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Finances. If you’re married it’s probably one of the top sources of friction in your relationship.
I know it is for us. We have a pattern that goes something like this:
Once upon a time, in the happy Poirier household…
The Poiriers have a pretty good financial system going. Gina manages the budget and tracks all of the spending, so she has a pretty keen awareness of where all the money is going. Marc has more of a “big picture” feel for what’s going on. He brings in most of their income and manages their long-term investments.
But one day, Marc goes to the store to grab a couple of things they need for lunch. Gina knows that there is about $20 left in the grocery budget. She assumes that no one in their right mind would spend more than $20 on “a couple of things.”
Marc isn’t aware of Gina’s expectation for him to spend less than $20. While he’s at the store he stocks up on a few things, which add up to quite a bit more than $20. He thinks he’s being helpful, saving them future trips to the grocery store.
He comes home and Gina is…quite frustrated. She tries not to overreact, but after all he was only supposed to get “a couple of things” in her mind. Maybe she’s silent but body language says it all. He senses that she’s mad and also feels frustrated because he has no idea what he did wrong.
And now everybody is grumpy (probably made worse by the fact that Gina is very hungry).
I’d like to say that we’ve come a long way when it comes to our fights about money—and we have! Nearly ten years of marriage have refined us tremendously. But money is complicated, made more complicated by two very busy and imperfect people trying to make ends meet day after day after day.
Can you relate?
The longer you’re married, the more you (hopefully) recognize that what you’re fighting about isn’t really what you’re fighting about. So in that sense, we don’t fight about money at all.
We fight because we don’t communicate effectively.
We fight because of unmet expectations.
We fight because we say hurtful things to one another or indicate hurtful things through body language.
We have a lot of conversations with other couples about finances. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t struggle in this area. Over time, however, I’ve come to realize that there are several core reasons that couples are fighting about money. It’s not about the money and here’s why.
Why Couples REALLY Fight About Money — 5 Reasons
1. Your core beliefs about finances aren’t in sync.
When we first got married, I didn’t have a lot of well-defined beliefs about how would should be managing our finances. My natural instinct is to be a hoarder. Don’t spend money ever, and you will be sure to always have it. When absolutely necessary, get the cheap stuff.
My dear husband’s natural instinct is a more pleasant way to live: enjoy the resources that you have been blessed with. Don’t live wildly outside of your means, but take the opportunities you have to live a little (which includes being generous).
We didn’t work very well as a team in the early days. He kept track of our spending, and I just decided that I would stress less if I didn’t see it.
Needless to say, when we actually sat down and went over the details, we butted heads.
About two years into our marriage we decided to take a finance class through our church. Little did I know that we had signed up for one of the most foundational experiences in our marriage. We met in a small group every week and went through thorough Biblical teachings about the role of money and possessions in our lives. We emerged from that class finally able to talk about the core “why” behind any financial decision: being good stewards of the resources we’ve been given.
“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’” —Matthew 25:21
I see a lot of information out there about the “hows”: how to make a budget, how to follow a budget, how to pay off debt quickly, etc. But the truth is, if you and your spouse are not unified when it comes to the “whys” in your finances, none of the “hows” are ever going to work.
I highly recommend taking a class together that is based on Biblical principles. We took a Crown Financial Ministries class and highly recommend it. If you can’t take a class, I’d recommend reading Your Money Counts together. There are also a plethora of other excellent Bible-based financial resources online; take your pick.
Perhaps you’re in a situation where one spouse is on board with Biblical principles and the other isn’t, or there’s some other disagreement about core beliefs. I’ve seen it happen, and admittedly it’s a tough challenge to overcome. In that scenario it’s important to talk about your differences. Even if you can’t come to a complete agreement, you can understand where the other person is coming from and try to meet in the middle.
2. You don’t have goals.
After Marc and I took the finance class, we agreed that our first priority was to pay off debt. At the time we had a few thousand dollars in credit card debt as well as a few thousand more in a car loan. We worked steadily to pay those off in a few years and have stayed out of debt since.
We were proud of that victory! But after that, amidst a lot of life changes including having three kids, a cross-country move and me leaving the full-time workforce, I became frustrated because it seemed like we could never get ahead in building our savings (at this point we had switched daily management of our spending over to me). We would put money away and inevitably spend it on opportunities that came up.
We both generally knew that saving money is good, but after a while we finally realized that we needed to be more specific. Otherwise we get into a cycle of save and spend, save and spend.
A few months ago we sat down for the first time in about five years and had a detailed discussion about our savings and investment goals. I remember it well—we were super professional and wrote everything down on the back of a Steak & Shake menu. We talked about where we wanted to be financially one year, five years, ten years, twenty years and more down the road. When you break it down like that it’s a lot easier to set aside money for specific targets. Some of the things we talked about included emergency savings, international adoption, buying a home, college for our kids, retirement, and philanthropy.
We don’t know all the ways we are going to get there, but it is so helpful and motivating to know what direction we are going. Otherwise the day-in, day-out spending habits can feel aimless.
In their hearts humans plan their course,
but the Lord establishes their steps. —Proverbs 16:9
3. You don’t have a plan.
In my observation, this is the piece that people usually jump to first when it comes to financial advice. “You’re having money troubles in your marriage? You should make a budget!” Well, duh.
A budget is meaningless if you don’t know why you’re using it. Once a couple has values and goals they can agree upon, however, a budget can be very useful.
I’m not going to be very specific about this area because a. There are a million other resources out there, and b. I hate budgeting. There, I confess it: I hate crunching the numbers and I almost guarantee I will never post a budgeting guide on this blog. But budgeting is necessary and helpful for successful financial management—and, more importantly, a healthy marriage.
I’ll just provide a few general pointers. If you’ve never budgeted before, start simply by keeping track of every penny you spend and putting your expenses into categories. No matter how off track I get, if we monitor spending we never get too crazy. Once you have an idea of your spending habits, assess what expenses are necessary and what you can cut. In my experience it has actually been fun and strangely liberating to cut out the frivolous extras. Finally, when you draw up your budget, give yourself flex room, because inevitably there are going to be times when the unexpected happens. One great strategy I discovered recently was to budget for a four-week month every month. My husband is paid weekly, so on the five-Friday months we have a little flex money.
Dishonest money dwindles away,
but whoever gathers money little by little makes it grow. —Proverbs 13:11
4. You don’t communicate effectively.
Nine times out of ten, especially since we have our values, goals and budget in place, this is where our marriage teamwork breaks down. It happens when our spending parameters are not clear. I expect one thing; he expects another; we don’t ask what the other person is thinking; we don’t look at the budget together; we both get frustrated because when it comes down to it, we simply can’t read each other’s minds.
We’re both responsible for making good communication happen.
It’s difficult because in any given month things are going to come up and we might not follow our budget exactly by the letter. This is why it is so important to set aside time to talk about our finances! I like to sit down and look at where we are at the beginning of each month; we also have to check in with each other frequently as those little expenses come up.
This is really hard, you guys. Life is crazy. We are crazy sometimes. But we have to try our best, give each other a lot of grace and take one day at a time.
Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. —Ephesians 4:2
5. You aren’t trusting God.
A friend of mine was confessing to me how frustrated she was feeling about her family’s finances. She and her husband are some of the most disciplined people I know. But things were tight; he had been laid off and they had a mortgage, two cars and childcare costs. Their savings had dwindled. Needless to say, it was creating some friction in their marriage.
“We’ve done everything right!” she lamented. “And still, we’re just barely making ends meet!”
Ain’t that the truth. You can do everything right, but that is no guarantee whatsoever that you are going to get ahead.
It’s wise to plan, to save, to set up safety nets, etc. But you could lose it all in an instant. I think of Job in the Bible, of people in the developing world who suffer from drought and famine, of the thousands of refugees in Europe right now who are normal people who lost everything, simply born in the wrong place at the wrong time.
It’s a challenge for one person to be content in whatever the circumstances; it’s a double challenge for two people to be content (perhaps even more when kids are in the picture!).
There isn’t an easy fix to the “trusting in God” issue, but my advice is for you to simply pray—together. My husband and I have tried to be very deliberate in taking prayer walks together almost daily for the last several weeks. Not coincidentally, there is less stress and tension in our relationship.
I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. —Philippians 4:12–13
You’ve heard it said—marriage takes work, especially when it comes to managing your finances together. We don’t do it perfectly, but I think we have the tools necessary to make a pretty effective team.
Would you agree that these are the roots of your money fights? Why do you fight about money? Leave a comment here or on social media!
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