It’s no secret that one the most contentious issues in many relationships is money. It truly does make the world — and our lives — go ’round. Money also doesn’t discriminate as to who its issues affect; it influences partnerships between people of any age, race, gender, background, or income level.
But while money may affect all our relationships, we vary on how it affects them. These differences, combined with the taboo nature of discussing money, can leave people feeling lost when trying to navigate this topic with their partner.
I’m by no means an expert on relationships or money, as I’m sure Dr. Phil and Suze Orman could tell quickly given the chance. But I am someone who’s had to examine her own financial values in the context of her relationship. I’ve had to work with my husband to cultivate shared ideas and practices for our life together.
The following tenets are a product of my six years of learning, compromise, and growth…
1. Value each other’s strengths
While my husband and I both managed to stay debt-free and save some money throughout our twenties, we approached money management in differing ways before we were together. He executed his budget like the maneuvers of an expert chess player, each move in preparation for two ahead. My actions were more similar to The Game of Life; I reacted to situations as they came and made the best decisions possible given the card I drew.
What we have learned over time is that neither of our strategies are necessarily wrong and that they each have value. We needed to come together to develop a shared plan that 1) we could both live with and 2) capitalized on the best of what each of our methods brought to the table.
I quickly realized that my husband was onto something with his forward-thinking and spreadsheets. His budgeting enabled, rather than restricted, our lifestyle. For example, reining in our spending each month allowed us to take the vacation we wanted and even have it totally paid for before we left!
My contribution, on the other hand, has been to ensure that we still enjoy the little things. My weekly iced nonfat caramel macchiato may be frivolous, but it makes me happy. I have also been good at reminding us that we can’t plan for absolutely everything.
2. It’s okay to keep some things separate
This doesn’t work for everyone but can work wonders for some couples — present company included. Sharing your lives doesn’t have to equate to sharing literally every cent. Think of it this way: Do you and your partner share each and every meal? Agree on all movies or TV series? Have all of the same hobbies? Or do you eat/watch/play some things together while still going it solo on others?
Our approach to budgeting has been similar to the latter. We share some accounts for bills and long-term savings, but we maintain individual spending accounts for day-to-day purchases. Sure, sometimes the color drains from my husband’s face when he sees me carrying seven Target bags into the house after a trip to “just get laundry detergent.” But ultimately, he knows that I’m managing my own spending money, just as he is managing his. We have agreed on certain parameters as a couple but have the freedom of spending our money according to our own preferences.
Bonus? Separate spending accounts come in handy for gift-giving purposes too!
3. Maintain an open dialogue
Communicating regularly can help you bridge the gap between your opinions, as well as work towards a plan that satisfies both you and your partner. One of the benefits of talking things out is that it helps both people feel invested in your financial health, even if one partner takes the lead in actually managing your money.
In my case, I appreciate the fact that my husband and I make important monetary decisions together, even if he’s the one crunching the numbers and keeping an eye on our spreadsheets.
The bottom line
Just as with any other aspect of a relationship, money is best handled by being yourselves and putting your heads together to find something that works for the two of you. While you are the only ones who can do the work to improve your relationship, you are also the ones who will reap the countless benefits from your time and effort.