How to talk to your spouse about money without fighting (part two)

Did you miss part one? I’m going to jump back in right where I left off:

married couple money fight

Don’t make any assumptions

We form opinions and beliefs about money from an early age. Our families, churches, friends and the media all influence how we think about money. Understand that your spouse has had his own set of influences throughout his life before meeting you. Even though I married young, here are just a few deep rooted beliefs I had about money before marriage:

  • giving is one of the most important things you do with money
  • you should start investing for retirement as soon as you have an earned income
  • married couples should combine their finances
  • it’s better to buy higher quality clothes that will last longer

I hope you and your husband talked at length about your money beliefs before marriage, but we didn’t. Most married couples I’ve asked didn’t, either. If you’re hitting roadblocks in money conversations, it could be because you both assume your spouse feels the same way as you do. Chuck the assumptions and start asking questions.

Be accountable, but not defensive

Budgets seldom go as planned. I recommend lots of grace for unplanned spending, especially while you’re getting the hang of it. You know, the “I forgot I had a prescription to refill” or “It was totally unrealistic to budget $200 for food.”

However, it’s also important to be honest when you should have been more disciplined and kept your word. Sticking to the budget is an opportunity to show your spouse you do what you say you’ll do, and you should hold each other accountable.

Lapses in discipline happen. I can always justify mine, but defensiveness does not a pleasant conversation make. A simple “I’m sorry” and adjustment the next month will do.

Approach the conversation the same way, no matter who earns more

Your vote counts the same whether your husband fully supports the household financially, he significantly out earns you, or vice versa. No matter whose name is at the top of the check, it’s our money and we are both responsible to manage it faithfully. One person may be more involved in the details and administration, and one person probably brings more money home, but both should know and participate in decision making.

Be willing to compromise 

Nothing reveals a person’s priorities more than his calendar and his checkbook. Hopefully major priorities align, but you and your spouse will likely prioritize some things differently.

Being willing to spend money on something important to your spouse tells him that what’s important to him is important to you, too. I probably wouldn’t have spent the money to get a dog if the decision was completely mine, not because I didn’t want a dog, but because it wasn’t a top priority. Mike, on the other hand, has wanted a dog since before we got married. It only took me four years to agree. Maybe in another five years I’ll even agree to have a baby.

dog at the beach
Photo courtesy of Meghan Wilson

Now that we have Jack, he was totally worth every penny! Seriously, can you put a price on this face? Grateful Golden Retriever Rescue could, and it was $250, which is a steal if you ask me.

Obviously there was more to the dog decision than the money, but it’s an example of working together. Spending and saving decisions will be different as a team than they would be as a single person.

Keep talking

Unexpected things always come up, especially if you are new to budgeting. Because so many emotions swirl around money, you may need to rehash the same stuff before it’s resolved.

I’ve continually struggled with feeling like what I do for work is inadequate because I earn so much less than I could if I worked a job I like less. I often feel like I’m not doing enough to meet our debt payoff goal.

Mike’s willingness to talk through the facts and my feelings over and over is helping me overcome this destructive “not enough” thinking pattern. It wasn’t resolved the first or fifteenth time we talked through it, but we made progress each time. Money conversations do get less stressful the more you have them. Even when you have a difficult financial situation, the open dialogue makes it so much easier to handle.

Question: What suggestions do you have for better communication on this difficult topic?

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