As the old Chinese proverb goes: “Those who budget together stay together.” Okay, that might not be an actual proverb, but based off current research, there is certainly something to be said for couples who have similar money goals.
When I think about major relationship conflicts, money is usually involved in some way. Apparently there is a lot of research that backs this observation up.
According to a recent survey by SunTrust, around 35% of respondents say that finances are the major cause of friction in the relationship (followed by annoying habits for 25%).
Perhaps even more startling was the fact that nearly 50% of those surveyed said they have different spending habits from those of their spouse or partner.
We have personally observed this phenomena in our own friend group. It seems like every couple we know comprises of one saver and one spender. This difference in handling money, combined with a lack of healthy communication, can lead to a lot of money fights.
In fact, many studies (including this one from KSU) state that money arguments are the greatest predictor of divorce – YIKES!
With all of this data pointing towards money problems as a negative relationship trigger, it’s important to understand that money dovetails with nearly every other part of life.
If you want your relationship to work out long-term, you should try to get on the same page with money.
Every couple is different, with some having extreme frugal nuts (yeah, I’m guilty of this), some having money illiterate members who are okay with debt, and many who fall somewhere in-between.
Thankfully, my wife and I are both pretty “invested” in our family’s financial well being. This was probably due to the fact that when we were married, I was in graduate school and my wife was a teacher. We weren’t exactly big-spenders, and we had to be conscious of our financial situation so that we could win with money in the future.
We didn’t get on the same page with money by accident. It took the effort of working diligently towards shared goals and heaps of open, honest communication (and maybe a few bottles of wine to make those budget discussions more interesting).
Based off our experience, having a shared goal of becoming financially responsible was the first step towards reducing money stress.
I like to think of shared goals as co-piloting a plane. At the onset of the journey, both pilots need to have a shared destination and clear expectations. If one pilot starts to steer in a new direction, the result will obviously lead to turmoil and negatively affect the flight path.
Similarly with money, if one partner wants to save money and build wealth for financial independence while the other blows the family savings on a new car, the couple will naturally have division.
If you don’t have a shared money goal, why not make one tonight, or this weekend?
As an example, our first goal was to get out of debt. We completed that goal two years ago.
Our next goal was to begin to build wealth, and buy a house. We have since purchased a house and are actively investing huge chunks of our take-home pay.
We now have a 1,000 foot view goal of hitting Financial Independence by the age of 35.
You may have noticed that these goals have been relatively short-term goals. We’ve found success with goals that range from 6-months up to 10 years. With these smaller goals, we get a huge sense of accomplishment and camaraderie after we hit each one. We have also found that we are better able to maintain enthusiasm for the next shared goal.
If your partner/spouse doesn’t care about money, the problem is likely that they don’t fully understand that “your” goal can be “our” goal.
Communication is Key
I attribute active communication to the overall success of reaching money goals.
My wife and I were able to get excited about money goals because we talked about them. If you have a great money plan, try to communicate the end result to your partner and how it will benefit them.
Do not eagerly share your 30-sheet excel budget form with color coded columns and expect your spouse to share your enthusiasm.
As you begin to move together as a couple towards your first goal, maintain that open communication as you progress. Discuss challenges to the plan, and don’t expect 100% great results the first time. It may take your spouse time to fully embrace a shared money goal.
One idea is to write your goals down as you discuss them and then post them somewhere visible (like a kitchen refrigerator or a bedroom vanity mirror).
All in all, financial differences can be alleviated, and with work, shared goals, and increased communication, money can be a tool to strengthen a relationship rather than hurt it.