Stop Arguing and Start Agreeing about Money
- Thursday, May 31, 2007
Studies show that the top reason couples argue is disagreement about money. That’s because money taps into deep emotions and affects every area of spouses’ lives.
If your marriage is one of the many filled with tension over financial issues, there’s hope. You and your spouse’s different views on money don’t have to result in constant conflict. Once you learn to understand and respect each other’s perspectives, you’ll be able to communicate wisely and reach agreements about your finances.
Here’s how you and your spouse can stop arguing and start agreeing about money:
Let your differences complement each other. If one of you is a saver who craves security and the other is a spender who likes to take risks, consider the value you each bring to your relationship by balancing your shared approach to money. Respect and appreciate your partner’s unique desires, without trying to make him or her more like you. Decide to work together to draw upon the strengths you each have to offer, for the benefit of your marriage. Cooperate to take informed, sensible risks that will pay off for both of you, with one spouse helping to think plans through carefully, and the other encouraging the other to be willing to take a risk.
Beware of debt. Understand that debt can cause huge amounts of stress in your marriage. Commit to pay off existing debt as aggressively as possible, and to avoid incurring any new debt. Know that the short-term gain of debt is rarely worth the long-term pain. Don’t allow your emotions to overrule your rational thinking. Think and pray about what you and your spouse are and are not willing to go into debt for, what borrowing limit you feel comfortable with, and how you plan to repay debt. Discuss these guidelines in advance to protect yourselves from the consequences of making impulsive purchases.
Talk about your expectations. Make sure you clearly communicate and understand each other’s expectations about your finances. Understand that the degree to which your expectations are met (or that you can adjust to different assumptions) has a lot to do with how satisfied you’ll each be in life. Discuss issues such as: whether or not both of you will work, how much you’ll each be expected to earn, who will pay the bills and handle other administrative tasks, how much freedom you’ll each have to spend money as you choose, who will contribute your household’s primary income, how much you’ll spend on gifts for holidays and other occasions, whether you’ll have separate or combined accounts and checkbooks, whether or not you’ll pay for your kids’ college tuition, and to what extent should you help each of your elderly parents. Be willing to adjust your assumptions for the sake of harmony in your marriage.
Don’t fly blindly. Get your finances in order so you have a clear idea about where you stand financially. Lay out all your financial records and list all your assets (what you own) and liabilities (what you owe). Throw out whatever records aren’t necessary for you to keep, and organize the rest in well-marked files or envelopes. Cancel every credit or debit card that isn’t essential. Designate a secure spot as a central place to keep your most important documents, such as birth certificates, Social Security cards, insurance policies, and wills.
Figure out how your family history has shaped your current attitudes toward money. Explore how each of your family backgrounds have affected the way you handle money. For example: Did your parents argue about money? Who primarily oversaw the finances? Who paid the bills? Did your parents give you an allowance? How much did your parents spend on birthdays and vacations? What patterns did your parents model about saving, spending, giving, and investing? Once you understand how the past has affected you and your spouse, work to get rid of unhealthy habits and create new, healthy ones so you can move into the future together with productive attitudes.
Understand how society’s messages affect your approach to money. Seriously consider the extent to which you may have bought into cultural myths such as: "Money really does bring happiness," "You can have it all now," "Enough is never enough," and "Bigger is better." Pray for the strength you each need to stay true to biblical values like contentment and self-control despite society’s pressures. Decide to live by your convictions instead of the media’s prevailing messages.
Get to know the way you’re each wired. Realize that you and your spouse’s basic temperament types directly affect each of your spending and saving habits. Understand the way you’re wired so you can know why you each respond to money the way you do.
Check your heart. Ask God to reveal what’s in your heart about money, and help you to live by His principles for managing money. Remember that God owns everything because He has created everything. Understand that even the ability to earn your income is a gift from God, because He enables you to do so. Out of gratitude, decide to be wise and responsible with how you use your money and other resources (such as time and energy). Recognize that every financial decision is also a spiritual decision, and always seek God’s wisdom before making the decision. Know that God is much more concerned about your attitudes than He is about how much or how little money you have at any given time. Understand that it’s God – not money – that gives you worth and determines your identity.
Learn from the past. Remember the experiences you’ve had – both positive and negative – that have changed your perspective on money. Discuss those incidents with your partner. Ask God to help you gain wisdom from them, by learning from your mistakes and noticing what you did right that led to your successes.
Schedule regular money meetings. Meet with your spouse every week, every other week, or every month for half an hour to discuss the state of your finances. Focus just on money during these meetings, where you can review your budget and goals, discuss purchases, share feelings, identify action items, and delegate assignments. Be sure to listen intently to each other, give each other compliments and encouragement, give each other equal time to speak, clearly communicate your specific thoughts and feelings, try your best to understand each other’s point of view, accept the fact that you can disagree about some issues yet still both have valid points of view without either of you being wrong. Don’t criticize your spouse, refuse to talk openly and honestly, lecture your spouse, hide the whole truth from him or her, or get distracted.
Use conflict to your advantage. Understand that arguments aren’t necessarily bad; they can be a source of great growth for you and your spouse. Expect conflict to occur as a normal part of life, and don’t avoid it. Instead, make it productive by: focusing on how you’re arguing as well as why to make sure the tone doesn’t become nasty, stopping to determine precisely what you’re arguing about so you don’t get off-track, brainstorming possible solutions to the problem you’re arguing about, settling your disagreements as quickly as possible, seeking a victory for both of you, refusing to demean or degrade your spouse, remaining open-minded while realizing there may be a solution you haven’t thought of yet, and staying focused on the primary goals of your conflict – unity and understanding. Don’t force consensus, but use negotiation, compromise, and teamwork to reach an agreement. When the issue is resolved, celebrate together.
Work toward creative compromise. Be open-minded, flexible, and willing to change. Clearly communicate exactly what you want, and why. Keep negotiations grounded in reality. Set aside plenty of time to discuss options. Stay focused on the end result – a solution you’ll both enjoy. Submit to one another in love.
Hold each other accountable. Don’t look the other way when your spouse acts irresponsibly or unreliably with your finances. Take personal responsibility for your own failures. Communicate openly, tell the truth, refuse to hide anything from each other, and commit to making mutual decisions. Meet consistently to make sure you and your spouse both are fulfilling your agreed-upon assignments, agree on new action steps, and encourage each other.
Dare to dream. Think and pray about how you can use money as a tool to make your dreams come true. Discuss those dreams with your spouse, and listen as your spouse shares his or her dreams with you. Then create a plan to turn your individual and collective dreams into reality. Begin your plan by focusing on where you want to end up. Describe your dreams as precisely as possible. Piece together incremental goals to check your progress along the way. Periodically review your progress. Make adjustments if you get off course. Include some goals that will require extra effort but help you leap ahead. Be flexible and willing to replace old dreams with new ones if your passions and God’s leading change. Work with your spouse to keep each other accountable as you pursue dreams.
Establish and maintain a budget. Realize that a budget is crucial to have for your financial health. For one month, track every penny you and your spouse spend so you can make informed choices about future expenditures. Once you’ve identified your regular monthly expenses and other, less frequent expenses, determine the amount of net income you can spend per month. Then organize a budget around all the different categories of goods and services on which you spend money (housing, food, auto, insurance, child-care expenses, savings, charitable giving, etc.). Work together to live within your budget.
Discuss your future. Talk with your spouse about your plans and options for major future expenses, such as retirement, your children’s college education, and taking care of elderly parents.
Consider investment options. Discuss how you both would like your money to work for you, through investments such as real estate, annuities, stocks, bonds, and mutual funds. Consider what risks you do and don’t feel comfortable taking as a couple. Diversify by investing your money among a variety of investments to spread out the risks. Think about the time frame in which you want to realize the greatest return on each investment. Handle disappointing results in healthy ways without lashing out at each other, and enjoy success together when your assets grow.
Consider insurance. Ask yourselves what will happen to your family if either you or your spouse isn’t healthy, becomes disabled, need to be cared for on a long-term basis, or die before settling your financial commitments. Then purchase health, disability, long-term care, and life insurance to help provide for your family’s future needs.
Give. Realize that no matter how much or how little money you and your spouse have, God wants and expects you to give to further His work in your church, community, and the world. Make giving a high priority, and give cheerfully and generously as God leads you, remembering how you have been blessed. Communicate freely and often about how much and where to give, and discover mutual passions so you can give to causes about which you both feel strongly.
Adapted from Cents & Sensibility: How Couples Can Agree about Money, copyright 2005 by Bethany and Scott Palmer. Published by Life Journey, an imprint of Cook Communications Ministries, Colorado Springs, Co., www.CookMinistries.com/LifeJourney.
Bethany and Scott Palmer are partners in life and work. They are both financial professionals and have counseled thousands of couples with financial issues, helping them work through their financial differences to discover more joy in their relationships. Bethany is the executive director/cofounder and Scott is the director of sales for Envoy Financial, an international organization that consults and implements retirement and group benefit plans for ministries and their employees. As financial representatives, Scott and Bethany offer advisory services and securities through Lincoln Investment Planning, Inc., Registered Investment Advisor, Member NASD/SIPC.
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