Take some time right now and think back to the last time you and your significant other had a fight. What was it about? The number one cause of stress and divorce in America today is money issues according to this CNBC article. Did you fall into that category? Learning to increase financial communication between couples can be a great way to improve marriages.
Too many couples still view finances as a “taboo” subject. When, in reality, it affects us at our core. The reason for that is money is so deeply intertwined in our lives that it touches everything. Money finds it’s way into how we trust, help, and love each other. It’s involved in where we live, how we live, what we do, even how much free time we get. Our finances come up in almost every area where we “do” life together.
Before my wife and I got started on our financial journey back in 2011, we viewed our finances completely differently and separate. We were doing our own thing and hardly getting traction on our finances because of it. It wasn’t until we started working our plan together that we really started making a difference in our personal finances. It hasn’t been easy, but it’s been worth it.
You see, my wife is what Dave Ramsey would call a “free spirit”. This type of person basically doesn't like doing budgets and doesn't find talking or thinking about finances much fun. The thought of doing a budget for them is one of the lowest priorities in their list. It’s not that they don’t feel money is important. they just want to go about life and do the things they want to do when they want to do it instead of being “constricted” by a budget.
On the contrary, I am the nerd in the relationship. I created our budget spreadsheet and then created more spreadsheets to reference the first spreadsheet. In fact, right now, I actually do my budget in three different places, Mint.com, Personal Capital, and Google Sheets. Is this necessary? Absolutely not. Do I enjoy it? You betcha!
However, I was using the budget spreadsheets in the wrong way with my wife. I was showing them to her like they were the gospel or something. I was telling her what we were going to do, rather than inviting her to join me and giving her a say in the decisions.
So, what did we do? We went through a small group class called “Financial Peace University” at our church. As we went through, we started applying the following five strategies to improve our communication in regards to our finances.
Money Means Different Things To Men & Women
Money usually has very different meanings to men than it does to women.
For men, money can be what you measure your self-worth too or how well you are doing in life.
As men, there is a deep sense to provide for our family. When we don't do that, we feel like we're not living up to our responsibilities.
I know for me, self-worth has been tougher to balance since I became a stay-at-home dad. Not being in the role anymore of bringing home that paycheck every two weeks now, I occasionally struggle in my thinking about how to fulfill my role providing for my family. It’s getting easier not valuing bringing home money though. I've realized it's more about how we manage what we have. My wife is drilling into my head that the more important aspects is that I interact and take care of our house chores and two girls.
For women, money is more about security and protection.
My wife is much more at ease as we have built up margin between our income and expenses each month. If we were still living paycheck to paycheck with no room for error, my wife would be on edge a lot more. I have really noticed more of a release with her when we are looking to do more fun things since we've gotten our emergency fund completed.
Everyone reacts emotionally to money.
Dave Ramsey says “the flow of money in a household represents the value system under which the household operates.” This means how we spend our money is where our values lie. If you were to look over your budget for last month, you should be able to identify your value system for your household based off of how your money was spent. I challenge you to go over it, it will be eye opening for a lot of you!
Some people are natural savers while others are spenders. What we need to do is find out how our spouse feels money and find common ground to talk about it and make a plan together. Learning how men and women view money differently is a great way to increase financial communication between couples.
Hold a monthly budget meeting
After learning what money means to your spouse, sit down and conduct a budget meeting together. This means that both of you need to actually attend. As you continue meeting and forcing discussion about where your finances are heading, you will start to gain an understanding of your value system.
If you don't like where your values currently are, this is where you get the opportunity to change it.
Are you buried in debt because you buy so many material wants? Find a way to cut back and start freeing yourself up by paying off the debt and learning to find pleasure in people or experiences instead.
Do you feel like you should be giving more? Look into some charities or your local church and start finding ways to give money or time.
Are you eating out more than 25 percent of your income? Maybe you need to stop eating your future and start saving for it.
Your budget meeting allows you to set the course for the next month.
Your job is to make your money behave in a way that allows you to take control it. Don't just going through the month hoping that you will have enough money at the end.
When to hold the meeting?
When holding this meeting, make sure to find a time that is convenient and distraction free for both of you so that you can focus on the task at hand. We usually do ours in the morning over breakfast (if the kids aren’t up) or at night after the kids have gone to bed. By taking the time to sit down and talk about it, we can both focus all of our attention on the task at hand and come up with better ideas than when trying to multitask.
Just remember, it takes time to develop a habit or a routine. You and your spouse aren't going to do it perfect from the get go. With continuous practice and involvement, monthly budget meetings can increase financial communication between couples.
Become a Good Listener
One of the most important ways you can increase communication with your spouse is by learning to become a good listener. By listening to your spouse, you're encouraging them to freely share in the discussion. When they start to do this, make sure to give them undivided attention and look them in the eye. It's been very hard for me to not jump in and “correct” my wife about financial matters from time to time. Although, I have found I do more good when I sit back and listen to her complete thoughts.
I saw a quote on a social network the other day that read “the biggest communication problem is that we don’t listen to understand, we listen to reply.” Don't listen just to reply. Take in what your spouse is saying, then internalize it and form your reply. Don’t be ponder your response as your spouse talks. Many conflicts stem when we make assumptions about what others really mean.
Oftentimes, we think of getting our point across instead of listening to our spouse’s point of view first.
What’s the old saying? The best offense is a strong defense.
Learn to listen to your spouse to find what’s eating at them. Take time to hear your spouse out. They'll often lead you exactly where you both need to go to compromise.
By listening, you will find the problem to address and hopefully let them vent enough. This may even resolve the situation as they talk it through. Because money means different things to each of us, sometimes we get caught up in our side of the conversation ending up missing out on some great advice.
Next time you are talking over a financial matter with your spouse, try letting them explain why it’s a good or bad idea and what the decision really means to them. By doing this, you'll give them the say that they desire and the opportunity to truly share their case.
Define Your Goals With Your Spouse
This one is a big one. Setting goals with your spouse assumes you actually set personal goals. If you are the nerd, you already have made some goals for yourself.
Find some time to dream big with your spouse. Think about long term goals that you'd like to achieve. Then, break the long term goals into easier-to-hit short term goals. These will lead you right up to your long term goal.
We took some time to do this a while back. On a giant sheet of paper, we made four quadrants. They were:
- takes extra $$$ - down the road
- challenging, but accomplishable
- easy to do
Looking back at that list, we accomplished quite a bit. There are still some things on there that we are working towards or have put on hold.
Setting goals does wonders for opening up communication in your marriage. When hitting these goals, don’t forget to celebrate together as well!
Set Some Individual Item Spending Limits
What do you find yourself fighting with your spouse about? It’s usually not the big purchase items like a new car or house. I know in my experience that our fights revolve around a few main things: clothes, technology and eating out. We don’t fight nearly as much as we used to, but things come up from time-to-time. And it all stems from not setting proper spending limits for our purchases.
My wife might go out shopping for some clothes and when she comes home, I ask the dreaded question, how much did you spend on that? When she tells me, I might think, “wow, that’s way too much to spend on something like that.” Of course it comes out wrong in how I talk to my wife and then we end up flustered and upset with each other for a little while.
Of course, the same can be said for my love of technology. I am always looking for the new “shiny”, it’s my kryptonite. I try to justify spending on technology when it’s not even going to be something that I really need. My wife does her best to talk me down and usually does a pretty good job. It actually took me three years to purchase my iPad Air.
For completeness sake, I loved that iPad Air. Within a year, it "leaped" off the top of my vehicle and was run over. Of course I had pushed the purchase and didn’t buy the accidental coverage. That was such a painful experience that I still have the broken thing in the box in my basement. I still look at new ones longingly here and there.
Using "Blow" Money
The point is if we'd have set spending limits on each of these occasions, we might both be in better situations today. Since these personal occurrences, we've set better limits. We now set aside personal money that we call "blow" money monthly for each of us. This money allows us to spend how we’d like without having to consult the other person. Outside of that money, we have to get the other person's agreement for purchases.
So, what are we doing now?
After taking Financial Peace University, I was blown away by the presentation of the baby steps and how simple they are to follow and focus on. We started working them together and haven’t looked back since.
We now have monthly budget meetings together. I propose the rough draft of the budget and my wife has to make a couple changes on how we are spending our money so that she gets a say in it as well as has some skin in the game. We aren’t perfect as she is still learning to get better about checking our spreadsheets to find out how much is in the sinking funds we have before going and making purchases. However, we have come a long way in that, we do adhere pretty well to what we put on paper for the most part. This has helped us achieve the success that we’ve set out to during this time.
Learning to listen to each other’s wants and needs, we are better able to compromise on how to accomplish our common goals together. It’s no longer about which goal we get to do, just about which one first.
Finally, we have clear limits set up that we must discuss with each other before we go about buying things if it’s not our personal “blow” money.
I really feel that these five strategies have greatly improved our communication together and I can see the kids feel it as well. Having the constant pull to communicate to each other about finances; the topic comes up so often over several different categories in our lives.
Because my wife had this open communication already, it helped us find some common ground during the early years when our children were very little. There was a period where we were just going through the motions, doing our own thing and not communicating as much on the rest of the family stuff. However, the budget was still there changing every month. This forced us to talk about it like we had always done.
Actually, it’s turned into one of the things we have in common. Talking about our finances and where every dollar should go that we’ve been blessed with. We both come from divorced families and we’re both thankful that we have this open communication. If we ever got to a point where the communication line was closed off, our marriage would most likely be at great risk. It’s not that we don’t fight and bicker, we do. But, at least we’ve gotten past the part of getting on the same page with where the finances should and are going.
This post originally appeared on GetConnectDad.
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