This article appears in the 2017 October Family magazine.
Couples fight over which way to hang the toilet paper and where to go on vacation, but the most common arguments are often over finances. Almost half of Americans — 48 percent who are married or living with a partner — admit to arguing over finances, according to a new study on money and relationships from TheCashlorette.com.
Spending habits are the focus of many of these disagreements.
“Our survey found that the most popular fights couples have are over the other person’s spending and saving habits,” said Sarah Berger, founder of the personal finance site. “Sixty percent of couples fight over either one person spending too much or one person being too frugal.”
The remainder are fairly evenly split between dishonesty about spending or savings, how to divide the bills and something else altogether involving money.
Differences in opinion when it comes to money can start early in a relationship, even beginning with who picks up the tab on a date. Women are more likely than men to let the other person pay for it (46 percent versus 2 percent) or to split the bill (37 percent versus 9 percent). Men, on the other hand, are more likely to pick up the entire bill themselves compared to women (85 percent versus 8 percent). Millennials prefer to split the bill (33 percent) — more than any other age group and nearly twice as much as Gen Xers (17 percent).
Fights about money can be more bitter and intense than other disagreements.
“I think that financial fights can be extra tense because money is often treated as a taboo conversation topic in our culture,” Berger said.
Talk about spending
To prevent conflict, a good place to start is with healthy communication.
“Be honest but also open-minded; your partner’s approach to finances doesn’t have to be identical to yours, it can be complementary,” Berger said. “What is important, though, is that you have a clear understanding as to how they view money and what their relationship with it is like. For example, if your partner’s spending habits don’t match up to yours, maybe you decide that separate checking and savings accounts is what works for your relationship.”
Make a budget
“If you feel like your spending and saving patterns are way out of sync and you share joint accounts, then I would definitely recommend having a budget. That way, you won’t harbor resentment toward your partner in regard to what they’re spending money on: There’s a clear expectation as to how money should be spent and saved, and it doesn’t leave room for any money misunderstandings,” Berger said.
“Every couple is different,” so there’s no one approach that works for everyone, Berger said: “Play to each other’s strengths: If one person is super organized, maybe they take on the task of actually making sure the bills are paid on time.” If the conversation gets heated, hit the pause button. “Take a deep breath and try to take the emotion out of it,” Berger advised.