How to stop fighting with your spouse about money

This is a guest post from GLBL, who writes about personal finance at Gather Little by Little.

Many sources cite money as the number one cause of marital strife. Some of you probably know this from first-hand experience. I can relate, too. My wife and I are very close, but money has always been a touchy subject, and unfortunately has led to a more than a few “disagreements”.

Last year, we decided to get control of our money instead of allowing our money to control us. I did extensive reading and research, and we began to put some changes into place. Since then, we've learned what works for us and what doesn't. We are not experts, but I will say this: since we began this journey, we haven't once fought over our money.

Here are seven actions you can take today to stop fighting with your spouse about money. They worked for us, and they'll probably work for you.

Be a Team: There is No “I” in “Team”

Between talking with people and listening to callers on The Dave Ramsey Show, I'm surprised by the number of married people who talk about their finances and converse as if their spouse doesn't even exist: “When I do the budget”, “When I pay the bills”, “I am working two jobs to provide extra income”, “I…I…I”.

Shouldn't they be saying “We”? With so many “I”s everywhere, it's no wonder couples are fighting — they aren't communicating! The best way to manage your finances is together. Create your financial plan together, do the bills together, review your net worth together. If you do anything related to your finances, make sure your spouse is involved and has a say so in the decision process.

Develop a Budget — Together!

From personal experience, one cause of fights (or “fussing”, as we call it in the South) is one spouse spending what the other spouse considers too much money. This is generally a problem when the couple is already fairly tight on finances, or when one spouse is far more frugal than the other.

To resolve this issue, create a budget together. It's not important how you do it or what method you use, but that you create the budget together. If both spouses don't have input in the budget, they won't “have any skin in the game”. Both should provide input on the numbers and be part of the process.

Hold Weekly Budget Review Meetings

If one spouse is doing all of the finances, it's very difficult for the other spouse to know the current financial state. Even with a budget, a lack of communication can make it difficult to know how much is left in the “grocery category” or the “entertainment category”.

To solve this problem, pick one night of the week to review your finances. Pick a time when you and your spouse can devote 15-30 minutes without interruption. For us, this is after our younger children are in bed. I generally update our finances daily, but I always make sure the budget is updated before our meeting.

I print a copy of the budget that shows the amount we allocated for each category and how much we have remaining. We review each category and discuss the amounts remaining and any expected expenditures for the week. If we are short in one area and over in another, we move the money around. If we are just short, we either decide to cut back and not spend, or we pull the funds from the emergency fund.

Review your finances frequently. Communicate. You'll be amazed at the difference a little communication makes.

Establish an Emergency Fund

The most important thing you can do to keep your finances under control — and to avoid using credit cards and going into debt — is to establish an emergency fund. Nothing stresses a couple more than running out of money before all the bills are paid. Even worse is having the air conditioner or the car break down without money to get it fixed.

Establish a $1000-$2000 emergency fund and put it in a high-interest savings account. The emergency fund will cover those unexpected expenses. The key is that each spouse must agree to not touch these funds without the other's agreement. This keeps the emergency fund from being used to buy big-screen TVs or designer pocket books.

It's Okay to Make Mistakes

Being the detailed geeky type that I am, when we first started budgeting, I wanted the budget to be perfect. I wanted us to follow it perfectly. While discussing our finances one night, I found that my wife hated the budgeting process. After some discussion, I realized it wasn't the budgeting process she hated, but how I handled it.

The budget isn't going to be perfect. It should get better as you do it more, but it will never be perfect. That's okay. If you are off, just move the money around. If you overspend, tap the emergency fund — just be sure to put the money back. You'll find that the longer you follow a budget, the easier and more accurate it becomes.

Like everything else, it's a journey. If you're like us, just having a budget will be a huge leap in the right direction.

Agree to Hold Each Other Accountable

After we agree on the budget for the upcoming month, my wife and I do a pinky shake. Is this a little silly? Sure, but it works for us. Every time I am in the store and see some new shiny electronic gadget I want, that pinky shake reminds me of the commitment I made. That little shake makes me question if I need the item or not. I can't tell you how many times I've walked out of a store empty-handed because of that little shake.

The point is to think of something both of you can do to commit to each other. That little reminder is worth its weight in gold.

Get Out of Debt

Debt is a dark cloud that follows you constantly. Debt puts pressure on your finances, and ultimately on your marriage. Getting out of debt will give you financial freedom and peace of mind. If you are in debt, stop getting further in debt right now. If you have credit cards, shred them. Is your car payment way too high? Sell it and buy something you can afford. Is your mortgage beyond your means? Sell the house.

Once you have stopped going further into debt, begin aggressively paying what you owe. My wife and I started this process about six months ago, and it's brought us closer together.

What do you do to keep from fighting over your finances? Have you used any of these ideas? Have they worked for you? Kris and I mostly keep separate finances, so our approach is different. I'm curious to hear what works for people with joint accounts.

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Frugal Dad
Frugal Dad
12 years ago

The budget review meetings are critical to your success because it keeps both spouses on board and up-to-date.

Sam
Sam
12 years ago

My husband and I only recently got married in 10/06 and started combining finances in 01/07 (still a work in progress). We both found it hard to switch to “our money” and “our debt” after we each managed our own finances for so long (we were both 35 when we got married, first marriage for both of us). Things that work for us: (1) Meetings, we do have financial meetings but probably only once a quarter. (2) Division of labor, I pay 95% of the bills and manage 95% of our money. I would like my husband to be more… Read more »

dayLateDollarShort
dayLateDollarShort
12 years ago

Very Interesting article. Our story reads pretty much the same as yours. The reason that I needed control of our finances is that a year ago we started looking for another house. I really needed to understand how much we could *really* afford without being house poor. It took several month’s of trying until things started to solidify. After several month’s of house shopping, we decided to build. My budget research lead me to use ‘envelope’ style of budgeting, using a tool called Mvelopes. This process has really changed things for us. We stopped fighting about money and are able… Read more »

Ren
Ren
12 years ago

I hate to talk about money, the only conversation I hate more is the ‘where do you want to be in five years’ conversation. I am the grasshopper and my husband the ant. So, we have to work at having a relationship with our budget. I want to put it in the corner and ignore it, Paul wants to bring it into the room and treat it like one of the family. It doesn’t help that we’re a single income family and really have to watch our money. We have tried many, many things. The talking every week… ugh, my… Read more »

Ron@TheWisdomJournal
12 years ago

Our financial picture has changed for the better over the past few years because of some increases in my pay. My wife is a homemaker.

n times past, we were very diligent in our finances because we had to be. We had mo choice! It’s had to spend money you don’t have, especially if you’re maxed out on the credit cards!

We need to follow your advice and get our act together, together. It doesn’t do much good for one person to be working towards a goal and another to be working against it.

Thanks for the reminder.

elisabeth
elisabeth
12 years ago

A recent study underlined the importance of “enough money” in keeping people from divorce. (Of course, for people with no ‘money maturity’ there’s no such minimum — but in that case the problem isn’t money, it’s the maturity). I think the situation for people with two incomes is very different from those with only one; but even if there is only one income, I’m convinced it’s important that each person has some money that ISN’T joint, for which he/she doesn’t have to account to anyone but him/herself. That alone might stop a lot of arguments, especially if you can decide… Read more »

Peter @ Plan Your Escape
Peter @ Plan Your Escape
12 years ago

My wife and I use a joint account to allow us to share our mutual expenses. We’ve had great success using our system. Just last week I wrote about our system in more detail. We both feel it has been one of the best financial decisions we’ve made as a couple so far!

Peter

glblguy
glblguy
12 years ago

Great comments and information everyone. It’s very interesting to read your stories and perspectives, and I sincerely hope that couple struggling will gain some benefit from reading my article in addition to your wonderful feedback!

Keep it coming!

Sick of Debt
Sick of Debt
12 years ago

We used to do the weekly budget meetings, but as we have gotten ourselves out of most of our debt, streamlined our finances and each has the items that they manage (eg: my wife does the grocery shopping and has a cash envelope for it, I fill up the gas tanks on both of our cars), there has been no need for weekly. After doing a budget together the past year, 90% of the budget is defined from last month (house, utilities, car, debts). All we do is decide at our meeting what the remaining 10% is (eg: this month… Read more »

KC
KC
12 years ago

My problem is I do 100% of the bill writing, 100% of the investing, 95% of the spending, and 0% of the earning. I’m very fortunate to have a husband who just comes home and gives me the money (well direct deposit, anyway). He never spends any moeny except for an occasional lunch and comes to me about everything “can we afford this?” Actually come to think of it I’m pretty lucky. But what I have a problem with is I can’t get him interested in what I do – managing the money and investing. If something were to happen… Read more »

TosaJen
TosaJen
12 years ago

Slightly to the side of this discussion, but I think 2 discussions should be required for a marriage license: the kid talk (whether, how many, how to raise) and the money talk (goals, lifestyle requirements and dreams, existing debts, assets, spending, debt, and investment habits). Not romantic? Heh. More romantic than arguing, being disappointed and frustrated after you’re married, and — in many states — being jointly responsible for your spouse’s financial choices. That’s not to say people can’t change, but it’s hard to make anyone fundamentally change their money attitudes and habits. Seriously, you can’t fix your spouse. We… Read more »

LK
LK
12 years ago

When my husband and I first got married, I just kind of assumed he’d “be in charge” of bill paying, money-accounting, and so forth. I really didn’t want to deal with it. Turns out, though, that bill-paying was not his forte’ and when I was asking every month why the cable or phone was turned off (“Oh, I forgot to pay the bill”), I took over. He loves it because it’s one less thing for him to worry about; I love it, because I know exactly what’s going on, when things need to be paid, how much is left, etc.… Read more »

LK
LK
12 years ago

KC, I am in a bit of the same position as you are, except right now I still work – I hope to be a SAHM though so I could very well be in your position one day – he brings home the bacon and I slice it up for serving! Luckily he’s pretty good with taxes and stuff (I let him do the paperwork at tax time) and hopefully for things such as retirement funds and whatnot, I can keep him interested and involved as we go along in the years. I have really just had to take it… Read more »

dickey45
dickey45
12 years ago

My new husband (1/12/08) and I have been talking money for many years now. We are both older (he 46, me 39). He hates to deal with actually having some although he’s always had about $5k-$10k in emergency funds. Unfortunately he doesn’t have a retirement account other than PERS. Since we got married we tied our accounts together so that we could transfer money back and forth. I ended up paying all the bills because we now live in my house where the bills are in my name (which will change shortly). We also had to talk about money because… Read more »

Steven
Steven
12 years ago

I manage the finances but my wife and I do well with communication. 1) She knows about all the bills. I do not hide them and if there is any input she has to help resolve them then I want it. 2) I hand her the bills that I want paid and she pays them. 3) I out her before myself. FOLLOW THIS PRINCIPLE! I don’t use my authority to spend all the money on myself. I am constantly giving into her wishes (with in reason). Also, she notices that money is spent on her and I rarely spend money… Read more »

vh
vh
12 years ago

Great advice. My mother used to say money is the base cause of most divorces, and in my experience she was right. My ex- associated budgeting with poverty. Having grown up in poverty, gone to an Ivy League school and a state law school, and established a lucrative legal practice, he just flat refused to budget. Period. He also would not allow me to have anything to do with managing our finances. We were chronically in debt. As a blue-collar brat myself, I find debt uncomfortable and don’t respond well to the whole idea of “leveraging,” particularly when most of… Read more »

FourPillars
FourPillars
12 years ago

Great post! Very well written.

I can’t understand how married couples can have “separate finances”. Having different chequing accounts etc doesn’t mean your finances are separate. You are both responsible for the bills, payments, debts etc.

Mike

Nigel
Nigel
12 years ago

When I first got married we had a lot of debt. Since we never thought we had enough income to cover the bills anyway, we just spent all we wanted. (I am not talking about big screen TV’s and cars here. we never had the credit to go that crazy) my feeling was “we don’t have enough anyway, so we’ll buy whatever we want, it’s all just debt we can’t ever pay.” Needless to say that was pretty dumb, and the fear of finally running out of credit and having to pay all of that debt hung over us every… Read more »

Pinyo @ Moolanomy
Pinyo @ Moolanomy
12 years ago

Excellent article glblguy. I agree that the couple needs to be a team when it comes to finance (well, actually they should be a team on everything). Although, I don’t personally budget, my wife and I do talk regularly about our finance. It helps keep both of us in the know and in line.

Luke
Luke
12 years ago

I hate this topic. I hate it because my wife spells “team” like this: IIIIIIIIIIII She makes a lot more money than I do, and spends a LOT more too. If I attempt to even *imply* that there is a “we” in here somewhere she becomes incredibly hostile and defensive. When I was working less than I am now it was framed that she was supporting me – although I was doing all the childcare at the time (and still am). She has frequently expressed the belief that someone – if not me then usually someone in my family –… Read more »

RacerX
RacerX
12 years ago

The best thing that we ever did was to divide and conquer…She has her ares that she is in charge of and I have mine. Neither is perfect and neither of us have to be the budget police.

Budget should be a lifestyle, not something you endure…

glblguy
glblguy
12 years ago

@RacerX – If you develop and do the budget together, neither is the “budget police”. The budget polices itself.

Dividends4Life
Dividends4Life
12 years ago

Interesting read. It has been my observation that most marriages are made up of one saver and one spender (I guess opposites do attract). One will look ahead and want to prepare for retirement, while the other says let’s enjoy our youth, you will have plenty of time to save for retirement. You may be on the same team, but you’re wearing different colored jerseys. 🙂

Best Wishes,
D4L

speedwell
speedwell
12 years ago

@Luke: Reality check! If you allow her to support you and the kids, it doesn’t matter how much childcare you’re doing… she is supporting you! Did you help her buy the house? Is your name on the documentation? If not, then it is HER house! Did she make the money? Then it is HER property! Gee, I don’t wonder why she is so defensive and convinced that she’s being taken advantage of! And you have the unmitigated gall to be “resentful.” Resentment is something you have to work to afford, buddy. Try showing a little gratitude for what this accomplished,… Read more »

TosaJen
TosaJen
12 years ago

speedwell — Welcome to the 21st Century, where men sometimes have the caregiving roles while the women sometimes are the majority wage earners. CA and WI are both community property states (I’ve lived both places), so what is earned by one spouse belongs to the other equally. Luke — it sounds like your wife has some control issues, and there is no “team” there. Does she have a reason to make sure that she’ll have money if you and she part ways (not necessarily related to you)? I have a husband who is the primary caregiver of our children, and… Read more »

LK
LK
12 years ago

speedwell – are you serious? Nothing he said came off as ungrateful – he says he’s TRIED to make this a partnership and she wants nothing of it! She sounds like a controlling wench. If I marry a guy and I’ve already bought a house and make more money that he does, but he (for example) has more debt than I do… guess what? It’s OUR house, OUR income and OUR debt! It sounds like Luke has less of a marriage and more of a live-in nanny arrangement! What would YOU choose? Get over yourself. At the same time, I… Read more »

Steven
Steven
12 years ago

Luke,

I would tell your wife almost word for word what you told us.

Be prepared for an argument but working out your issues is better than not talking about them and you eventually leaving. If both of you have compassion toward one another and approach the subject reasonably then you’ll be fine.

Speedwell – You sound like you were hurt in the past by a controlling spouse. I hope that you realize that a functioning “relationship” requires mututal understanding of the situation.

Me
Me
12 years ago

Oh Dear. If my husband and I had weekly budget meetings he would die – of boredom. It only took a layoff for both of us for him to value how I handle our money. Now we get our monthly allowances and I handle the rest. As we both say – We don’t want him to worry his pretty little head about the money. That is fine by me and him. This took us years to work through – and we are happy with it.

We have annual money meetings.

Lily
Lily
12 years ago

I think the most important factor in avoiding fights about money is to not lie to your significant other about spending, saving, debt, etc. It sounds like most of the commenters are doing fine in finding what works for them. For those who haven’t found what works, definitely talk to your significant other; it may be harder than airing out your grievances online, but it will have a more satisfying payoff than anonymous sympathy.

Anthony Lawrence
Anthony Lawrence
12 years ago

Isn’t marriage supposed to be “we”? I’ve been married over 40 years. My unofficial motto has always been “She spends it, I make more”, but the reality is that we are a team: neither of us would spend a “dangerous” amount of money without the other’s knowledge and approval.. and approval is usually only a matter of confirming “yes, we can afford to do that” because if she wants it, well sheesh, I want her to have what she wants. Why wouldn’t I? I love her and she simply IS my world. I don’t understand couples who fight about money.… Read more »

Alya
Alya
12 years ago

The post is good, but the arguments in the comments are better! It makes me laugh!

Tubaman-Z
Tubaman-Z
12 years ago

Married 21 years – I’m the sole wage earner for the past 12, my wife is a SAHM. She handles the day-to-day books (easy to assign given my poor bill paying skills that she saw demonstrated while we were in college), I handle taxes, retirement investing, college investing, etc. Over the holidays she prepared an updated 2008 budget and we reviewed it together. While we have minimal consumer debt (car loan that will now be paid off in Nov. and

Luke
Luke
12 years ago

Speedwell, What’s ironic is that much of what you said, I say to myself way too often. But then I wake up and know it’s wrong. I certainly understand that when one person makes money, it’s ‘their’ money. But it’s way more complicated than that: just one detail, the reason she is able to work the hours required is because there is someone else – me – covering the home front. I pretty much gave up my good-paying job so I could be there for day-care drop offs/pickups, doctor visits, school holidays, night wakings, and so on. I gave up… Read more »

Early Retirement Extreme
Early Retirement Extreme
12 years ago

There may be no “I” in team, but if you look really hard, there is a “me” 😉

Bill Goodman
Bill Goodman
12 years ago

One thing that worked for me was that I found a new job. My wife and I used to argue a lot and the bottom line always came down to spending and money. Sometimes people forget that they have a choice in their career. I went out and went from making $30k a year and struggling wit money to making $90k+ a year. Now most of the debt is gone, credit scores are up almost 100 points and our arguments that we do have, which are not many anymore, are never about money. Communication is a must.

Rika
Rika
12 years ago

Whoa! What I’m getting from this thread so far is, don’t marry!

Michelle
Michelle
12 years ago

My boyfriend/fiancee/almost-husband guy and I took our credit cards, put them in an envelope, signed our names on the seal and hid it in our closet. This way, we won’t be tempted to use them every time we open our wallets and we’ll have to explain to each other why we’re about to use our cards. We haven’t opened the envelope yet.

Darrell
Darrell
12 years ago

“We haven’t opened the envelope yet.”

LOL, we put ours in a ziplock baggie and it is stuck to the bottom of the inside of our upright freezer….

karry
karry
12 years ago

@Luke – I highly recommend marriage counseling. Most people wake up to what state their marriage is in when a spouse brings up the fact that he/she feels it’s so bad that a 3rd party is needed.

Kent Irwin
Kent Irwin
12 years ago

My wife and I have agreed to a $50 spending limit. If neither of us call the other before making a purchase we have not agreed upon together prior, then we don’t buy it. Most corporations have a review process before buying something to insure corporate fiscal responsibility, why not the family? It makes things fair. We also discuss things she wants, I want and what we want together — works for us.

Jessica
Jessica
12 years ago

We share finances. I do all the financial work, and we are both happy with that because I love it and he hates it. Every payday I send him an update on how our assets & depts are going. We don’t go over every bill though. His father is flabergasted that he doesn’t have money of his “own.” So last week his Dad gave him $200.00 in secret to have just in case he wants something without me. He brought the money home and we put it toward shared goals. Of course his marriage is so out of whack that… Read more »

Jennifer Nalleweg
Jennifer Nalleweg
12 years ago

My fiancee and I have a joint account that we use for our mortgage, property taxes, and house insurance. The rest of our finances we keep separate, although I mainly pay for the utilities and he buys the groceries. It seems to work out okay, and neither of us can take the money out of the joint account without the signature of the other – so it can’t be accessed unless we both agree on the expenditure. We both pay the same amount into the account each month. That all might change when we get married this fall, but for… Read more »

Methodical Money Lady
Methodical Money Lady
12 years ago

My husband and I do it this way, and it’s worked pretty well for us: 1) Both our paychecks (which can vastly differ) are direct-deposited into a savings account (no debit card, no easy access) 2) Monthly, our basic budget amount is transfered from savings into a joint checking account from which all our basic bills are paid (mortgage, utilities, and food only). We both have debit cards, but are only allowed to buy food with them. 3) Also monthly, my husband and I both get an allowance transferred from savings into individual checking accounts (no joint access). We get… Read more »

Tony Totanes
Tony Totanes
11 years ago

Occasionally, my wife and have i have disagreements with money but 80% of the time we don’t. We also have a joint account and separate accounts. Guess what, the joint account is stagnant because majority of her income goes to her account and i deposit most of my income to the business account which pays for mortgage, gas and electric, cell phone bills, car insurance, property tax while she pays for cable, home phone and water. When you pay 95% of the expenses in your household you will stop fighting with your spouse about money. This is what we did… Read more »

John Smith
John Smith
8 years ago

Although it sounds great it doesn’t work when you have a spouse who agrees to a budget and then spends all of the funds on everything but. I bring home the only income for a family of four. My wife insists on being in charge of the shopping – no problem. She takes the shopping money and goes to bingo. I keep gas in the car but she spends the day driving all over the place and daily empties the tank. After all of this she looks for more money and wants to take it out of the money we… Read more »

Roger
Roger
5 years ago
Reply to  John Smith

Hi John, I am in a similar situation to what you mentioned. My situation is that my wife never corrected her spending after years of spending, so I finally separated our accounts. I had no choice. Filling-in for the spent funds was killing me (and us). However, after we separated the accounts, her ‘required’ funds have never been what she really needed, and though I agreed to the funds split, I am bogged down by bills that are constant, but her funds are much more random so she uses money for all sorts of other things, including making her weekly… Read more »

web page
web page
6 years ago

This is a topic that is near to my heart… Cheers! Where are your contact
details though?

William
William
5 years ago

I am 30 years of age and married man,my partner is 25 years of age.so all along I used to share with everything with her to show trust.but nowadays I find it difficult if I may continue with this task,because most of our plans did not succeed since I’m planing with her.As most of the time we were planing while we had cash, but the we end up ignoring that plan as she normally telling me about buying clothes at thee same time I had racing horses and she hate them.Then this time around I bought the truck without telling… Read more »

Cara
Cara
4 years ago

We are open, very open about our money. One wants to save. One wants to spend until every last penny is gone before payday. One is frugal and believes in quality fun. One thinks dropping large sums of money shows love. If we don’t live below our income level how will we ever save? The other accounts for every penny until it is all spent. Very discouraged!

kiggu
kiggu
3 years ago

I am married to my husband, he earns and I earn, I disclose my finances to the fullest but he tells me nothing about what he earns. I pay the house rent, TV, taxes, medical insurance and he is supposed to pay other bills such as food, water, electricity and his fuel. But we constantly have arguments when his bills small as they are fall short. And is even not willing to discuss it. When a bill like for water comes or we need food at home, he gets angry the whole day and sometimes I am forced to clear… Read more »

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