How Not to Fight About Money

by Joel Fink
How Not to Fight about Money photo

Are the fights you have with your spouse primarily about money? A CFP shares advice on some things you can do to avoid money fights and help keep the financial peace.

Money is often the cause of turmoil.

Granted, the fight may actually be about something else. Money can represent many things in a relationship: power, responsibility, freedom, self-worth, and more. You may need a trained professional to resolve the underlying causes if your fights about money are extreme, frequent, or destructive.

However, if your fights are primarily just about money, there are some things you can do.

Yours, Mine and Ours

Most couples have a joint bank account. Fights are usually not about expected expenses like rent, utilities, food, etc. The conflict typically occurs when one party is accused of spending too much or not consulting with the other before they make a purchase.

What’s the solution? It’s personal money. Set aside a fixed amount of money for each person, each month. Come to a mutually agreed upon amount that fits into your budget.

Separate the “personal money” from your joint account. You can either withdraw it and give it to each person or you can transfer it into separate bank accounts if you have them.

Each person can spend their “personal money” on whatever they want. There is no need to ask the other person’s permission. However, spending money out of the joint account requires a discussion.

You can decide on different amounts of personal money for each person if you so choose. However, setting the same amount emphasizes that each person adds value in the relationship, no matter what their economic value in the marketplace.

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Until Debt Do Us Part

It’s one thing to argue about money that you have. It’s a whole other thing to argue about money that you owe.

Hopefully, both parties were aware of the debt that each brought into the relationship. If not, you may be back to needing that trained professional.

Debts brought into a relationship best remain an obligation of the person that brought them. There is little value in a partner assuming or guaranteeing the other’s debt unless absolutely necessary.

However, it is good (and desirable) to work together to pay off debts in a timely manner. You should make a plan working together on how the debt will be repaid.

Give Me Some Credit

Credit cards can be contentious. They are easy to get and easy to use. One person, or both, can run up a large balance very quickly. Setting up some “ground rules” can avoid credit card conflict.

Pay off credit cards every month. Setting this goal can help both parties think twice before pulling out that credit card to make a purchase.

If a card doesn’t get paid off, we cut our “personal money” in half until it is paid off. Shared pain reinforces that you are working together to meet your goals.

Set a charge limit. Agree on a dollar amount that works for you. This is the amount over which neither person will make a charge unless they have talked with their partner first. (See Is Your Spouse Financially Unfaithful?.)

Divide and Conquer

Of course, one size does not fit all. For some couples, especially where both parties have significant income, keeping peace may be better served with a “joint money” approach (as opposed to “personal money”).

In this approach, the parties keep their money separated. Instead, they agree on how much each person will contribute each month to the “joint account” and which expenses will be paid from the joint account. (See Joint or Separate Finances for a Second Marriage?.)

Relationships are hard, but they are likely the most important contributor to your personal happiness and well-being or your personal misery and distress. The best investment you may ever make is to get on the same page with your partner about money.

Reviewed August 2020

About the Author

Joel Fink is a retired CPA and financial services executive living in Dallas, Texas. He enjoys writing articles that help real people with simple ideas to manage their money and improve their lives.

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