Six tips for making married money easier.
In study after study, money is often cited as one of the top conflict points in marriage. Finances can be an emotional topic for couples, especially when money is tight. So it pays to get in the habit of discussing it on a regular basis, even if you keep separate finances.
“If you are not having the conversation, it’s important to start.” says Sherry Wallis, an STCU community development officer. “Often times, the benefits far outweigh the challenges that come with any deeply emotional discussion.”
Here are six things you should keep in mind to both get — and keep — the conversation going.
1. Make the time
It’s easy to avoid important discussions when it feels like there is no time for them. Schedule a regular time for a “business meeting” with your partner. It may be 30 minutes after dinner once a week, or an hour over morning coffee every couple of weeks. Choose somewhere that’s neutral and comfortable for both of you, and stick to it. If you miss a meeting, reschedule it. And make it a point to come prepared.
2. Take an active role
As a partnership, it’s important that both of you take an active role in financial management. Even if you don’t handle the day-to-day paying of the bills, you should have a good idea of what accounts, bills, costs, and income are involved. This will reduce stress if the partner who does the day-to-day management becomes unable to do so, and helps ensure that goals you set together are realistic.
3. Set realistic goals together
Speaking of goals, you should work together to set short, medium, and long-term financial goals that are SMART – specific, measurable, adjustable, realistic, and time-oriented. If you’re not sure where to start in setting joint goals, then start by writing separate lists to compare. Find a few goals that match, and start working on your step-by-step plans for achieving them.
4. Find a system
There are dozens of budgeting and money management systems that can be effective. The important thing is to choose one that you both agree will work with your shared finances.
This might mean a shared account, separate accounts with shared record-keeping, or an app that both of you can log in to. It can even be something as simple as an envelope for receipts. Whatever it is, make sure you both agree on it. Then, revisit the question occasionally so you can make adjustments before something becomes a problem.
5. Keep emotions in mind
Though money seems to be about the numbers, money management is 90 percent about emotion. Try to be aware of when you are feeling emotional about a topic, and acknowledge that with your partner as soon as possible.
To avoid triggering an emotional response that derails your discussion, ask helpful questions rather than making statements about each other. For example, instead of saying “you spend too much,” try asking “I’m curious why you spent $100 at…?” It will help both of you understand and address the emotional motivations behind financial choices.
6. Ask for help
There is everything to be gained by asking for help when you need it. If you and your partner are having a particularly difficult time with a topic, consider taking a financial education class together to learn more about it and get some advice. If you are having difficulty agreeing on goals, or on next steps, consider asking a financial professional for advice.