If you’re in a relationship – or ever plan to be – chances are that you and your partner will fight about money.
In fact, 36 percent of couples argue about money at least monthly, according to TD Bank’s 2017 Love & Money survey. And financial disagreements are often cited as a major driver for divorce. Nearly 60 percent of divorcees said finances played a role in the dissolution of their marriages, according to an Experian survey in 2016 of 500 adults who’d divorced within the past five years.
But your budgeting beefs don’t have to lead to breaking up. In fact, when handled respectfully, they can help you and your spouse communicate better and fine-tune your money goals. “You need to let a little hot air out before you can move forward,” says Stephanie Genkin, certified financial planner and founder of My Financial Planner LLC in Brooklyn, New York.
Here’s how to fight about money – without harming your relationship.
Do it early. Experts note that working through financial disagreements early in a relationship is more effective than letting them brew – and eventually explode – years later.
When it comes to tough money talks, “a lot of these conversations can happen prior to marriage,” says Shashin Shah, a certified financial planner and director at SFMG Wealth Advisors in Plano, Texas.
As your relationship becomes more serious, start discussing your shared financial goals, debts, credit scores, money hang-ups and regular expenses, experts say. You may even want to head to a financial advisor to discuss important financial topics before your wedding day.
“Don’t close your eyes about who your spouse is when it comes to money,” Genkin says. “You have to know their credit score, student loan debt, know whether they pay their credit cards in full and on time. It’s not because you don’t marry them if they don’t [pay their credit cards]. It’s knowing how are you going to deal with this.”
Understand your money histories. You and your partner may have very different relationships with money. It’s important to understand your own financial hang-ups and your partner’s financial history. “When we see couples coming in with money disagreements, we try to go back to the deep root of where they came from,” Shah says.
For example, perhaps one of you came from a wealthy family, where budgeting was never a concern, while the other came from a working-class family with frugal-minded parents. That difference may inform each partner’s approach to money management and create disagreements down the line. Or maybe one of you never pays off your credit card bill in full while the other avoids debt like the plague.
Recognizing your differing relationships to money and how it impacts your views on saving, spending, budgeting, credit and risk can help you better negotiate money disagreements with your partner, experts say.
Don’t sweat the small stuff. It may be tempting to bicker about every wasted penny, but “you want to stay big-stuff focused,” Genkin says.
That means not hounding your partner every time he forgets to renegotiate the cable bill or treats himself to a new pair of shoes. It’s more important to be on the same page when it comes to major money goals, such as homeownership and retirement.
To avoid nitpicky fights, consider designating a certain dollar cutoff per month below which you can spend freely, says Beth Sweeney, managing director and wealth manager at Steward Partners. If your spouse spends less than that on luxuries, you won’t discuss it. Anything above that dollar cutoff needs approval from both of you.
Get a referee. A third-party coach or referee can help you work through your money disagreements and reach a useful conclusion. That tiebreaker might be your financial advisor. “A lot of times we’re here to negotiate and discuss the best joint path going forward that [a couple] can live with,” Shah says.
A financial advisor or another trusted referee can help you run the numbers on a financial problem. Doing the math, which can help you understand whether you’re on course to meet savings, retirement or other goals, can help you come up with an unbiased look at what your financial behaviors mean for your future. “The numbers absolutely help,” Shah says.
Look at your money disagreements as a step toward a productive solution, not a reason to end your relationship, experts say. “We see money as a destroyer of marriage and relationships,” Genkin says. But it doesn’t have to be, she says. “It’s because people aren’t doing the hard work – they’re just letting this fester.”