When you discuss finances with your partner, do you feel as though you’re talking from opposite sides of a stadium? If so, you’re far from alone.
Everyone who’s ever squirmed through a money conversation with a loved one knows that differing opinions can be challenging—at best. In fact, according to a nationwide survey conducted by LearnVest and TD Ameritrade, money is one of the top marital stressors.
As sensitive as financial issues can be, they can also build trust. The survey found that at least 60% of married people trust their partners to manage their finances—a number that rises to 70% among couples in their 60s and up.
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Financial awareness grows alongside trust, but more dramatically. The survey also showed that just a quarter of couples aged 18-35 has a clear picture of each other’s income and debt, but 60% of Baby Boomers clearly understand their financial footing.
So how can you and your spouse make opposite money perspectives a source of strength rather than friction? For one, communication is crucial. Even when you trust your spouse’s financial management, be sure to have candid, regular discussions about money matters.
To show how it can be done, three couples at different points in their lives divulge how they deal with opposite approaches to money—and how these differences can even bring partners closer.
Colby and Nick Peters, Annapolis, MD
Colby and Nick, both in their early 30s, have been married for three years. Despite Nick’s conservative financial outlook and Colby’s carefree spending, they've managed to reach a happy medium. “Our financial personalities have changed to meet in the middle,” Colby says.
Each month, the couple reviews their accounts and upcoming expenses. Nick also checks his bank balances once a week, and he gets anxious if he dips into his savings. “Colby reassures me that everything is fine, and she’s right,” he explains. “Allowing for the occasional splurge isn’t the end of the world.”
Nick cites his first credit card as an indelible lesson: It had a $1,500 limit—a purposefully low amount that helped him avoid overspending. And he has kept that limit ever since. When Colby met Nick, she carried about $10,000 in credit-card debt, but she steadily paid it off. She also adopted a similarly low credit-limit plan, which curbed her impulse spending on clothes and restaurants.
So far, they've kept separate accounts—but with a baby on the way, they may combine them. They’re confident that, with open discussion and emotional support, they can weather the larger financial decisions that lie ahead. “I am very honest about my finances, regardless of any embarrassment I might feel, because I value being truthful with Nick,” Colby says.
Janice and Jason Christensen, Chicago, IL
During 17 years of marriage, Janice and Jason discovered the importance of collaborative financial decision-making, especially while living on a single salary.
For a decade, Janice stayed home to raise their three children, and she struggled with feelings of guilt and powerlessness because she didn’t have her own income. She was used to spending freely on gifts and clothes, so she needed to rein in her budget, while her thriftier husband focused on ways to save, such as refinancing their mortgage.
To help her feel that she was part of a team when it came to money matters, Jason would ask her to weigh in on financial questions during regular Sunday night planning sessions. “He included me as a complete equal,” recalls Janice, who handled their day-to-day budget, as well as selected their monthly charitable donations. These steps ultimately did wonders to boost her confidence.
Now that they’re in their mid-40s, Janice and Jason's main priorities include saving for college and retirement. Janice, who's now back in the workforce, has become more easygoing about personal spending. Jason, on the other hand, still saves carefully: “I always feel a burden to support my family, and I feel it's my responsibility to ensure that everyone has what they need.” They continue their weekly status reports, hashing out budgets along with their schedules and other responsibilities.
For their personal entertainment budgets, they both keep any five-dollar bill that passes through their hands. “If we ask our friends to come out with us, they’ll ask, ‘Do you have a bunch of fives burning a hole in your pocket?’ ” Janice says. “It’s an easy way to have fun with saving—and it makes going out less painful financially.”
Daphne and Fred Cohn, Davis, CA
“For many years, we never talked about finances,” Daphne admits. “That started to change as we saw how unhealthy it was for our relationship.”
Fred, now 57, was a disciplined saver, while Daphne, 41, felt that budgeting “sucked the fun out of life.” She hid some of her spending, but soon realized that it eroded their mutual trust.
Since Fred is closer to retirement age, he is more focused on ensuring their financial freedom in the years ahead. “I have a much deeper appreciation of just how much savings will be required to maintain our current lifestyle,” he says.
After 13 years together, they now agree on key financial goals, such as school tuition for their children and their retirement savings. They talk through their financial plans every month, as well as when they're considering any big purchase. The more they do this, Fred has found, the better it gets. “Our easiest talks are when we schedule regular reviews of our ‘books,’ ” Fred says.
“Now we sit down together, each with our laptop, and look over our bills and incomes,” Daphne adds. And while she still finds budgeting a chore, she admits that it helps to set a relaxing mood: “We put on soft music, light candles and have a glass of wine. This makes the whole thing more enjoyable.”