Money can be a topic of tension for all couples, especially when so many people have been laid off and discretionary money is tight.
In working with couples to navigate healthy financial relationships, there are several exercises that have been helpful to my clients. Here are a few I hope can help you, too.
Paying the bills: Usually with couples, one person is comfortable paying the bills. This person tends to do so year in and year out. The potential problem of having only one person pay the bills all the time is that the other person remains unaware about where and what is spent. It can lead to that person having unrealistic expectations.
I like to suggest that the role of paying the monthly bills be alternated on a yearly basis. By each partner taking time to review monthly statements and pay the bills, it will help them to realize opportunities to save money. My husband and I have used this method for years, and we both understand what cash is coming into our household and where it goes.
Spending rules for mad money: Spending for discretionary items can really cause tension between couples. If one person is a saver and the other is a spender, watch out: There can be a huge explosion during financial arguments. Rather than being reactive, I try to get my clients to be proactive. This can take different forms. First, everyone needs “mad” money, so come up with an amount you are comfortable with in your cash flow. If each partner has a set amount per month to do anything with, each person can indulge an impulse buy without creating friction. I tend to spend my mad money on black shoes, and my husband likes to tease me about how many pairs of black shoes one woman needs. We can joke about our mad expenses because we have negotiated the terms before the purchase and there are no hard feelings.
Setting goals: I think it’s important to periodically review your financial goals as a couple. I recommend writing down goals for the year, as well as three-year, five-year and 10-year goals. This can be a powerful reflection when you work together to meet these goals and accomplish them together. My husband and I have done this at least annually over the past 20 years. We don’t limit our goal-setting to financial items; we also do it for our marriage goals, parenting goals, spiritual goals and personal goals.
To prepare for our meeting, we each write down our goals in each category. Then, during our date, we come up with a master list of goals. We usually go out to a nice dinner, and it is always a bonding experience. Through the years I have kept those lists, and it certainly helps us appreciate our teamwork, and each other, as we reflect.
Money matters really need to be put in their place. If couples agree to some simple strategies to help navigate the bumpy financial road, instead of merely surviving this economic downturn, they can learn to thrive financially and in their relationships as well.