transfer automatic. Virtually every bank has ways to do this now, and it only takes a few minutes to set up.
Think hard about merging money
Convention says you should combine your finances if you get married. You may feel pressure from others to join accounts, too, but it’s really a personal choice.
J.D. Roth explained on Get Rich Slowly how he and his wife kept their finances separate, saying that it even “strengthened [their] relationship.” But it won’t work for every couple. He adds: “If you and your spouse are happier with joint finances, if joint finances strengthen your marriage, then use joint finances. But don’t combine finances just because you think it has to be done that way. It doesn’t.”
A middle-of-the-road idea: keep a joint account but have your separate accounts too. This allows for some autonomy and works well with the free spending money idea described above.
Finally, be flexible. What works for you now may not be as useful down the road as your job or family situation changes. However, keeping the lines of communication open with regular meetings will always help to avoid money fights.
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