According to a nationwide survey conducted by LearnVest and TD Ameritrade, couples have approximately five fights a year over finances (the number is higher for younger couples) and have about 20 money conversations a year. That equates to talking less than twice a month about something that plays a factor in most everyday activities. It also ends up being a vicious cycle; couples avoid talking about money because they don’t want to fight about it.
I don’t think you can completely avoid arguing about money. Ben and I have good money habits, and we still argue over spending money on certain items and experiences. But the following three habits can play a big role in limiting the frequency of your arguments and keeping harmony in your money relationship.
Know your money personality and play to your strengths
Ben and I have very different money approaches. I meticulously track every penny that goes in and out of my accounts. In addition to tracking my expenses, my excel spreadsheet has a balance sheet, cash flow statement, and yearly analysis of my expenses. Ben takes more of a laid back “I have a senses of what’s going on” approach. He uses a bucket budget approach and is satisfied knowing that he can pay his bills on time and have enough to save on a regular basis.
While each approach may work for us individually, trying to meld the two personality types proved a little difficult. We tried once having each of us keep separate spreadsheets, which made Ben crazy. Similarly, the thought of not keeping track and just focusing on the bills that we needed to pay in the moment would make me lose my mind. (Note we never tried that approach for that very reason.)
So we settled on me tracking everything and Ben checking in to make sure we stay focused on our goals. He also does a lot of heavy lifting when we change a service (cancel Showtime when Dexter isn’t on, cut our cell phone bill, etc). He has an unusual knack for knowing when we can reduce the amount we pay on a bill, despite not knowing the amount we actually spend.
In the end, we have played to our strengths with our money personalities and found a way to both contribute to making our joint budget work.
Track your spending as a team
I can’t emphasize enough the importance of tracking your spending. You don’t have to dissect everything like I do, but you should at least have a good sense of where your money goes. By tracking your spending, you have concrete numbers that you can point to when figuring out the nitty gritty of a joint budget.
Tracking makes Ben crazy. Luckily, I love it. And while I have the main responsibility of itemizing the expenses, Ben contributes by organizing our receipts, sending me texts or emails on how much we spent on cash, and reviewing the spreadsheet. Not having the stress of categorizing everything keeps him sane, and I enjoy having a teammate to help catch any mistakes or miscalculation. If neither of you like to track, you should try the online tools that I discussed previously.
Not only does tracking jointly help us communicate better about our money, having concrete numbers to analyze helps us easily tweak our budget. You’ve likely heard the phrase “numbers don’t lie.” If it turns out we spend too much on buying Scotch for me, we can easily identify it and correct the habit. Or we can balance it out by the amount that we spend on buying Bourbon for Ben. Either way, the concrete numbers help us focus on the spending and help us avoid the “you spend too much money” argument.
I think couples should check in once a week on their money. You can discuss what you’ve spent, any joint goals, or just how you feel about where you are with your money.
In my practice, I’ve learned that most couples pick one person to deal with the majority of the bills (can you guess who that is for us?). And that’s fine. But you also want to make sure the other person participates and knows what is happening with the money. Balancing each spouse’s strengths in money management and participating in joint tracking can help facilitate these conversations.
Keep in mind not all of these conversations have to last for hours. Ben and I had a check in over the weekend in the back of a cab on our way to a friend’s place. (I’m sure the cab driver loved hearing how much each of us have saved in an emergency fund.) It makes us both feel better to openly communicate about our money and touch base on our goals.
I also think an extended discussion once a month going over your budget will help ease money anxiety. I like to pull up the joint spreadsheet and go category by category to make sure we have a concrete understanding of where our money went this month and how that affects our spending for the rest of the year to meet our goals.
Try them out
Overall, I think these habits overlap with one another and can create a synergy in the relationship when dealing with your money. Try applying some of these tips and let me know what you think!