Money fights with your spouse are no fun. In fact, they can devastate your marriage. And if you find yourself disagreeing about money a lot, you’re hardly alone.
A 2016 study from Ameriprise Financial reported that arguing over money is fairly common among couples, with 31% admitting they clash over financial issues at least monthly. (1) Topics that sometimes divide even the happiest couples include major purchases (34%), money decisions that affect children (24% of parents), the partner’s spending habits (23%) and investing choices (14%).
But if you’re having trouble getting your spouse on board with new financial habits, here’s a little one-two punch of good news—not only is finding common ground about money an attainable goal, it’s also one of the most powerful ways you can strengthen your marriage!
Let’s go over some workable action steps you can start today to get your spouse on board.
Make Sure Your Accounts Are Combined
Marriage is a partnership. That has some pretty clear implications for the way you both should be handling your money.
- No “his and hers” income. While some might lobby for separate accounts, at the end of the day having a “this much is mine” and “that much is yours” approach to money is guaranteed to create a lot of resentment when it comes time to pay the bills. Guaranteed. It’s much easier for you both to combine all of your income. And once you’re paid, forget all about who earned what. It makes you both true financial partners in the marriage. If you and your spouse currently keep separate bank accounts, plan to combine them today! Your spouse will feel a lot less like a roommate and a lot more like sweetheart.
- No unexplained expenses or secret accounts. Secrets are a pretty bad idea in a marriage. And that certainly goes for your efforts to get on the same page about money. Anything you’re keeping from your partner will hold them back from being able to trust your advice. If you personally have accounts you’ve never explained or even revealed to your spouse, clear the air right away. They’ll probably be more than willing to open up with you, about money and other issues as well. Having separate sinking funds for items or “fun money” as a disclosed part of the monthly budget is fine, but the amounts and locations never need to be a secret from your spouse.
Let’s say your spouse has agreed to combine accounts, but they are still unconvinced about your goals around budgeting, saving, debt or investing. Do not worry. Getting on the same page about money can be, and often is, a bit of a process. Here are a few tips.
Approach Money Discussions With the Right Attitude
In your journey to connect with your spouse about money, pooling your resources is a great start. Now you need to help your spouse see that your vision for how to handle your money makes sense. And that’s impossible to do without the right attitude.
Attitude matters a lot, because most of us tend to have strong emotions around money. If you’re already sold out to the undeniable power of the Baby Steps, congratulations! We understand the overwhelming desire you may feel to wow your spouse with the facts and figures you believe can help you both take control of your money!
But remember the heart often trumps the head, especially in money discussions. Tact and kindness here are key. So is a willingness to ask questions and listen. In other words, winning over your spouse is going to depend a lot more upon how you treat them than it will upon your command of facts and data.
Instead of opening with a lecture about debt or compound interest, lead with a dream or some of your common goals. Ask them to share what they would most like to accomplish ten years from now, or how they envision your retirement looking. How do they feel about the money subjects most couples care about?
- Your kids going to college.
- Owning paid-for vehicles.
- Paying off the mortgage.
- Retiring at the lake, on the beach or around the world.
- The freedom to help other people financially.
Those are all awesome dreams, and they’re goals many people would gladly sign up for. But very few who accomplish them do so with a reluctant spouse who doesn’t understand the facts about long-term financial planning.
As the conversation grows, it’s fun to see the picture take shape in your spouse’s imagination. You might even notice them giving you a funny, far-off look as if they’re catching sight of your vision. If you can find the areas you already agree on regarding plans for your future, it will go a long way toward helping your spouse to see why the Baby Steps apply to your marriage.
Here are a few more tips to keep the conversation upbeat and productive:
- Ask each other questions and be just as honest with your answers as you were when you combined your incomes.
- Don’t censor your spouse. Be open to whatever they’re thinking and feeling, look for common ground and be willing to compromise.
- Don’t preach. Remember it’s your shared future you’re talking about.
Get a Plan
Now it’s time to put some flesh and bones on those dreams, and begin to walk them out with practical application. What you’re both needing is a plan. These are the basics.
- Agree to a budget. One of the most helpful ways to jump into happily-married budgeting is to recognize the reality that there’s a nerd and a free spirit in every relationship. Which one you are, and which your spouse is, will definitely impact how you communicate around money. Acknowledging that one of you will enjoy budgeting more than the other is comforting.
- Write it down and make it zero-based. Talking through your expense plan was the first step, but don’t forget to get it all down on paper. This is where you ensure that the math works and all the bills are covered. Finally, make it zero-based, which just means you keep budgeting until you have a defined purpose for every dollar of income.
- Don’t forget to leave a little room for fun. After all, budgeting is not a straitjacket.
- Schedule monthly budget nights. Obviously the nerd will look forward to these, and the free spirit may resist them. (Maybe even boycott them at times.) That’s okay. The main thing is to be consistent, give every dollar you earn a job to do, then stick to it. Over time, you’ll see increasing financial progress.
Carry Out Your Plan
Speaking of sticking to it, what’s the best way to ensure you actually succeed in executing your budget plans? Glad you asked.
- Accountability is huge. You probably already depend upon your spouse in several ways, and vice versa. Adding financial accountability to the list will make you more likely to follow through and less willing to do anything dumb with your money.
- Use the EveryDollar budgeting tool. It’s a free app that makes budgeting a snap.
Of course, it’s also possible to follow all of our advice and still find your spouse isn’t ready to sign on with you for new financial habits. So what should you do if you’re still in completely different places? Here are a few final thoughts:
- Consider meeting with your pastor, a trusted friend, a parent or someone your spouse is likely to hear from.
- ·Look into marriage counseling. Money fights are painful, but sometimes the underlying issue is about more than just money.
- Keep an open mind, and stay flexible as you both grow together.
Looking for a great place to begin? Sign into SmartDollar and start learning. The Baby Steps have helped millions of families just like yours to take control of their finances. If you’re searching for specific help to get your spouse on board, check out the powerful video lesson on Relating With Money.