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20 ways to avoid money arguments with your partner


By Anne-Marie Vettorel, Espresso


Money is the number-one reason for divorce in the U.S.A. Here’s how to talk about it with your partner without raising your voice.


Be as transparent and honest as possible


It’s best if you start the relationship honestly, and come clean about your financial situation at the earliest appropriate opportunity (if you’ve kept some debts quiet or weren’t completely honest at the start, now’s the time to gently raise the subject). Beyond your current situation, you should also talk to your partner about your money memories: what did your parents explicitly teach you about money? What did they teach by example? How did you feel about money as a child?


Talk about money often—without getting fired up about it


Brianna McGurran of NerdWallet says talking about money “as frequently as you would a more mundane topic takes away some of its power to intimidate.” Try to diffuse the stress many people feel about money through your tone, and the casualness and even humour with which you talk about it to your significant other.


Schedule regular money “dates”


If left to fester, unresolved money issues can cause serious damage to a relationship. Instead, make a point of talking about money during a weekly money “date.” Even if your situation isn’t tip-top, consider that working together to solve a common problem could mean deep bonding for you as a couple. As Maria Teresa Hart writes in the New York Times, “teaming up to face something like student loan debt together can unite you, and these financial date nights give you the opportunity to be in the trenches together.”


Work as a team


If you’re living with your partner, it makes sense to work out a money management system that involves both parties. If you’re saving and investing together, make sure both of you have a hand at managing the retirement accounts on an alternating basis, and also alternate doing the day-to-day accounting and cash-flow management. If switching jobs back and forth doesn’t work for you, make sure everyone is at least on the same page about what’s going on and has some decision-making power, regardless of income.


Get clear about your values and the meaning of money in your life


“When your values are clear, your financial decisions become easy,” says David Bach, author of Smart Couples Finish Rich. Money is so much more than just the paper we use to buy things; it’s a stand-in for our dreams, desires and how we see ourselves. Understanding and respecting the psychology that underpins your partner’s relationship to money is vital to working through your disagreements, and knowing yourself is key to being honest with your partner.


Set mutual goals


Talk to your partner about what’s important to both of you, and craft a plan to get there. Are you saving for a home? To pay for a child’s education? To go on a six-week culinary tour of Italy? Working together toward these ends will give any belt-tightening meaning and significance.


Don’t merge finances 100 per cent


You should keep your own bank account and credit card, so that you maintain a financial identity and credit score that’s all your own (and this is trivial, but it’s also nice that gift purchases for each other won’t end up coming out of the same account). Beyond that, when it comes to whether you should merge finances or not, each couple is unique; do whatever works for you and your partner after taking plenty of time to discuss it.


Make a budget


This is basic, but so helpful. A written budget takes the guesswork out of your personal finances, removing the stress of not knowing exactly how things stand and what you can afford to spend every month—which also means you and your partner will eliminate any arguments founded on assumptions or quick mental math, and work instead with solid facts.


Make sure your spending plan leaves room for fun


Don’t try to budget so strictly that you’ll be resentful if your partner makes a purchase out of vanity or wantonness—everybody does sometimes. Let yourself loose a little so that you’re less likely to be triggered by a misstep on their part if you’ve “behaved yourself” well, and remember: money is not morality. On the flip side, if you’re an easy spender, work hard to make sure you’re respectful of your partner and don’t exceed the “fun money” allowance you’ve agreed on.


In the middle of a fight? Write your partner a “money letter”


If you’ve been arguing about money with your spouse and getting nowhere, a 2014 Guardian article recommends this advice from financial planner Joel Redmond: “‘Write about how you feel about money, what you learned about money from your parents, your evolving relationship with money’ and then, at a time when tempers have cooled, swap the letters.”


So you had a fight about money—it doesn’t mean your relationship is doomed


If every single time a money conflict comes up in your relationship you start thinking that maybe you and your partner are just fundamentally incompatible, stop. If there’s a lot of love in the relationship and the disagreements, albeit unpleasant, are handled respectfully, the discord isn’t necessarily a harbinger of doom. In fact, once you stop treating a money argument as the end of the world, you might be able to deal with the situation in a calmer, more rational way.


“Own your garbage”


One key to handling money disagreements effectively is to stop blaming the other person and take responsibility for how you’re contributing to the conflict. Think you’ve been perfect in every way? If you always stick to the budget but judge and resent your partner for spending too freely or making mistakes, this animosity may be affecting them subconsciously and contributing to their resistance to changing their ways. If you’ve been the one exceeding the spending limits every month, take a hard look at how you’re hurting your family’s ability to achieve financial success.


Don’t lie about spending to your spouse


Have you ever hidden a purchase from your spouse, or downplayed what you bet in a poker game? Some financial experts call that “financial infidelity,” and it can quickly erode trust. Be honest with your partner, and work wholeheartedly on building back any trust that’s been lost.


Plan for windfalls and setbacks


Plan ahead for what you’ll do if one of you unexpectedly comes into money or an expense crops up that you didn’t foresee. Ask questions like: what percentage of a bonus cheque would go into savings? And, under which circumstances would we be forced to make an early withdrawal from a retirement fund? (Hint: you should be working to build an emergency fund to prevent this.)


Don’t go into debt because of the wedding


If you can’t afford to pay cash for your wedding expenses, downsize. Either cut your invitation list or find ways to make your wedding more affordable, but don’t start your marriage with a $30,000 line of credit that’s been maxed out.


Use an app to jointly track finances


Using an app that automatically imports transactions from your bank or credit card can be a great way of making sure those pesky lattes aren’t slipping through the cracks, and could hold you and your partner more accountable to your agreed-upon budget.


Create useful systems and habits


Pay bills together every month, and check your credit scores while you’re at it. During tax season, pour some wine and help each other fill out forms while you listen to music you both love. Build a spreadsheet together to track your family’s growing net worth. Whatever you do, focus on building routines and habits that will keep you on track.


Address compulsive behaviour


Sometimes, an out-of-hand shopping habit is a symptom of a deeper issue. If shopping, gambling, or another addiction is affecting you or your loved one, seek psychotherapy and addictions counselling.


Focus on empathy and respect


If you’re arguing, avoid attacking your partner with words like “irresponsible,” or getting defensive and letting your anger rule the conversation. Instead, in the words of Georgia-based financial therapist Megan Ford, “work on seeking to understand as a way to lessen conflict.”


Talk to a counsellor or financial planner


If arguments about money are recurring, it may make sense to seek outside help. A fee-only financial planner, a pastor or religious leader, or a counsellor could become an ally as you work on strengthening your relationship and building shared wealth.

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