Money Matches #3:  Common Problems

Believe it or not, not all the arguments about money stem from not having enough.  Sometimes it’s a control issue. Martha always wants to know how much money there is in the bank and so she won’t let Jason have access to the account because she’s afraid he’ll spend money she’s allocated elsewhere.

Sometimes it’s a difference in goals.  Kevin wants to have fun. They’ve got a good pension plan and they have secure jobs that pay well, why can’t she just leave him alone now?

From my experience working with couples, the following seem to be the things people most often fight about. Feel free to add to the list. If you’re contemplating a commitment to a mate – or you’ve been in a relationship for a while and  you feel it’s finally time to address these issues — you might want to talk about these right off the bat:

  • Who will be responsible for keep the account(s) in the black, and how the other person will help.
  • Who will pay the bills, and how the other person will stay in the loop.
  • The similarities and differences in your spending styles, and how you will deal with them.
  • Ditto your approaches to saving.
  • How you will deal with changing/conflicting priorities: moving for one partner’s career, having children, retirement.
  • How you’ll invest, who you’ll invest with, and how you’ll deal with different investment personalities…she’s a safety freak and he likes to take more risk.
  • How much debt you’re each comfortable with, and how you’ll decide whether something is worth going into debt for.
  • How your emotions affect your money management. Some people go shopping when they are sad. Some people go into complete avoidance when faced with an unpleasant financial activity (think paying your taxes). And some people spend to please others.
  • How you will show you are listening to what the other person needs you to hear.

This last point is important. If I had a penny for every time I heard, “She won’t stop shopping. She won’t hear me when I say that there’s no money.” Or this one: “My husband has no idea how much it costs to run a family.” These are classical examples of “He/She just won’t listen.”

The key to making any discussion about money work – including addressing the inherent differences in your approaches to money – is to demonstrate that you respect where the other guy is coming from. If there are issues that consistently crop up, then you’ll have to take a deeper look at the attitudes that may be contributing to those issues. But all the way along you need to be supportive and accepting of the person – and deal with the behaviour separately.

“Buddy, I know you need to have some fun with your friends. But I need to know we’re not going to miss the mortgage payment. How much do you think is reasonable for fun money for you every month? Okay, let’s look at the money we have and our expenses (hey! that’s a budget!) and see where we can find that money.”

Talking about your money fairly regularly – at least once a month – is one of the biggest contributors to creating successful money matches. With regular communication, things can’t spiral too far out of control before you deal with them.

You’d also be smart to look for the telltale signs of money matching while you’re dating. If he seems to blow a lot of money on you, buying flowers, taking you to expensive events, how will you feel when the cost of his wooing comes head-to-head with his credit card balance? If she’s demanding, with expectations that you think you’ll never be able to meet over the long term, why would you choose to rope yourself into an untenable situation? Just because the person you are currently seeing seems like the perfect match doesn’t mean there won’t be issues you have to iron out. If you don’t ask the right questions, you’ll end up headed down the road to marriage without every knowing where the potholes are.

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