When Partners Don’t Agree About Money

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Couples may decide to commit to each other out of love, but love doesn’t cover all differences – especially when it comes to money. What do you do when one of you is a saver and one a spender, and the bottom line does not add up? 

According to a poll in MONEY Magazine, 70% of couples argue over money. According to the survey, money trumps differences over sex, chores, and snoring. In fact, for married couples, financial conflict is a predictor of divorce more than any other issue. The main source of conflict? “Spending too much on frivolous purchases.” So what is a couple to do when one wants to put more in the bank than on the already-maxed out credit card? 

Relationship expert Dr. Terri Orbuch says, “When you sit down with your partner to have a ‘money talk,’ ask questions and share your experiences with money in the past and during childhood. Try to get a good sense of the meaning of money for your partner. It's also important to discuss each other's attitudes about money, spending habits and cash-management skills. When left undiscussed, these topics can cause big problems.” 

Dr. Orbuch adds that some questions to ask relate to short- and long-term financial goals, what is an acceptable amount of debt, and what seems fair in terms of sharing and spending money. The key is to talk about money often, share responsibility, know and respect differences in spending and saving, and if need, seek out help from a couple’s counselor or financial advisor. 

It’s also important to be upfront and honest about spending patterns.

According to a survey by moneysupermarket.com, 15% of couples lie to their partners about credit card purchases. Couples need to realize that honesty in spending is as important as honesty in every other area of marriage. 

As for practical advice, CPA Casey Kirschner suggests that all money be kept in joint accounts and that credit cards be shared. Separate accounts lead to a “yours vs. mine” mentality, she says. Budgets should be reasonable, but also allow for things like entertainment, vacations, and non-essentials. “It’s important that both people agree to a realistic spending and savings plan,” she says. 

Other advice for couples navigating money issues include sharing responsibility for paying the bills, so that each individual can see the impact of his/her spending.  Kirscher also adds that utilizing personal financial software like Quicken can help manage couples finances. She recommends that credit card bills be paid in full every month. If this seems unattainable, it may be time to cut the cards. She also advises keeping an emergency fund for unexpected expenses like a new furnace or major car repair. And if children are in the picture? Long-term savings is important not only to meet your own financial goals, but your children’s needs as well. 

Financial compatibility may not come easy, but it is possible to strike a balance that is acceptable for both couples. According to financial expert Holly Thomas, “There is no denying it. The relationship we have with money itself sets the tone for the relationships we have with significant others. It’s in everyone’s best interest to do what we can to improve it.” 

To start the money conversation in your relationship, download our free Money Management Planner. It includes worksheets and tips to help you meet your financial goals together, and it provides guidance on how your income should be distributed. 

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Hanscom Federal Credit Union
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