Bill Doherty, Ph.D.
Reconcile different approaches for handling money
How do we reconcile different approaches for handling money? Money and children are the two big assets that most couples have in their lives. Money stands for security, for what can be accomplished in life. It also stands in for who’s in control of the relationship. So money is huge for the success of marriage.
Of course, obviously, we know that not having enough money is a huge stressor; it wears on people. It happens with unemployment; it happens with overspending. When people overspend, they run up their credit card bills, putting themselves under enormous stress.
However, even when there is enough money, how people handle decision-making about their money says a lot about who they are as partners. I’m so struck with how many couples, both people, don’t know equally what their financial situation is. They both don’t know what they’re spending. They don’t know what’s coming in. They don’t know about their investments. This is one situation where not knowing is definitely not better.
First of all, what needs to happen is both adults have to have access to all the same information. I mean, somebody may have it at their fingertips to pay bills, buy groceries, etc. That’s fine. But, both people have to know what’s going on.
Secondly, shared decision-making about how you’re going to manage your money, your savings, your investments, your spending, and all those sorts of things with getting, needs to occur. Both people, bringing whatever backgrounds they have to the table, need to make decisions together. Very few couples are equally matched on how much they are spendthrifts or how thrifty they are. Having those conversations and setting policies together is the best way for couples to handle money. And, it’s all about being mutually committed to how to reconcile different approaches for handling money.
Now, when you disagree and have instincts or ways of doing things, it’s important to implement policies. For some couples, it could be something like, “Nobody spends more than $50 without both people agreeing to it.” If you have a policy on that, it will eliminate a lot of future issues. You can always change that policy. It just helps to have a policy about that. Then, the person who is a more impulsive spender is not apt to pull the credit card out when they’re out at a Sam’s Club, come home, and present something extravagant, because you’ve agreed not to go over that over a certain amount. It’s a collaborative decision. But, hey, if it’s under that certain amount, go for it. That would be an example of having high level policies so that you’re not getting into everyday arguments.
Finally, avoid secrecy about spending. I’m amazed at how many responsible adults, who are married to each other, keep secrets from each other about their spending. This erodes trust in the relationship. It encourages game playing as both people keep secrets from each other. If you’re keeping a secret about a $12 expenditure, that’s like keeping a secret about a romantic flirtation as far as I’m concerned. What’s going on that you can’t tell your partner that you bought something? Openness, knowledge, and policies about spending all help at consciously working to blend your different styles of doing things. And remember, above all, no secrets. This is how you can reconcile different approaches for handling money.
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