In May, my wife and I will celebrate our 16th wedding anniversary. Would you believe that in all those years we’ve never fought about money? (If you believe that I’ve got some ocean-front property I just can’t wait to sell you.) The truth is when we were first married we use to fight about money all the time. It’s no surprise that financial stress is one of the biggest contributors to broken marriages, especially for newlyweds, so how is it that Susan and I have managed to stay together for so long? Over the years we have learned how to resolve our financial conflicts by avoiding some of the common pitfalls that each of us faces. I know they’re common because in my line of work I hear people say them everyday. So in the spirit of Valentine’s Day, I’d like to share with you some of these pitfalls, along with ideas on how to avoid them, or at least understand them so that you can turn some of those nasty arguments over money into healthy discussions about your finances.
Common Financial Pitfalls
Pitfall #1 – The concept of “My Money”
I am a financial planner; Susan is a stay-at-home mom. I get a regular paycheck; she gets a basket full of laundry. When I come home at the end of the day, it’s easy for me to think “I’ve worked hard for this money, I should be able to spend it any way I want,” but this kind of thinking is destructive, and wrong. Susan and I are equal contributors to the home. Just because my contribution happens to be in dollars and cents does not give it greater value than the love and devotion (not to mention hard work) Susan gives. Countless times I’ve heard people justify purchases because they work hard for “their” money. STOP THE INSANITY. When you intend to stay together until “death do us part” then the idea of “my” money goes out the window.
Pitfall #2 – “The Budget Dictator”
“Susan, I’ve looked over our finances and I think you are spending too much on food and clothing, so I’ve prepared a financial plan that will keep you from overspending so that I can reach my financial goals.” Does this sound like anyone you know? It is very common for one spouse—the one who is “good” with money—to dictate how it should be managed. While on the surface this may seem logical, it’s a powder keg waiting to be lit. Just as both of you contribute to the value that goes into the home, both of you contribute to the value that comes out of the home. These values MUST be in agreement if you are to have a happy and healthy relationship. The ONLY way for these values to be in agreement is if both of you participate in the development of a household spending plan (a.k.a. a budget).
Pitfall #3 – “His and Hers”
I’ve spoken with too many couples who tell me “I make the money and they spend the money,” or “We have separate checking accounts,” or “I pay the mortgage and they pay for the groceries.” We have got to dispel this mindset once and for all. When you are married it is no longer “his” and “hers”—it is “ours.” Whenever Susan and I start to get heated over money, or family, or anything, we always remember one thing: we are on the same team. No matter how right I think I am or how wrong I think Susan is (or vice versa), when we tell ourselves that we are on the same team, we realize that when we hurt each other we are also hurting ourselves.
I’m not here to tell you it’s been smooth sailing ever since. We’ve had our blow ups every now and then, but keeping these things in mind and constantly reminding each other that we are on the same team always brings us back to common ground. In his Gettysburg address, Abraham Lincoln remarked “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” In the same way, a house financially divided can quickly fall apart. For this Valentine’s Day, give your spouse the thing he or she really wants—financial harmony (and some Sees candy) .