Fighting About Money? Repeat These Three Mantras

Becky Bowman
October 28th, 2020 | 5 min

Fighting about money? Don't feel like you're the only couple that struggles. According to a 2018 Harris poll commissioned by Ally Bank, money is the biggest stressor in serious relationships.

If you’re here, odds are you’re having some big financial discussions in your relationship these days. How do you have these big heavy talks without it all escalating into shouts and hurt feelings?

I’ve been married for ten years, and while we aren’t a famous power couple, we’ve purchased two homes together and paid off our student loans. And we're always learning.

Here are three mantras that have helped us along the way.

Agree to disagree

I’m lucky that my husband and I agree that saving and investing are important, and that we agree on lots of big-ticket financial items: How much house we can afford; how we should handle financing that house; how we should handle car purchases.

When it comes to saving for retirement, however, our paths split — and that is OK.

My husband has a higher risk tolerance than I do — so we go our separate ways. His retirement portfolio has done a bit better than mine on the whole in our years together, and that’s OK with me.

“Agree to disagree” might not sound like marital harmony, but it works for us.

Draw a line in the sand

When my husband and I got our first apartment together, we had one tiny projection TV — a $10 Craigslist find — and no cable. He was working an evening shift at the time, and I have clear memories of coming home from my job and turning on "Seinfeld" re-runs each night, on a channel I could catch with the analog antenna. (Remember those?)

When it became time to order cable, I balked. The only show I was dedicated to watching on traditional TV each week — then and now — was Sunday Morning on CBS, which I could happily catch with that analog antenna.

He wanted sports.

"Fine," I said. "You pay for it."

I haven’t paid for cable in 13 years.

Of course, this distinction is a bit fuzzy. Yes, I understand the money for that cable comes from the finite fund pool available to us as a couple — but I also believe that there’s a big benefit to each party keeping their own bit of “spending money” separate. And I’m not alone in that: The Harris poll found that only 4 in 10 couples “share all income and expenses.”

Communicate, communicate, communicate

Two years ago we hired a new cleaning service. They were awesome; the house seemed to shine.

I was on maternity leave at the time with our son, and my husband was funneling all of our credit card charges onto one card and handling the bill. A few times, he mentioned that the cleaning bill seemed to be a bit high. I would wave it off, saying, “Yeah, they said it might go up or down a little as they figure out how much time they need.”

Eventually he stopped asking. Maybe the tip was included, he thought. After a few more months, however, we sat down together to review our bills and realized that while he thought the total credit card charge included a tip, I was giving the cleaners our tip in cash after each visit.

It turned out the cleaning company was charging us 20 percent more than our estimate for each cleaning. If we’d stopped to investigate together, sooner — perhaps on a money date — we’d have saved ourselves that extra 20 percent. (We work with a different cleaning company now.)

These mantras have served us well. If they’re not the right ones for you, find your own, and stick to them.

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