When we fall in love, everything is idealized. We promise to spend our lives together. We make plans for the future. And we often forget to talk about money.
As more couples wait until later into adulthood to get married, it becomes more of a challenge to blend households, says Ted Chapin, Ph.D., President of Chapin & Russell Associates in Peoria, Ill., and a licensed clinical psychologist.
Everyone has his or her own money style. And fortunately – or unfortunately – opposites attract.
You could be a saver while your partner is a day-to-day spender. Your spouse might be a strict budget follower while you like to spend on a whim.
“It’s important to be aware of your partner’s values as they relate to money,” Chapin says, “and to know how you want to live life and share roles.”
Money, relationships, and power
When conflicts in a relationship arise around money, they often are tied to power, Chapin says.
If one partner earns a higher income, he or she might feel entitled to make certain spending decisions. And a partner who brings home less money might feel inadequate and uncomfortable asking for an equal say in spending decisions.
Every couple faces money problems. Sometimes, those issues are related to other tough concerns, making money a symptom of unresolved conflicts.
To get everyone on the same page, Chapin recommends calm and careful communication. You and your partner can:
- Look at the pros and cons of your specific money issue
- Listen to and focus on what your partner says
- Talk about how you want things to be.
“As couples communicate and work on these issues, they build trust,” Chapin says. He shares the example of a couple working to blend their two families. The wife is the breadwinner and wanted to buy an expensive car. The husband wanted to wait until he was earning more money and could contribute to the purchase of a new vehicle they would choose together.
There were discussions about how much money to spend on weekends when the kids were at home. They debated marriage and combining finances.
“Over time, they learned to hear what their partner was saying, step back, and work through the issues instead of demanding their way,” Chapin says. “Both felt more secure in the relationship and decided to wait on the car purchase until they could do it together financially.”
Mutual funds, mutual understanding
Whether your relationship follows traditional gender roles or a more modern approach, Chapin guides couples to strive for equality and shared decision-making. Everyone wants to feel understood.
Creating a budget is a great way to build trust and to achieve a more common understanding of your combined finances, says Adam Koos, a certified financial planner and president at Libertas Wealth Management Group, Inc. in Columbus, Ohio. “Treat it like a company where you are the business partners,” he says.
Here’s how to go about it:
1. Look over all bank and credit card statements for the past three to six months.
2. Write down all expenses, including:
- Expenses for lunch and dinner
- Car payments
- Mortgage payments
- Health care costs
3. Note money being set aside for savings, including:
- College funds
- Emergency fund
“It can be really eye-opening,” Koos says. “Going out to eat is the single most
misunderstood expense we see with our clients.”
4. Build a budget that makes sense for your household.
As your relationship matures, you and your partner feel more understood by one another. This makes finding solutions and the willingness to make adjustments to spending and saving more natural, Chapin says.
It should also become easier to view the money each partner brings to the table as “ours.”
With a budget in place, you and your partner shouldn’t feel any guilt about your expenses, Koos says.
“Don’t feel bad about spending money anymore,” he says, “because if you stick to the budget you built together you are doing what you are supposed to.”