Couples and Money: Learn How to Stop Fighting Over Your Finances in Marriage

Married Couples Spend a Lot of Time Fighting About Money

Apart from sex, money is one of the leading causes of stress in a marriage. When couples fight about money it’s not only bad for the marriage, but it can also lead to bigger financial problems as well. One of the problems is that one person in the marriage may be completely in charge of the daily finances while the other may completely unaware of what’s going on.  When you are married or dealing with shared finances both parties need to take an active role in dealing with the family’s finances. It is not fair to place the entire responsibility on one person’s shoulders and this extra burden is sure to leave to arguments.

It isn’t just about avoiding arguments. Yes, having shared responsibilities may reduce stress, but what happens if the person normally in charge of the finances were suddenly no longer to manage them? Maybe it’s an injury, or even worse, death? What happens to their spouse who has never had a hand in the finances before? As if the death of a spouse isn’t difficult enough, now they are at a complete loss when it comes to simply paying the bills.

Start With Simple Tasks

It’s common for one person in the relationship to handle the checkbook or to monitor daily balances. Whether it is because this person is better with numbers or has more time to keep up with the task, when only one party is privy to this information it can quickly lead to a disagreement when questions come up regarding the status of the finances. Begin by making sure both people are on the same page with day-to-day finances. This doesn’t mean both people need to sit down and work out the checkbook or enter data into Quicken together, but both parties do need to have regular access to this information so they are on the same page.

Tackling the Big Purchases

While it isn’t likely that in a marriage one person will go out and buy a car or a boat without first consulting their spouse, but these larger purchases are still an area for added stress in a relationship even if they are openly discussed. Again the problem comes when one person isn’t fully aware of the financial situation. If one person handles most of the budgeting and day-to-day finance issues they are fully aware of their family’s situation and may know whether or not they can afford the big purchase. But what happens is the spouse that is not as involved in this aspect of the finances will have a false sense of what they can or can’t afford. Maybe they freak out thinking that their financial situation isn’t as good as it is so they fight about spending too much money. Or maybe they have this feeling that money is abundant and wants to buy a new car without realizing how tight money is. Either way, you can be sure there will be a heated discussion about this.

When deciding on a large purchase it is crucial to take some time to make sure each person fully understands where the finances stand and what the purchase would mean going forward. If you need to, sit down and go over the budget item by item, clarify the current balances in all of your accounts, and understand what bills or expenses will be coming out in coming months. With both parties in agreement on the true state of their finances they can go into making a large purchase without assumptions. There is no quicker way to an argument when one person thinks they can afford a $30,000 vehicle while the other knows they can realistically only afford a $15,000 vehicle.

Hold Regular Family Money Meetings

Think of your family finances like a business and hold regular meetings. You don’t need to set aside hours of time or put together fancy reports to have a successful meeting. All it takes is spending a few minutes a week together to make sure everyone is aware of what is going on. Make it a point to spend at least a little time once a week going over the immediate financial issues and then try to have a monthly time set aside to review longer term issues. Don’t stop with basic budgeting and cash flow discussions. Use those monthly meetings to go over longer term goals such as retirement plans so you don’t end up broke, college savings, and other financial goals and dreams.

I’m sure you’ve been here before. How does it feel when your spouse springs something up on you at the last minute? For example, have you ever had a situation where your spouse tells you about a birthday or baby shower gift that needs to be purchased tomorrow for the event this weekend? If you’re living paycheck to paycheck this can be a stressful nugget of information. Nobody likes surprises when it comes to spending money that wasn’t budgeted. A quick talk once a week will identify these types of expenditures before they become a surprise and will not only allow you to budget better, but probably keep you from sleeping on the couch over a $50 argument.

Author: Jeremy Vohwinkle

My name is Jeremy Vohwinkle, and I’ve spent a number of years working in the finance industry providing financial advice to regular investors and those participating in employer-sponsored retirement plans.

9 comments
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Supra Skytop
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brad@northwesternmutual
brad@northwesternmutual

Excellent post, Jeremy, especially your suggestion that husbands and wives should be, at the very least, on the same page. The old saying says “ignorance is bliss,” but most married people can tell you that the adage doesn’t hold true in discussions about the family’s finances. In my opinion, “ignorance is to blame,” and “clarity is bliss.” Research conducted by the company I work with, Northwestern Mutual, showed that people who proactively managed their finances were significantly more likely to say that they were happy, hopeful, optimistic, confident, cheerful and upbeat. Proactive money managers were also less likely to say they’re worried, regretful, conflicted, disappointed and depressed. Here’s a link to the study, if you want to check it out: http://www.sevenfinancialhabits.com. If husbands and wives can work together to take control of their finances, they may be able to strengthen their finances AND their marriages. Best of luck to everyone!

The Rat
The Rat

From the news articles and television shows I have seen, it is healthy for a couple to routinely discuss finances together, even if one spouse is more 'in tune' or has the tendency to be more active with personal finance matters.

My wife and I initially found it difficult a bit because her interest level was always been a bit lower but now she appreciates the importance of our collective financial matters and she has learned a lot and contributes a lot to our goals and objectives.

Nice post!

Sadie
Sadie

Fighting about money? Resolved via separate checking many years ago when we both had written a check on the single account that day!!

Jon: Same here!
As to both being aware of current account status; spouse only wants to know the "bottom line"! Rather frightening situation in spite of fact that I am always telling him this & that to remember. While preparing taxes for accountant, I am working on file identifying "Need to Remember/Know" & stressing all that arrives in the mail and is not immediately familiar to him is not necessarily "Junk Mail"...it might be IMPORTANT!

Fortunately I maintain files on most everything though sometimes there is so much I find myself wondering where is that file, from what account does that electronic deposit or bill need to be paid from which account. And
lastly building hard-copy card file with sign-on's, passwords, secret questions; all to be available if/when needed with copies to be secured in bank safety deposit box.

RJ Weiss
RJ Weiss

The biggest thing for my wife and I is to sit down once a month and just talk about money. It's so easy to automate everything these days, that it's so important that both of you know where money is coming in and going out.

We also make sure to set aside any goals for the next month, that we want to work on together. Makes the process a little easier.

Credit Girl
Credit Girl

The way I see it- tackle your finances together that way you can solve the problems immediately and directly with each other if there are any spending discrepancies that way you know exactly how your finances are looking instead of being surprised later on. OR, like what Jon has said, if one partner would rather handle all the financial aspects, that's fine too as long as you keep them in the know from time to time about money.

Jon
Jon

My wife has absolutely no interest in the day-to-day aspects of handling our money, so I've done it for 27 years. I do try to keep her apprised when I make specific investments, and explain the "why" of each choice, but most of the time she'll just say, "that sounds good." I have prepared a list for her of all of the accounts, and how they're paid, as well as insurance information and other essentials, that she can consult if I were to become disabled or die, but she's just not a money person. I can't recall the last time we fought about money.

Awareness Home Funding
Awareness Home Funding

There really are no small issues when it comes to money. The more you talk about finances as a couple, the easier it is to manage the daily aspects of money, not to mention to bigger ones.