Money and finances are emotionally charged issues

For Richer, For Poorer – Money and finances are emotionally charged issues. They can be sore points in an otherwise good relationship. This chapter will help you understand how you and your spouse view money so that financial issues don’t become emotional issues in your marriage.

➤ Understanding the emotions behind financial issues
➤ Determining if you have realistic expectations about money ➤ Assessing your spending and saving habits
➤ Making financial decisions together

Money Can Be an Emotional Issue

Mary and Joe always fought about money. Mary tried to save every penny that she could. She would spend many hours clipping coupons for the grocery store each week, and she would never order dessert or beverages at a restaurant. Mary grew up in a household where there was never enough money, and now she wanted as much money in the bank as possible. Joe, on the other hand, loved to eat lunch out several times a week, including dessert and coffee. The freedom to eat out meant a lot to him, and not being able to do so would cause him to feel resentful. Joe grew up in a solid middle-class household that had enough money for extra activities. Before Mary and Joe can sit down to do a household budget they can both live with, they need to understand their emotions about money.

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The same is true for you and your spouse. When you sit down with your spouse to do your household budget, keep in mind that money issues can become emotional very quickly. Disagreements about money are often not about money, but about something else, such as power and control.

Realistic Expectations

We all grew up with expectations about our adult life. We had ideas about what kind of house we wanted, where we wanted to travel, and how much we wanted to work. Sometimes, we are lucky and most of our financial expectations are met. But many people’s ex- pectations far exceed their financial assets, and they become frustrated when they cannot have what they have always wanted.

There are so many reasons why your financial situation might be different than the two of you expected. One of you might have been laid off, a business might have failed, or you might have made a bad investment. Perhaps you had visions of marrying a millionaire, and instead fell in love with a pauper. It’s so easy to blame our spouse or ourselves and constantly wish that there were more money in the household. But, unless you can realistically change your financial situation, you need to face up to your expectations for what they are—expectations, not reality. The sooner you learn to be content with what you have, the sooner you will find true happiness.

The following questions about money will help you determine whether your monetary expectations are realistic. On a scale ranging from 1 (not at all) to 5 (absolutely), circle the number for each question that best describes your situation. When you finish, add up your score.

Are You a Saver or a Spender?

One of the reasons couples disagree about money is that money means different things to each of them. For some people, money provides a sense of security, of being taken care of; this kind of person would tend to be cautious about spending money and would try hard to put money in the bank. For others, money provides a sense of freedom; they might exercise a more carefree attitude. Of course, most of us fall somewhere in between. There is no right or wrong way to think about money, but it’s important to create a budget that works for both of you.

The first step is to figure out where each of you stands with respect to money. Go through the following lists and decide what best describes you. If you are a saver, you probably have some of the following traits:

  1. You can never have enough money in the bank.
  2. It’s a waste of money to order drinks in a restaurant. The water is free.
  3. You always keep your eye on the time when you’re making a long-distance tele- phone call.
  4. Meeting the household budget is very important to you.
  5. It’s better to travel at an inconvenient time than spend extra money for an airplane ticket.
  6. You rarely buy a hardback version of a book. You wait for the paperback or go to the library.
  7. You try to buy everything on sale.
  8. You spend a lot of time planning for the future. If you are a spender, you probably have some of the following traits:
  1. You usually buy what you need or want without much regard for price.
  2. A lot of money in the bank is meaningless if you don’t let yourself spend it.
  3. Your convenience is usually more important than the cost of an airline ticket.
  4. When you’re eating out in a restaurant, you order whatever you want on the menu.
  5. You would rather go over your household budget sometimes than have to constantly be thinking about money.
  6. You talk on the phone long-distance without worrying about the time.
  7. You don’t wait for an item you want to be on sale.
  8. Life is to be enjoyed here and now.

Saver and Spender Combinations

Now, go through the spender and saver lists and determine which one best describes your spouse. Determine which combination of traits the two of you have:

➤ One saver and one spender ➤ Two spenders
➤ Two savers

Each pair of traits will result in different sorts of disagreements. Just because both of you are spenders or savers doesn’t mean you won’t have any money problems. The following sections will show you what to watch out for.

One Saver and One Spender

If one of you is a saver and one of you is a spender, you’ll probably have many dis- agreements about money. But you can also learn a lot from each other about enjoy- ing life (on the one hand) and planning for the future (on the other). The person who is the spender might feel a sense of security being with someone who is more cautious about money. And the person who is more restrained might be able to enjoy life more with someone who is more spontaneous about money.

Read the following list to find out what can be expected in a saver-and-spender household:

  1. You will probably have frequent squabbles about money.
  2. When the spender buys what he or she wants, the saver will feel resentful because he or she won’t indulge themselves in the same luxury.
  3. The spender will feel like his or her spouse is too controlling about money.
  4. The saver might secretly feel jealous that the spender can spend money so easily.
  5. The spender might secretly feel secure, know- ing that his or her spouse is careful about money.

Two Spenders

In a household where both of you are spenders, you will still probably have some financial disagreements. Unless you have unlimited resources, you will also run out of money and run into trouble.

Lisa and Judd both found it very easy to spend money. When they were dating they would go out to fancy restaurants and run up big bills. They didn’t think twice about going on vacation and staying in pricey hotels. When they got married, they had no money in the bank and thousands of dollars in credit card bills. For the first few years of their marriage, they continued their same spending pattern and rarely had any arguments about money.

Then they talked about having a family and realized they needed to get rid of their debt and start saving money. Neither of them knew how to change their spending habits. They started fighting about money for the first time in their relationship.

Marriage Q & A’s

Q: My spouse and I tend to be spenders. What can we do?

A: Recognition is the first step! You have identified yourselves as spenders early on. Get fi- nancial advice, make a budget, and stick to it. Then you can prevent bankruptcy and constant arguments about money.

One time Lisa bought a new outfit and Judd chastised her for it. Then when Judd planned a romantic weekend, thinking it would make Lisa happy, she took it as his way of expressing his desire to put off having kids for a while! They were no closer to saving money than before, and now they weren’t even enjoying themselves!

Read the following list to find out what can be expected in a two-spender household:

  1. Rather than constant squabbles, you will probably have big blow-ups when the monthly bills come in.
  2. When you need to start planning for the future, it will be hard to break your spending habits.
  3. You will probably owe money on credit cards.
  4. You might not have enough money in savings and investments.
  5. You might blame each other for your money problems.

Two Savers

In a household where both of you are careful about money, you might have trouble enjoying yourselves. You might both be spending a lot of energy thinking about the future and not enough focusing on the present.

Melanie and Greg were proud of themselves. They put away money every month into their savings account and their investment portfolio. Most months, they were even able to save more than they had planned. They never owed money on their creditcards. They both brought bag lunches to work and rarely ate out in restaurants. They were prepared for the future.

But Melanie and Greg had trouble really enjoying themselves. They talked about money constantly. Any time they went out together, they focused on how much it was costing and if it was “worth it.” They found it difficult to relax and just have a good time being out. Melanie and Greg were suffering from being too cautious.

Marriage Q & A’s

Q: Is the answer to money problems to be extremely cautious about spending money?

A: Not necessarily. Every couple needs to strike a healthy balance between spending and saving. Consider setting aside money every week for entertainment, even if it’s a small amount.

Read the following list to find out what can be expected in a two-saver household:

  1. You won’t have substantial credit card debt.
  2. You will likely have money in the bank.
  3. The two of you might be too focused on money.
  4. You might find it hard to spend even a rea- sonable amount of money on yourselves.
  5. You might be focusing too much of your at- tention on the future and not enough on the present.

Making Financial Decisions Together

Whether you and your spouse are both savers, both spenders, or one of each, both of you should be involved in the financial planning of your lives. If one of you were bringing in more income than the other one, it would be easy to feel that he or she should have more control in the decision-making about the budget or have more discretionary income. The person making less might feel less valuable and give up an equal voice in financial decisions. Money can mean power in your relationship.

Thinking “This is yours, this is mine” can be devastating to a marriage. Although it’s valuable for each person to have some of his or her own money, the basic thinking must be “This is ours.” Money that either of you makes must contribute to the house- hold, not to the individual. The person making less money might be taking time off to raise the children, starting a new business, or running the household. That part- ner’s contribution, although maybe not financial, is equally critical to the happiness of your family. Making financial decisions together is the healthiest way to approach money.

Marriage Q & A’s

Q: I want to be more involved with the financial decisions of our household, but I don’t know anything about money. What can I do?

A: Learn more about finances! Consider taking a class with your spouse on managing your finances. Or get a book on financial planning and discuss it with your spouse.

The Least You Need to Know

  • ➤  Money can be an emotional issue. Developing realistic expectations about your finances can prevent conflicts about money.
  • ➤  Determining your saving and spending habits can help you anticipate financial problems in the future.
  • ➤  Make financial decisions together. If you feel you don’t know enough about money, take a class or read a book on finances.