Are Decisions Around Money Interfering With Your Relationship?

When you are in a committed relationship, finances become part of the picture as you now have to figure out how to split the rent or house payment and other important bills as well as how to spend money on fun things. Deciding when, where, and how shared money is spent (or saved) can cause a lot of tension in relationships. You are your partner may take on different roles in a pattern that you now feel stuck in.

We have listed a few common cycles couples get into when discusses money related issues. Which cycle best explains the problems the two of you are having?  Scroll down to find that cycle and read it first.  Then, read a few other cycles because you might find that more than one applies to you or your partner’s behavior.

Cycle 1: SAVER VS SPENDER

When one partner likes to save for a rainy day while the other prefers to value his/her money now by spending it on enjoyable things, deciding on a budget can be very challenging.

Cycle 2: BAD WITH NUMBERS

Sometimes, despite best efforts from both partners, you find yourself falling short of where you want to be each month. Over time, this can be very frustrating.

Cycle 3: BREADWINNER BATTLES

If one partner is making most or all of the money in the relationship, it can create an imbalance or power struggle between the two of you.

Cycle 4: FINANCES AND FAMILY

Deciding with your partner how much or how often you are comfortable and able to help family members financially can create arguments and activate hidden emotions around the topic for you both.

 

Cycle 1: SAVER VS SPENDER

Tips for the Saving Partner              

“I’m creating a future for us and you’re blowing it!”

You may feel like your intentions to save for a future are undermined by your partner spending money on what you deem as luxuries.

  1. Talk About Your Concerns. Be honest with your partner about when his/her spending is upsetting to you. Bring specific examples to the conversation, and, importantly, be open to hearing his/her side of things, too. Think about the benefits of spending now versus saving for later together as a couple.
  2. Use Teamwork. It will be much harder to reach your goal of saving for a down payment, college tuition for your kids, or a fun vacation on your own without your partner’s help. Discuss these shared goals with your partner and see if there are small places you can each cut back to contribute. Maybe skipping the coffee on the way to work by making it at home instead? Or try having a date night at home this week instead of going out?
  3. Make a Budget. Having specific goals that both partners agree to is the best way to help with issues around finances. It is important when you set up the budget that both parties have an equal say in the decisions being made and that there are both short-term and long-term rewards and goals built in. This budget will not be exactly what you want, but rather a middle meeting place between your style and your partner’s style. Think about what is the most important spending goal to you: paying off the credit card bill, saving for retirement, or maybe a family vacation? Prioritize what is most important to you in the budget, and make room for what is most important to your partner, too.
  4. Create different money “pots”. Some couples really like having a certain amount of money set aside for certain purposes. For example, you can decide that 10% of your paycheck will be reserved for retirement / emergencies and 10% for fun splurges. As the saver, the advantage of this approach is that your partner can agree upfront to not spend more than the amount of money you decide together to set aside for splurges or fun activities.  Once that money is gone, so are the splurges.  That way, you don’t have to feel like you’re constantly watching over your partner.

Tips for the Spending Partner

“I want to enjoy the present not put it all away for a future that may never come!”

It may feel like you have to justify every expense you accrue, even if you are contributing to the relationship finances as well.

  1. Explain Your Side. When partners get into conflict around saving and spending, it is often because the saver doesn’t understand why money is being spent. Do the purchases serve to help you de-stress, spend time with loved ones, or bring you joy? Be honest with your partner about how these reasons play into your spending. If these habits are unhelpful (e.g. spending when you are upset) consider other ways to lift your mood like watching a favorite TV show, going for a walk, or phoning a friend to talk.
  2. Compromise. Even though it may not be your preferred style, consider how you might benefit from finding compromise with your partner. Consider meeting them in the middle by cutting out some spending and instead save for a goal that excites both of you. Maybe you have small rewards along the way like going out to eat somewhere nice once a month as you are saving for a vacation for the summer?
  3. Make a Budget. Having specific goals that both partners agree to is the best way to help with issues around finances. It is important when you set up the budget that both parties have an equal say in the decisions being made and that there are both short-term and long-term rewards and goals built in. Although a budget might feel restricting to you or something you aren’t interested in trying, consider giving it a go for a few months. Maybe you and your partner will fight less about money when there is a clear plan in place.
  4. Create Separate Money “Pots”. Some couples really like having a certain amount of money set aside for certain purposes. For example, you can decide that 10% of your paycheck will be reserved for fun splurges and 10% for emergencies / retirement. As the spender, the advantage of this approach is that you don’t have to ask your partner permission to spend your “fun money” (or risk getting in a fight after it after the fact).  You know what you the two of you have agreed that you can spend.  Of course, that also means you have to stick to that budget if you want that freedom.

 

Cycle 2: BAD WITH NUMBERS

Tips for the Partner Counting Pennies                    

“Our checkbook is 2 dollars and 43 cents off this month!”

Being really careful about your finances is important to you. A penny saved is a penny earned as they say! Your partner’s more relaxed attitude about money can conflict with your careful attention to detail.

  1. Two Types of Accounts. If you and your partner are really different in your attitudes surrounding money, having joint and separate accounts might be helpful. The shared account would contribute to shared expenses like rent, utilities, groceries, etc. while the separate accounts could provide some freedom for each of you to spend money on things you enjoy while avoiding disagreements.
  2. Start Small. In conversations with your partner, begin by suggesting small ways to save money as a couple. You could suggest cooking at home more, buying store-brand instead of name-brand at the grocery, use coupons when available, or limit the treats (coffee, ice cream, lunch out) to once or twice a week.
  3. Make a Budget. Having specific goals that both partners agree to is the best way to help with issues around finances. It is important when you set up the budget that both parties have an equal say in the decisions being made and that there are both short-term and long-term rewards and goals built in. Remember that a budget is a goal for the month and sometimes cannot be achieved. Unexpected expenses like the car needing repair or a trip to the doctor can throw you off your game.

Tips for the Other Partner

“$30, $40, $50…what’s the difference?”

Money to you is more fluid than concrete. There is some going out and some going in at any given time. So long as you are able to pay your bills and mostly stay out of debt you aren’t too worried.

  1. Listen Actively. Be open to hearing your partner’s side of the budgeting conversation, especially if this isn’t the core issue you’ve worked through in the program because you might not know the whole story. They may have important reasons or good ideas about why being detail-oriented is important. Helping each other avoid bank and credit card fees as well as making use of sales and coupons creates additional money in the budget that adds up over time! Notice areas where money is disappearing such as subscription services or late fees that could easily be avoided with a bit more watchfulness!
  2. Make your needs known. If you grew up in a tightly budgeted household or have been carefully monitored by parents or partners in the past, financial freedom might be very important to you. Work with your partner to find a way for you to have that flexibility. Maybe the budget includes flex money each month for your spending or you try separate accounts, in addition to a joint account. By setting aside a specific amount that won’t be included item by item in the budget, you get your freedom and your partner gets the limits and foresight they crave.
  3. Make a budget. Having specific goals that both partners agree to is the best way to help with issues around finances. It is important when you set up the budget that both parties have an equal say in the decisions being made and that there are both short-term and long-term rewards and goals built in. Suggest ways for the budget to be both flexible and precise. Maybe you can withdraw cash in know amounts and then have the flexibility to spend as you choose. This way your partner gets the balanced sum sheet and you have flexibility without him/her watching over your shoulder. At the end of this post, we suggest an app / website to help you create a budget if you don’t have one already.

 

Cycle 3: BREADWINNER BATTLES

Tips for the Partner Bringing Home the Bacon

“The financial stability of the family is on my shoulders alone!”

You may feel really stressed by the need to financially support your partner.

  1. Talk about it. When you are the sole provider for the relationship or family, you likely feel great pressure to give your loved ones everything they need and want. Share with your partner how difficult this is for you.
  2. Be specific. It might be helpful to discuss not only your thoughts and emotions on this issue and why it feels so tense, but also your specific goals around finances. It is likely to help if you and your partner can be on the same page. Discuss financial goals together. Are you saving for a down payment? Are you hoping to go on a vacation? Set up a meeting with your partner so you can discuss together how to and what to budget and save for.
  3. Remember: money isn’t everything. Although income is a crucial to provide the necessities for your relationship or family such as housing, food, and clothes; money isn’t everything. The people you care most about are the reason you’re trying to save and plan financially! Try to notice how your partner contributes to the relationship and thank your partner for all he/she does.

Tips for the Other Partner 

“Hello!?!  I help, too!”

If your partner makes more money than you, sometimes it can feel like an imbalance in the relationship where his/her income gives him/her more power. It can also feel like the efforts you make, whether it’s additional income or taking care of things at home, is overlooked and not appreciated.

  1. Agree on boundaries. If your partner makes all, or most of the money for the relationship, discuss how you have access to financial resources. If you share an account, consider whether the two of you want to also have individual accounts so you can have some of your own money that you don’t have to check with your partner before spending.
  2. Set goals. Discuss with your partner what your joint goals are. Does each person contribute a certain percent of their paycheck towards future savings? Does your partner cover rent while you cover utilities? Set up a time to have a ‘money meeting’ with your partner, so that you can discuss goals, contributions, savings, and spending.
  3. Is it really about the money? For some couples, although they argue about money, the fight is really about the hidden emotion – one person feeling like the other doesn’t respect or value them. If that’s true for you, think about whether or not you’ve ever talked about it like that with your partner.

 

Cycle 4: FINANCES AND FAMILY

Tips for the Partner Willing to Lend

“Family comes first! It’s not a big deal to help out family and it’s our responsibility.”

You may feel really pressured to help out family members financially, or maybe they have helped you in the past and you want to return the favor.

  1. Be specific. If you want to lend money to a family member, try to be specific with both your partner and the family member of how much money is being offered, if there is an expectation of repayment, and what the timeline is on that loan.
  2. Be honest. If you and your partner have different perspectives about loaning money to family members, it might be tempting to do so behind his/her back to avoid an argument. Instead, try approaching your partner with the specific situation as well as ways it can stay in line with any budget you and your partner have agreed upon. For example, you might propose foregoing a “fun” expense so you can support your family.
  3. Create a family money “pot”. Some couples really like having a certain amount of money set aside for certain purposes. In your case, it might be useful to set aside a small amount of money each paycheck that you can use to support your extended family. The idea would be that you wouldn’t spend this money each paycheck but save it up across several paychecks so that, when your extended family had a need, you would have money saved up.  And, because you and your partner already agreed on that amount going towards your family, it wouldn’t create a fight when you spent it.  Of course, the tough part is figuring out how much of each paycheck to put into the pot.  To do that, you need to set a budget for your own family and figure out how much is left over to share.  At the end of this post, we suggest an app / website to help you create a budget if you don’t have one already.

Tips for the Partner Worried About Lending          

“Mixing finances and families never ends well! We can’t keep covering for everyone!”

You may feel really stressed by the need to financially support your family, your partner’s family, or both. Creating balance or removing support that has previously been there is difficult to navigate.

  1. Know your comfort level. Assess where your comfort level is with mixing family and finances. Are there certain people or situations that are okay for lending and others that are more challenging? Share with your partner where the hesitation comes from when it comes to lending with family. Sometimes it is fear of never being repaid while other times it could be worries around changing family dynamics.
  2. Talk openly about emotions. It’s amazing how complicated money and family can be. Especially if the two of you come from different backgrounds or if your families had very different experiences with money growing up, you may be surprised by what lending money (or not lending money) means to your partner.  For example, in some families, not lending money to family in need can send the message that you don’t care about them.  If you haven’t really sat down and talked with your partner about this issue, it’s really important to do that before you try to move on to solving it.
  3. Create a family money “pot”. Some couples really like having a certain amount of money set aside for certain purposes. It might be useful for your partner to set aside a small amount of money each paycheck that your partner can use to support his/her extended family.  If your partner can stick to not spending more than that, this agreement would keep the two of you from constantly arguing about this issue.  Of course, the tough part is figuring out how much of each paycheck to put into the pot.  To do that, you need to set a budget for your own family and figure out how much is left over to share.  At the end of this post, we suggest an app / website to help you create a budget if you don’t have one already.

 

Extra Resources

Here are a few more resources to help you break the cycle you and your partner are struggling with:

Complete a Free, Online Self-Help Program.  Consider working on your relationship using our proven, self-help relationship program. Our program is developed by leaders in the fields of couple therapy and pre-marital education and has been shown through extensive research to improve relationships – more than in-person classes and almost as much as marriage counseling. You’ll work with your partner to complete online activities and receive free support from one of our program coaches. Our program is developed by leaders in the fields of couple therapy and pre-marital education. So, you can be confident that it’s the best thing you can do to strengthen your relationship without the hassle and cost of a therapist. Not sure your partner would go for it?  Take a look at these tips for how to introduce the idea. To find out more about our program, go to our home page.

 

A great website / app for setting up your first budget is EveryDollar (everydollar.com). It’s free (for the basic version).

 

If you’d like to use a workbook instead of a program/app to create your budget, we suggest the following book:

The Total Money Makeover Workbook