Does any of this sound familiar?
“We always fight when we talk about finances.”
“Her spending priorities are not the same as mine.”
” I tend to overspend at Christmas, while my husband wants more money allowed for vacations.”
“Sometimes, he spends a lot of money on stupid stuff…”
As the holiday season beckons to us from the not so distant future, and we start looking into our wallets in anticipation of holiday purchases, the elephant in the room becomes bigger and more obnoxious … like it or not, finances is the root of many of the most severe disagreements in relationships.
It’s not just the lack of money that causes stress; what and how we choose to spend money on when we do have it can be sore point as well! And when the financial going gets rough, couples can easily become trapped in a vicious circle in which stress leads to rudeness and blame, and rudeness and blame leads to stress.
The best antidote for this vicious circle is to administer a good dose of etiquette. Why? Because etiquette encourages us to communicate in a way that resolves situations and builds relationships, instead of tearing them down.
And once you have a clear path of communication and etiquette, these six steps can help guide your conversation about the elephant in the room:
1. Sit down and talk about financial goals and values
Yes, it can be hard to start that chat, but it’s so important and will really help establish some ground rules, hence making your relationship so much better! Many couples often forget to do this … I know I know, it’s an uncomfortable subject, and sometimes it’s easier not to talk about it. I felt exactly the same way! But once Ian and I started that conversation, I could see that he wants to be on the same side as me, and that made me feel so much better about me, and us and our financial situation.
2. Remember your “pleases” and “thank-yous”
Often, financial issues are tied up in all kinds of emotional issues. You could feel like you don’t want to be criticised for how you keep track of your finances .. or you might have carried a childhood burden of not having enough money when growing up.
No matter your past, try not to bring them into the conversation room with your partner. Don’t use blame, accusations or language that is simply not nice. Chat about your money situation in a matter-of-fact way, using only statistics.
Also, try your best not to feel defensive when your partner talks about your goals or habits. Remember … you’re both rowing your canoe in this great lake of life, and you’re both in the same canoe! (:
3. Establish an A-plus plan
You’ve sailed through #1 and #2 and are ready to set up a plan? Yay! Remember … this plan needs to take into account the following:
- Your joint income
- Your debt(s)
- Your savings
- How much you can put towards debt and/or savings each month
- What you can cut back on in order to meet your savings goals
- Length of time to meet your goals
Once you have those elements down on paper, create a spending plan for each month. Remember that this plan isn’t set in stone; you can adjust it to meet your monthly goal. You might discover, two months down the road, that you may need to cut back on some things, or earn extra income, or both.
In all of those situations, clear communication is key to success! (:
4. Be realistic!
At all times, be very clear and realistic about what you can and will sacrifice in order to give this plan the best A-plus effort that you can give it! You always want to set yourselves up for success, not for failure!
Understanding what you and your partner’s strengths and weaknesses are can go a long LONG way in ensuring your plan gets an “A” grade. If you’re good on the computer, you might want to take charge of your financial program, whilst your partner might be the person to go to the bank, for example.
5. Meet weekly
This is so very important, and is also a crucial step to success which many couples tend to overlook. Just because you have common financial goals and a plan AND a system doesn’t necessarily mean that everything is peachy fine.
Have weekly meetings when you sit down together, perhaps over a nice warm cup of tea, and talk about your finances. You can review your accounts, what’s coming up in the next few weeks you’ll need to budget for, and you can also spot check for any problem areas that might have popped up.
Take this time to spend together, and make sure you’re both still in the same canoe.
6. Keep positive and honesty the focus, always!
I can’t stress this enough … you’re in the same canoe! If one of you starts jumping up and down and flailing your arms about, you’re BOTH going to capsize. Team Happy is a team that will encourage and help each other out. If you stay happy and positive, so will your financial plan and goals!
Photo : Jeff Sampson Photography
So remember to keep calm, and carry on!