By Jean Chatzky with Arielle McGowen
February 12, 2009
We all know that money consistently tops the charts when it comes to things couples fight about. When wallets are tighter—as they most certainly are now—things only get worse. We're stressed, we're worried about our jobs, our investments, our bank accounts, and we take it out on each other.
It's hard to break old habits, so instead of trying to convert your spendthrift husband into a tightwad, sit down and agree to a few limits. What percentage of your income will go toward entertainment? What percent will go toward other extras, like new clothes, and what percent do you need to set aside for housing, transportation, savings and debt repayment?
Make sure you're divvying up take-home pay, not salary, otherwise, you're setting yourselves up to fall short. Once you've agreed on a budget, stick to it. Set Goals
Maybe you want to buy a house while interest rates are down, or maybe you already have one and the only thing you need is a vacation. Or you want to be debt-free a year from now, or send your kids to college or go back to school yourself. Work out a game plan together so you know what is coming your way, when, and how you'll foot the bill. Talk about your short-term goals (the vacation) and the long-term ones (retirement), and make sure you share a similar picture of the future. A little foresight goes a long way.
Remember, too, that there are some things—layoffs, major car maintenance, medical bills—that you just can't predict. This is where an emergency fund comes in. Pull at least three to six months' worth of living expenses together so you have it at the ready in either a savings or money market account. Communicate
The last thing you need to do is micromanage each other's expenses, a sure road to disaster. But keeping each other informed of major expenditures easily eliminates costly problems like bounced checks or over-the-limit credit card fees.
It's up to you do define major—it largely depends on how much disposable income you have—but many couples use $100, $300 or $500 as the threshold. In other words, if you want to buy a coffee, go ahead. If you want to buy a new television, it's probably a good idea to give your spouse a call first. Get to the Root of the Issue
Money fights usually aren't about money. Sometimes they're about power. Sometimes, when assets are unequal, they're about self-esteem or jealousy. Sometimes they're about attention, if in your mind money equals love or affection.
Point being, it's really important for you both to try to understand what's driving your anger, instead of letting it fester. If you're upset about something, hash it out, but do it calmly. If you can't, enlist the help of a financial planner or even a marriage counselor.