Why Couples Fight Over Money and How to Stop
Why do couples fight over money? It has a lot to do with expectations. Even something as simple as whether to go overboard or under the radar about Valentine’s Day can become a conflict. The two most contentious topics to spark the not-fun kind of passion? Sex and money. Whoa, put your secret credit card away, we’re not “that” kind of site. Here at Hardbacon, we want to help you break nasty money habits that are NSFW – Not Safe For Wealth. In the spirit of romance and finance, here are some practical tips to help you and your bae stop fighting about money.
Fighting about money? It’s not as uncommon as you think
With the Canadian divorce rate at 40%, there is an entire industry of financial self-help advice for couples. Does your house feel like a war-zone? Here are some of the best books about love and money, straight from the professionals:
- Smart Couples Finish Rich by David Bach
- The Heart of Money: A Couples Guide to Creating True Financial Intimacy by Deborah Price
- First Comes Love, Then Comes Money: A Couples Guide to Financial Communication by Bethany and Scott Palmer
- Thriving in Love and Money by Shaunti and Jeff Feldhahn
- For Richer, Not Poorer: The Money Book for Couples by Ruth L. Hayden
Why do couples fight over money?
You might think there are a ton of reasons why couples fight over money. But the truth is, it all boils down to a few key elements. It all starts with how each of us relate to money based on how we were raised, the financial habits of our parents, our personal experience with money, and how it makes us feel about ourselves. It’s a lot to unpack and creates an internalized story about how money relates to happiness and our place in this world. If you don’t have enough money, it can feel like a moral failing. If you have lots, it obviously means you’re better than the average bear. Our emotional relationship with money can be incredibly toxic.
Then of course, you get two people with two very different communication styles in a relationship together and it ups the ante. It doesn’t help that talking about money is still taboo in 2022. Try asking your brother-in-law how much money he makes, or what his account balance is; I’ll wait. Money is one of those things you just don’t talk about if you want to be fun at parties, right up there with religion and politics. So now we have two very different financial belief systems between people who don’t know how to talk about money in a healthy way. Because, quite frankly, they don’t know how to talk about money at all.
Each of us have a very defined set of values; a core list of things we believe are the most important in life. People seldom waiver from their core values, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. But mismatched values can act like a flame to a powder keg. When we have different ideas about what’s important, conflicting money beliefs, and don’t know how to use our words it often leads to something called Financial Infidelity; keeping financial secrets from your significant other. When the truth comes out, it can be as emotionally devastating to your partner as actual adultery. In fact, a Dave Ramsey study revealed that “money fights are the second leading cause of divorce,” and it’s the number one relationship stressor. You can lie, but the numbers don’t.
How to stop fighting over money
That seems like a lot of baggage to unpack. I’m not going to lie, it is. For some of us, unlearning bad financial habits can feel a lot like unlearning your first language. The emotional labour is a lot easier when you and your partner paddle the boat together. Establishing financial intimacy is not as hard as it sounds. Here are some practical ways you and your sweetheart can make a financial connection to help you stop fighting over money.
Communication is key
Initiating a conversation about money is the hardest thing to do, but it’s the most important step towards finding peace. Start with lighter topics, like how much to spend on Valentine’s Day gifts and who’s going to pay for dinner. Then move into bigger things like budgeting and how you’re going to split living expenses. Once you break the ice and get the conversation flowing, it gets a lot easier to move into those headier subjects. It takes time to get to know each other’s financial personality. A lot like dating, wouldn’t you say?
Respect each other’s needs
All of us have that one thing, a vice, that we have to have no matter how frivolous it is. Contrary to popular belief, you can each have your cake and eat it too if you do it right. Respect each other’s needs and work together to budget around it. Want to start a fight over money? Tell your partner they can’t buy their favourite designer latte anymore; that’ll end well. The quickest way to spark resentment is to deny each other certain needs just because it conflicts with your money beliefs.
Here is a personal example: My husband is an avid gamer. As an extreme introvert, video games help him feel productive and connected to his gaming community while also allowing him to recharge his social-emotional battery. Personally, I feel like video games are a waste of time and money but it’s something that brings him joy. Together, we worked his gaming subscriptions into our monthly budget so we can both achieve the emotional and financial balance we need. But something had to go. Goodbye cable, we never watched you anyway.
Establish common goals
Just like common interests are important for a happy relationship, common financial goals are critical to a successful one. Everyone should have at least three individual financial goals for themselves: a short term goal, a medium term goal, and a long term goal. Financial advisors have been preaching time bound goals for ages and it applies to couples too. Talk about your individual goals like paying off a student loan, saving for retirement, building up a personal savings account. Then establish financial goals that can enhance your relationship together like saving for a wedding, a house, or backpacking through Thailand. From there, you can both start to adjust your money habits to support both each other’s individual goals as well as your common goals. Soon, you won’t fight over money anymore, you’ll both fight FOR it instead.
Invest in your values
Our financial habits stem from our values which, in turn, are shaped by our personal experience with money. One person may value financial security, so a savings account with a certain amount of money in it is non-negotiable. They might achieve that sense of security by sticking to a budget and being frugal in order to save more. The other might value quality time with loved ones, so they’re willing to spend more on conveniences that free up time. A quick way to start a fight over money is to criticse how your partner handles it. Understanding the “why” behind your partner’s financial habits helps identify what you each value. Then you can work on aligning your values as a couple and adjust your habits in a way that doesn’t alienate or invalidate the other person.
Here is a personal example: I value quality time with my family. Cooking is one thing I really hate because it feels like a chore. It takes time away from other things I’d rather do like play Hot Wheels with my kids, or enjoy a bottle of wine on the patio with my husband. I am quick to order dinner, or subscribe to a meal kit so I don’t have to shop for groceries, prep, cook, and clean up. To make this work, my husband cancelled a pricey gaming subscription he rarely uses and I cut back on my Starbucks splurges from four to two times a week. We also use the FlashFood app for groceries, which not only sells food at a deep discount but prepackages it at the front of the store for quick pickup.
Budgets are sexy
Of course, all of this give and take happens because we created a budget together; one that supports our common goals and honors our values. Sit down together and hash out your total income, expenses, and how you’re going to share financial responsibilities. Some couples split everything down the middle while others contribute in proportion to their respective incomes. There is no right or wrong way, only what’s right for the two of you. Establish what you need, what you’re willing to give up, and the goals you want to crush. It gives your household budget context and a clear purpose. Take it from my husband, there is nothing more frustrating to a spender than saving for the sake saving without a clear-cut reason. A budgeting app like Hardbacon is an easy way to make a budget, track spending, create goals, and keep you accountable.
Combine romance and finance
Of course, you can’t just make a budget and call it a day. Like any healthy relationship you need to check-in to make sure things are working. You can avoid a fight over money by checking in with eachother often. Your financial situation will change over time and you’ll need to adjust your budget accordingly. There will be times when you need to cover an unexpected expense or pivot when life throws a curve ball. Set aside a regular budget “date night” to review how things are going and keep the lines of communication open.
Light some candles, open a bottle of wine, and get busy between the spreadsheets. Talk about your spending habits, check in on your savings goals, and open up about how you’re feeling with the current financial plan. Are any of you feeling deprived? Does the other feel resentful? Stay away from accusations and “you always” or “you never” statements. Give your partner a safe space to open up. This is where emotional vulnerability can help you establish a strong financial foundation.
How to end the fight over money before it starts
Great work, you two! You’ve done the emotional labour and you’re both on the same page. Now what? In the golden age of technology, there are incredible tools and resources to help you make smarter financial decisions both as individuals and as a couple. Here are a few quick tips to help you manage your finances as a couple.
Identify your money personality and work with it
People come in all shapes and sizes, but there are about four distinct money personalities; the spender, saver, investor, and debtor. Couples tend to fight about money when their financial personalities collide. The worst thing you can do for any relationship is try to change the other person, full stop. Instead, each identify your own money style then work with it. A prepaid card like KOHO comes with tons of features to help every money personality make the most of their habits. Hacking your habits is a great way stop a fight over money before it starts.
Open a joint account
A joint chequing account is one of the easiest ways to stay on top of your budget and crush your goals. And the good news is that you don’t have to give up any financial independence in the process. Many couples use a joint account for shared expenses like rent, utilities, groceries, etc. For some, that might look like depositing both your incomes into one account and paying all the bills from there. Others keep separate accounts, and transfer money to the joint account for shared expenses. There’s a lot of flexibility here, so find the right balance for your unique relationship.
Respect each other’s financial independence
Financial independence is a human right. At least it is in my world view. A joint account is great for keeping things clear and simple, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of personal freedom. When one or both of you are financially dependent on the other, that can be a gateway to a really unhealthy situation for a lot of reasons we won’t unpack here. It’s important to establish financial boundaries like separate savings accounts and individual credit cards. An easy way to avoid a fight over money is to have a budgeted amount of “fun money” for each person to spend on literally whatever they want, whenever they want. You never know what the future holds. You need to have a financial safety net and a good credit score to support yourself in the event of an uncoupling.
Decide how to split bills
One of the biggest reasons couples fight about money is over the division of financial labour. Even if there is only one breadwinner and the other handles the majority of domestic tasks, there still needs to be compromise and balance. If one works and one stays home, you both still need access to money, accounts, and other financial information. If you both generate income, decide how you’re going to divide living expenses. For some, splitting everything down the middle works well. But that can be a breeding ground for resentment leading to conflict if one person brings in a lot more money than the other. In that case, it might be better to split expenses based on the share of household income. Whatever you choose, remember that it is not set in stone. That’s why you have sexy budget time to check-in with each other and flex if things aren’t working out as planned.
Create a get-out-of-debt plan
Studies show that the more debt a couple has, the more they fight about money. One of the best things you can do for your relationship is create a get-out-debt plan together. The sooner you pay off those student loans and clear up the credit cards, the sooner you can throw that extra cash into your financial goals. There are two really effective ways to pay off debt: the snowball method and the avalanche method. There are pros and cons for each method. More people stick with the snowball long term, but it’s not the most cost effective. It takes more discipline, but you’ll save way more money using the avalanche method. Use the Hardbacon Avalanche Debt Repayment Calculator to see for yourself.