One area that couples frequently struggle with is discussing money. It’s a topic that was unlikely openly talked about in many homes, which makes it harder for couples to create a money system for themselves. Our parents may have even had a great system but because they never discussed it, we assume money just automatically falls into place. While that’s certainly possible, the reality is it takes a bit of work and negotiation, but it’s worth the effort.
I firmly believe money needs to be transparent in a relationship, but at the same time, nobody likes feeling as though big brother is watching and every purchase is put under a microscope and open to judgement. This is where clarity and systems will become your new best friends.
Most people don’t want to ask “permission” from their partner to buy small things, like a cup of coffee, a pack of gum or to go out for lunch with a friend or co-worker. This is completely understandable. However, you still need to have a system in place where you can:
This way no one gets the dreaded “denied card” message when they try to buy something or need to hide purchases.
Most of us would automatically agree that big purchases should be made together. Sadly, not everyone even agrees what a big purchase is! Set a dollar amount so you both know when you need to get approval from the other before purchasing an item. You both must agree to this and abide by the rules you set.
If you think the amount is too high or low or still feel micromanaged, don’t let those feeling fester and turn into resentment. Be honest and share why. Sometimes we’ve only had to be accountable to ourselves for a long time, and it can be hard to adjust from a “me” to “we” mindset. Other times we hold some childhood scars of watching parents fight over money that may make us either too passive or too aggressive. Be open, honest and supportive of one another. You will figure it out.
This is probably where most couples struggle. You want your money to be transparent but again you don’t want to have call your spouse or partner and let them know you just bought a cup coffee. Most likely, they also don’t want you to call and tell them that exciting news either. 🙂 However, those little $5-10 expenses we feel are inconsequential in the moment, do add up over time.
Let’s say, you both spend on average $5 a day or a total of $310 a month on little things such as coffee, gum, a magazine, etc. When you consider $310, it becomes a much more robust number than $5, which didn’t seem like a really big deal. Again, $310 may be a reasonable number or you may be astonished to see you spend so much on little things. The power is knowing how you’re spending your money, so you can make adjustments, if needed.
Start by reviewing where your money goes. Once you pay all your bills, including money for savings/investments, groceries, gas and entertainment, then take a look at your remaining discretionary income and set an amount so each person has as an allowance or fun money. This is the money each of you can choose to spend however you see fit. You don’t need to get permission first nor should you have to hide anything you buy with it either.
Whatever the amount you choose, it just needs to be accounted for within your budget, so you both can spend that amount without worrying that you’re overspending and creating debt or putting the other one in the awkward position of having their card denied. Again, if you’re uncomfortable with the amount, talk about it. Those little things we buy can mean a lot to us and it can initially be hard to give up. I find those who struggle with this often don’t have shared couple goals. If you have something you’re working towards together, it’s much easier to give-up once treasured purchases because you’re working towards something bigger and more important. Even better, you don’t feel deprived or any resentment towards changing your spending habits.
While there are definitely people who commit financial infidelity with malice, most of the time it occurs accidentally because we simply don’t have a system in place. There is no absolute right system, but the one that works best for you. It will take a little trial and error but don’t give-up. Some may think this is completely unromantic and a relationship killer. I disagree. This is a relationship strengthener. Get on the same page now, so you don’t spend most of your time arguing about money later as so many couples do. You may be surprised by how bonding these kinds of conversations really are and it’s a wonderful example to set for your children.
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Your point about agreeing on big purchases but not asking permission every time you spend 5 bucks reminded me of a guy I worked with before I got married. He and his wife had an agreement that they had to phone each other every time one of them wanted to spend more than $50. I was young and my first thought was how weird is that. You earn the money and you have to ask permission to spend it? They both had good jobs, but that was their way of staying on budget, and once I got married, it made perfect sense to me too.
My husband and I don't really sweat the small purchases too much. One of the things that we've learned to really enjoy talking about are our "No Spend Days". It's not so much a report-back, but a celebration of doing (or not doing) the small things with our money that can add up in the long run. As a general rule, we do tend to talk about all purchases above $200. This way, we are on the same page when it comes to all the things that can contribute to our budget. I agree, financial infidelity (or lying by omission) can be a relationship-killer if you let it!
You've shared some great tips. I especially like the one about agreeing on big purchases.
We always check with each other at the end of the week to make sure we're balance out and not kick out account into overdraft :).
Thanks for sharing these tips with us. Such a touchy subject but it has to be talked about.
Have a great new week!
We are also ALWAYS discussing money with our kids. Like you said in your post, our parents probably had good systems but never let us in on the secret! I want my kids to understand money as they grow up and let them avoid the mistakes we made when we were young!
Also, in good times and bad, you have to agree that money will never cause relationship problems in your marriage. In fact, if money problems come (and they will) you have to pull together even more!
Very good post. Thanks for sharing!
Shane & Jocelyn
Sure it's not romantic, you'd rather fall head over heals for the person who catches your eye for any number of reasons. But trying to change each other's nature and get on the same page with life goals after you've fallen in love is not going to be easy. My grandmother used to say, there are lots of wonderful people in the world to fall in love with. Do yourself a favor and fall for someone who's already in sync with you on the major things. In marriage there are enough little compromises to be made, but starting out feeling you'll both need to change significantly is a recipe for disaster.
When you meet someone new, sure it's nice if they have a great sense of humour, treat you with respect etc etc. You know all the common things you look for in a potential partner. Personally, they'd also need to have their financial house in order and clear priorities about the kind of life they want. In my case we married young and didn't have any sort of plan formulated, but fortunately we came from similar backgrounds, so we inadvertently had similar views on money management. We were more lucky rather than clever in choosing each other. After a few decades of marriage I can now recognize how important that has been, and hope to instill that in our kids.