One of the biggest arguments my husband and I have had in our 22 years of marriage has been over window shopping. He enjoys it. I do not. For him, tripping around town checking out interesting objects appeals to his artistic nature. For me, it's simply being thrust into a situation of temptation. Given the ease with which I slip into instant gratification mode, that is not good. I fall in love with pretty things and want to buy them. But since I can't actually afford to, my options become either buy something I can't afford and regret it when the next student loan payment comes due -- or walk away sad because I'm reminded of all the nice things in the world that I can't have. In my husband's arguably correct point-of-view, this is a serious character flaw that I should remedy so we can have more fun tooling in and out of stores together. So far failing to improve myself, I prefer to avoid temptation all together.
Why are some people pillars of willpower while others struggle to leave the debit card in the wallet, the third brownie in the pan, the bottle of booze from being completely emptied? No idea, but if you find yourself in a relationship where different attitudes about money regularly erupt into fighting, I can offer some help. First, accept that you and your partner are two different people. Sounds logical, right? And yet, because we tend to fall for people who remind us of ourselves, share our likes and dislikes, we sometimes find ourselves shocked when real and serious differences arise. The key is to focus on "different" as a practical problem, not an issue of "right" vs. "wrong" -- because then you can find a practical solution.
In Jean Chatzky's book Make Money, Not Excuses, she addresses several typical financial conflicts between partners. For example, one person may criticize the other's spending habits. A sensible reaction is to open separate bank accounts (or cash stashes), while maintaining one joint. What you each earn goes initially into your respective separate accounts, but a set amount -- enough to cover the bills and some savings -- then goes into the joint account, from which the household bills and shared savings are paid. Whatever you each have left over is yours to do with what you please. Romantic? No. But romance will last a lot longer if not deterred by constant money squabbles.
Along those same lines, sometimes people find themselves upset over a partner's surprise big purchase. Perhaps someone was ordering an Avolicious juice drink over at Greenhouse Boardshop and Juice Bar, and noticed a new supply of Taylor surfboards had arrived. And this person loves Taylor surfboards because they're so slick and solid all at once with that great heavy glass job. Those boards might have glistened like hard candy in the candy shop, making our shopper's mouth water. She hasn't had a new surfboard in so long! Plus she just got paid... You see where this is going, right? Showing up at home with a pricey new acquisition -- even if you really, really needed it -- can send the wrong message. Like you don't care about trying to save money. Like you're an undisciplined fool. Which might be true, but certainly hearing that from your partner only triggers anger, guilt, both. To allow for spending freedom while avoiding a situation in which you seem to be trying to control each other, set a limit relative to your personal income above which you must check in with each other before spending. Not a lot of extra money? Maybe $50 is your don't-spend-without-consulting mark. Well off? Make it $1,000. Whatever -- the point is you're talking and coming to agreement first.
Here's something about money: With it, comes a sense of power. Unless you're really super enlightened, the freedom and choices money allows infiltrate how we perceive ourselves. When one partner makes significantly more than the other, that financial equality can easily twist into a situation where one person believes he or she is worth more than the other, usually expressed as, "Hey, I'm the one paying the bills around here!" Trust me, that never goes over. Chatzy sums it up like this, "You have to believe deep down that what your partner is bringing to the relationship is just as valuable as what you're bringing." If you find that's not the case, you need to make some serious changes -- and/or find an affordable couples counselor.
Like everything else a relationship hinges on, regular conversation about money helps keep you both on the same page. You should both know what the regular expenses are, what unusual expenses have come up, how much you have in savings, how much you are in debt and you should have some shared goals that address it all. It's easy to get off track and into an argument during these discussions -- I recommend keeping them short and to the point. "Here's our bank balance. Here's our last month of expenses. Here's the current bills. Here's what's coming up. The car needs new brakes. If you want us to visit your folks for Christmas, we need to make sure we're setting aside $100/month, and so far, we haven't done that. Any ideas on how to do that?" Keep personal criticism out of it. If things regularly get ugly, then you have another reason to seek counseling if you hope to stay together. Yes, you can solve the problem to a degree by keeping everything separate, but you should have some common ground where you can work together -- otherwise, what's the point?
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