Fact: marriage is hard. Fact: talking about money is awkward. Put these together and you’ve got a combination that most people prefer to avoid: talking to your spouse about money.
It is hardly surprising that money is the number one stumbling block among couples, given that money issues are often loaded with prejudices, guilt, fear and anxiety. Avoiding discussions that could pre-empt later arguments may be shortsighted, but in the moment, it just seems, well, easier.
What if there was a way you could make money discussions [http://www.goldengirlfinance.ca/articles/marriage-couples/wedding-pre-game-talk-five-must-discuss-topics-before-saying-i-do] with your honey more pleasant and less likely to spiral out of control and into a fight? Would you be willing to try?
Financial experts advise that the right thing to do is hold a monthly meeting to evaluate the state of household finances, debt and savings goals. Involving your kids in the discussion is also a great way to teach them about transparency and responsibility, while reinforcing the act of making decisions as a family.
While there is no one way of doing things that works for everyone, here are a few do’s and don’ts to help you find the right mix of love and money.
- Do book a standing time and date. Say, noon on the first Saturday of every month. Make sure it’s marked in the calendars of both you and your spouse as a non-negotiable appointment.
- Don’t leave money talks to the end of the day. When you’re already tired and on edge, the last thing anyone needs is to talk about something potentially stressful. Get together over lunch or outside on a sunny day.
- Do stay focused. Your purpose is to review each area of your household spending [http://www.goldengirlfinance.ca/articles/credit-debt/live-within-your-means] and decide if it’s on track or can be improved. If you go too far and start examining how much each person earned over the month and what each person spent every dime of their income on, things can become overly intrusive and exhausting.
- Do allow for some privacy. You want to have full disclosure over the household matters that affect you both and the spending decisions that affect your future together. But do you really want to ‘fess up to how much you spend on face cream each month? As long as obligations are met, give each other a bit of a break when it comes to modest personal spending.
- Do make paperwork. At your first meeting, make a chart that outlines all the must-do monthly expenses, such as mortgage or rent payments, utility bills, phone bills and car and loan payments. Add discretionary but necessary expenses, such as groceries, parking and transportation. Keep track of annual or semi-regular payments such as school fees, insurance payments and taxes. Each month, enter the actual amounts paid in each category, so you build an ongoing track record.
- Don’t wing it. Keep a file that gets stuffed with receipts and statements that come in over the month so that when you meet, you will have facts on hand to work with and can do accurate calculations.
- Do make savings and debt repayment a priority. There’s nothing that motivates like making a goal and seeing your tangible progress toward it. What are we saving for? How quickly can we free ourselves from this debt? Write these goals down and agree on one or two action steps that you each take and confirm each month.
- Don’t overcomplicate. Your lives are already busy enough—printing out your bank and credit card statements once a month to review might just be enough to help you see where the money is coming and going. Dividing up tasks in terms of bill payment or savings activities is the next step.
- Don’t launch a money discussion by surprise. You may have organized your thoughts and arguments and be ready to talk, but it’s not fair to surprise your spouse with a money chat when their mind may be focused on getting dinner ready or preparing for a meeting at work.
- Do associate money chats with something fun. Make a plan to deal with the finances over cocktails, or order pizza and aim to finish your meeting before it arrives. Reward yourselves by making popcorn and watching a movie together afterward. Over time, you will learn to compare notes and review the accounts quickly and painlessly so you can get on to the fun and relaxing part.
Love before money
Controlling tempers and withholding judgments seems to be the toughest part about money discussions. If matters of resentment or anger arise, tread carefully, hold hands and recognize that getting to the heart of the matter can only help in the long run.
You did say for richer or poorer, right? Here’s hoping for richer! And remember—the family that saves together, stays together.
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