Although a 2004 SmartMoney study concluded that 70% of couples discuss finances on a weekly basis, the divorce rate continues to climb, with money being one of the main reasons couples break up. So why does money continue to be a primary reason for divorce when people appear to be talking about it non-stop?
Certified financial planner, Mary Clair Allvine says that when couples discuss money they do so in an emotional and reactive manner rather than approaching the subject with a more objective, strategic viewpoint. One reason emotions run high is when one spouse is the “saver” and the other is the “spender.”
Cate Williams, the vice president of financial literacy at Money Management International says that it’s imperative for “spenders” and “savers” to fine-tune their communication skills. Couples should have a concrete understanding about paying bills and how much money should be allocated toward non-essential spending. Even though it may be tempting for the “saver” to pay off the “spender’s” bills, this dynamic may only encourage the “spender” to essentially spend more money.
Williams explains that any time the “saver” pays for the “spender” there could also be a power struggle, which encourages stress in the relationship.
Both Williams and Allvine suggests that rather than allowing emotion to dominate the discussion, to instead approach the matter as you would a business. "If you put a business metaphor into the picture, you'd be surprised how much more methodical people are,” Allvine explains.
There are several ways you can collaboratively approach finances and not allow the discussion to escalate to war:
Structure Finances as Yours, Mine and Ours
Rather than polarizing finances, go for a middle-of-the-road approach. Not all couples function the same way so Ginita Wall, CFP and co-founder of the Women’s Institution for Financial Education suggests that married couples should try different ways of handing money to see which way works best for them. Sometimes separate accounts for “mad money” may work best.
Take a Collaborative Approach to Managing Debt
A common problem is when one spouse enters the relationship with considerably more debt than the other. Once you are married, your spouse’s debt is now yours so if you find yourself in similar circumstances consider maintaining separate accounts. However, keep in mind that even though you won’t be directly paying your spouse’s debt from your account, his or her credit score will have a direct impact on yours.
Learn to Budget Money Together
The scenario of the “spender” and the “saver” generates an exorbitant amount of tension and stress in a relationship. However in many relationships, one person typically doesn’t spend all the money, only that men and women spend money differently. While women may be covering the family’s daily expenses, the men may be paying off big purchases. Although both parties end up spending about the same amount depending upon what is being purchased (clothing, vehicles or electronics), one spouse may end up with the dubious title of “spender.”
Instead of going in two different directions with your spending, create a budget and a list every expense on a piece of paper. Allocate who purchases which item to reduce spending “surprises.”
Share an Investing Philosophy
The spouse who takes the “all in” approach to investing will make the conservative spouse feel nauseated. While risk takers and safety net singles pair up everyday, don’t let your investment philosophy tear you apart. Come to an investment agreement that you can both feel comfortable with and will help you reach your financial goals.
Review financial investing goals once a year and determine how many years it will take you to reach them. Consider a plan that allows for both some risk while continuing to play it safe so both parties can sleep at night.
Never Keep Money Secrets
Hiding the occasion pair of newly purchased shoes from your spouse is one thing, however some couples chronically hide how they spend their money. Serious marital consequences arise when one spouse has a secret gambling addiction or trading obsession.
Plan for Emergencies
Having a cushion for unexpected events such as income loss or unplanned medical expenses will relieve some of the stress families experience when an emergency is presented. The standard stash of three to six months worth of living expenses is the norm and can be compiled in something like a money market fund.