We’ve all heard before that money is one of the most common things couples fight about. It happens for any range of reasons – but at the core of the issue, it’s about stress.
No matter what our financial means might be, money just gets stressful sometimes!
It’s the thing that helps us operate our lives, puts food on the table, keeps our businesses open… And when something starts messing it up, it’s easy to freak out a little bit!
Changes in career, disasters, dwindling markets, and other reasons beyond your control can throw your finances into turmoil, but what can you do if your money woes are simply the product of excessive spending and poor decision making?
What can you do if your spouse is threatening your financial stability?
Of course you’ll feel stressed (and even angry) if your spouse is frivolously spending the money you’re supposed to be sharing as a family, but just launching into conflict and criticism probably isn’t going to resolve the problem. For most people who can’t manage money effectively, it’s not a matter of being intentionally reckless – it’s a lack of skill, understanding, and planning.
With this in mind, the solution becomes more about setting a budget and helping your spouse understand a larger financial picture… Not just giving them a hard time for spending too much.
If you’re going to make a budget, though, you HAVE to stick to it – and to ensure that happens (and to approach your spouse’s fairly unrealistic view of how money can and should be spent), the two of you should work out this budget together. If you don’t agree on it, you won’t stick to it. If you don’t stick to it, you’re right back where you started!
First, sit down and figure out how much money is coming in. Then look at where it’s going now (even if you just have to estimate). Talk to each other about what each of you sees as the most important expenses, the “must haves” like utilities or vehicles, and tally up how much those will cost each month. There is, of course, a range of even these basics that you’ll have to decide upon – are you willing to drive a cheap car to put your money somewhere else? Are there amenities like cable or internet that you could do without? How much are you willing to spend each week on groceries?
After you get these “baseline” expenses sorted out (and do a little number crunching), you’ll have an idea of how much “extra” money you’ll have each month – and this is where the most conflicts arise. You’ll have to decide together what’s worth the expense. It might be hobbies or travel, entertainment or eating out. It could be making investments or putting money away in savings – it’s up to both of you to decide.
This idea of mutual agreement is essential here. While you may have mismatched ideas about who is “in control” of the money, argue about who earns more or who spends more, or even butt heads about what you actually NEED for your household, the budget you agree on can become the intermediary to fall back on.
See, it’s ok to have different opinions, but hashing them out when you form your budget can prevent them from being problems in the future. By working though your disagreements to make your budget, the budget then becomes the authority. When a conflict over money arises, you can always refer back to it – a document you both AGREED to stick to. In some fleeting moment where one of you wants to buy something unnecessary or excessive, the decisions you and your spouse already made about your budget will determine whether or not you should.
You can let the budget dictate whether or not you make a purchase – and that’s it. There’s no room for error or argument because you’ve already hashed out your differences of opinion and come up with something universally agreed upon. If one of you is upset about it, you can blame the budget (and in doing so, blame yourself because you already agreed to it).
Making a budget is a preemptive way to avoid financial conflicts, and if you can stick to it, a way to prevent feelings that one member of the marriage is spending too much. If you don’t have a budget, get started right away! You’ll be amazed at how many issues it can solve!