Budget Wars: Coming to a Solution When Partners Disagree

Family Finances, Planning & Saving
on November 12, 2013

A 2012 study conducted by Kansas State University has confirmed what many have speculated for years—arguments about money are the top predictor of divorce. Even when couples attempt to get money matters in order and commit to following a budget, disagreements can make getting on the same financial page nearly impossible.

Following are four expert tips to help partners stop the bickering and finally get on one financial accord.

1. Have a “money date.”

“It can be hard to talk openly about money, but these conversations are critical,” says Elle Kaplan, CEO and founding partner of Lexion Capital Management and family finance advisor. Problems arise when disagreements are spur of the moment—say, when the hubs wants to drop $1000 on a new flat screen. A better plan, instead, is to set aside a specific time to discuss finances when both parties are calm and rational.

“Money affects fundamental, practical aspects of our lives, yet it is also a very emotional, personal subject that can bring up strong feelings,” adds Kaplan. “When you’re not in the heat of the moment, you and your partner have the chance to plan proactively rather than argue reactively.”

2. Focus on one financial goal at a time.

Coming face-to-face with the reality of a dismal financial situation can light a fire like nothing else, inspiring individuals to attack debt or other money obstacles with all-or-nothing force. But that spark can fade over time or, worse, alienate partners who may prefer a more conservative approach.

“People often make the mistake of trying to change everything all at once, and that’s just not realistic,” says Matt Becker, founder of the personal finance blog Mom and Dad Money. “It’s taken time for us to get where we are, and it will take time to either change some of our existing habits or create new ones. We need to recognize that and focus on accomplishing the little steps along the way.”

3. Allow for a monthly “free spend” that doesn’t require partner approval.

Giving partners money to blow as they choose may seem counterintuitive when greater financial control is the aim. But, says Becker, the monthly “free spend” is the best way to ease guilt and stress without doing major damage to long-term goals.

“Budgets are very powerful and positive tools when used correctly, but they can also feel restrictive, especially when you’re having to make the decisions with a partner,” adds Becker. “It can be difficult to always focus on the “us”, no matter how much you love each other. Giving each other a ‘free spend’ amount in your budget allows each partner to breathe a little bit and feel like there is still room to be themselves.”

4. Bring in reinforcements.

For couples that recognize the need for third-party involvement but are counseling-adverse, Syble Solomon has created Money Habitudes, The Couples Special, a tool that makes communication more effective than ever by helping partners understand the “why” behind their money decisions.

“[It’s] designed like a card game, [so] it feels like a normal, social activity—not a test,” says the co-author of Bringing Money Into the Conversation and The Association of Financial Counseling and Planning Education’s Educator of the Year. “Most financial programs are very skills-driven and ignore the habits, attitudes, behaviors, values and emotions that go into financial decisions. Money Habitudes shows people that they are a mix of different money personality types or tendencies and that each of those has its strengths and challenges.”

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