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Chances are, you’ve had more than one squabble over ‘who spent what’ during your time together as a couple. I’ve had some humdingers! While I can’t recommend shouting matches as a way of invoking a healthier approach to communicating about money (or the lack of it), it helped us see where we were going wrong. Financial harmony and effortless household budgeting is the ideal but, for so many of us, that’s not the case.
Money is up there with the biggest causes of conflict in marriages. Charting choppy financial territory together can be pretty hard going when there isn’t much cash to splash but, even with a bank balance firmly in the plus figures, differences between spending and saving habits, financial history, and imbalanced salaries can be enough to prompt frequent clashes.
Financial harmony and effortless household budgeting is the ideal but, for so many of us, that’s not the case.
The big no-no is keeping secrets about money. I’m not talking about passing off new shoes as ‘oh, these old things?’ but the potential deal breakers – things that will affect your future as a couple, such as your credit rating, your eligibility for a mortgage, or potential for significant debt. Having regular, frank discussions about money, where neither feels judged, could be key. Debt, when it’s tackled jointly, loses its emotional grip. Even then, it’s not easy to divulge our mistakes. If either of you find talking openly about money impossible, seek help from an impartial financial planner or even a relationship charity like Relate.
Who handles the bills in your household? Usually, one person takes responsibility for the routine stuff. In our case, my husband stepped up to the plate, primarily because he’s the main earner, but also because he’s more confident with figures. Back when we were closer to being equal earners, we split the responsibility for bills 50/50, but it was confusing and messy, and didn’t feel much like teamwork. The simplified approach works well. A joint account for shared bills, and two separate ones for autonomous spending, seems to be a popular argument-avoiding strategy among our friends.
Spend, or save? Unless you’re both on the same page, saving can be a huge bone of contention. If one of you is always reining in the other’s spending (those shoes, again…), it’s frustrating for both parties. One will feel nagged and restricted, the other will feel like their pleas for caution go unheard. We employ a largely unspoken ‘no-questions-asked’ spending limit, under which our purchases don’t need to be approved or questioned. Having long term financial goals in common will spare you some angst, so agree a saving strategy, and list your joint priorities, such as paying down debt (the most expensive first). Ward off potential arguments by making provisions for financial emergencies (e.g. redundancy or illness).
Spend, or save? Unless you’re both on the same page, saving can be a huge bone of contention.
Certain times of the year are likely to cause disagreements. Christmas is a big one, with the pressure to spend on gifts, entertaining, or travel expenses to visit relatives. You know it’s coming, and it pays (literally) to plan for the looming event before issues flare up. It’s so much harder to discuss things calmly after the fact, by which time your options have dwindled.
Monitoring your everyday spending is not at all fun, but so important. The results will highlight any differences in your spending patterns. It needn’t be a finger-pointing exercise. Instead, use your new-found combined savings savvy to fund a shared treat. Use spreadsheets (try this one from Citizens Advice), or one of several mobile phone budgeting apps (have a look at the me&mymoney app by evestor), or keep a simple notebook log.
Clare Lawrence, nicknamed 'Coupon Clare' at college, lives mostly in Cornwall. Proud mum to Gregory, she'll stop at nothing in her quest to save cash!