We’ve said it before, but because so many people still struggle, it bears repeating: money is one of the top reasons couples fight. Financial concerns are simply embedded in our culture – as that old line from Cabaret goes, “money makes the world go round.”
This simple fact has a tendency of keeping people on edge – and makes sharing finances particularly difficult. Everyone (from the wealthiest to the most modest means) is well aware of how much they’re making, how much they’re spending, and which elements of either of those numbers they aren’t very happy with.
When you combine finances, as most married couples do, suddenly you’ve got two people’s opinions, two people’s expenses, and more often than not, two people’s incomes thrown into the mix. It’s pretty easy to see where disagreements could crop up!
When you face these kinds of challenges, there’s really only one solution: developing a budget – and sticking to it!
The root of so many money arguments is a disagreement over where (and how much) money is being spent. Almost nobody fights over the fact that the mortgage has to be paid, or that you have to put food on the table. Couples do fight, however, over where to set the heat/AC or what kind of food to buy – but they’re really arguing over how much is being spent.
Similarly, couples don’t really fight about wanting to go out to dinner occasionally, or about the fact that we have to buy clothes to cover our bodies – they fight about how much those things cost and how frequently they happen. It all boils down to a genuine difference of opinion about what’s important, what’s extraneous, and what’s worth spending your hard-earned dollars on.
A budget – if you’re willing to make some tough decisions and stick with them – can make these problems all but disappear.
The process isn’t terribly complicated – it’s really just running the numbers. First, figure out your income, then write down all of your truly essential expenses and tally them up. By “essential,” we mean those things that are necessary/obligated like house payments, loans, car payments, average utility costs, childcare, etc. These are things you pay for month after month with little or no room for change.
Next, look at the flexible (but still important) expenses like food, “luxury” utilities like TV, internet, phone plans, etc. They may be more or less “essential” to some people, but they can be adjusted based on other needs.
Once you have those figures in front of you, do some math. The money you have leftover each month – after those essentials and flexible needs are accounted for – is your “expendable income.” If it’s not quite the number you want it to be, that’s when you look at those “flexible” purchases and try to make some wiggle room.
Now that you have your expendable income figured out – or at least estimated – you have to make some of the toughest budget choices of all. How much goes into savings? How much goes toward entertainment and leisure? Even if you decide on a dollar amount, you also have to determine how those dollars will be doled out… One big outing each month? A reasonable leisure budget for each week?
These will likely be tough – even contentious – conversations for the exact reasons mentioned above: you and your spouse will have different opinions about all of these things. This is the time to get through those differences, though, because these are the choices that are going to prevent fights in the future.
The whole point is to make the decisions now – when you aren’t out and tempted to spend or in the store considering a purchase. When you have your budget established beforehand, you can always use it as a point of reference, your ultimate fallback if you and your spouse disagree about a purchase, or if one of you thinks the other is spending too much.
The budget is something you already agreed on, and gets to be the authority on all expenses. If the budget says you can’t afford it, you don’t get to buy it. If there’s still room in your expendable income, you can!
This takes the guesswork and emotion out of it, and keeps you both accountable to the joint decisions you made.
Now, many people worry that a budget will be too restrictive, that they won’t have the freedom to buy what they want, when they want – but that’s simply not the case!
The idea is to create stability, to help you stick to decisions you made of sound mind, when you were thinking about your overall financial picture (and goals). It might curb some frivolous spending, but if you plan ahead, it’s not going to stop you from grabbing lunch with friends or picking up a new item now and then.
Budgeting can help prevent unnecessary arguments over money, and even help you develop better habits that lead to a life of more wealth and prosperity! Sit down with your spouse and start planning a budget as soon as possible.