If spending habits are hurting your relationship, it’s time to act. Money is one of the top four causes of conflict in a relationship, according to Relationships Australia. No matter what we argue about — he spends too much, she hides the bills, there isn’t enough to go round — we do argue. And the dollars and cents may not even be the real issue.
“Most people fight about money because our families or origin impact how we regard money,” says Melbourne psychologist Meredith Fuller. “It can be an emotional issue, and no amount of financial advice can solve the problem.”
If yours was a family that did it tough, you’ll look at the world differently to a partner whose parents weren’t short of cash or believed things would always turn out for the best. Money isn’t just a stack of notes — it represents power, freedom, independence and security.
“Part of the problem is that we don’t talk about it enough,” says Melbourne financial counsellor Sheila Freeman. “It only comes up in a crisis. Ideally, you’d work through the bills together so you both know what it costs to live.”
Let’s face it, in the current climate we’re even more likely to have “heated debates” about money. Here’s how to stop those arguments turning into warfare.
#1 Make it just about money
It's hard, but avoid bringing up other relationship issues that have been bugging you. "Very often, couples will scream and yell about money," says psychologist Jane Haufbaum, but they're really arguing about sex, who's doing the housework, or who isn't putting the kids to bed. Money is an easy cause to latch on to."
Sit down and discuss only the issues at hand. If you feel your partner has overspent, tell them that, but don't use phrases like, "That's so like you" or "I've told you before". It will only escalate.
#2 Remember you're in this together
Screaming at each other won't pay the mortgage. You have to work together, and the best way to do this is to write a mission statement for your finances. This might sound odd, but it works.
"Just write down your financial goals. (See also: 6 finance tips all newly-engaged couples must take note of) It may be as immediate as, 'We need to pay the mortgage next month,' or it might be, 'We have to limit our outgoings by 30 percent," says Jane. "If you have a shared goal, you'll both focus better."
#3 Play to your strengths
Think about your partner. Are they a planner? Do they love spreadsheets? Think about your own strengths and weaknesses, and when you draw up a budget, use the person with the relevant skills to organise key areas.
#4 Talking about money problems
Pick a place that's neutral territory and put a time limit on the talk. Don't make it a blame session. Concentrate on ideas for managing better instead.
If one of you has trouble saving, try writing down every cent you spend to see exactly where the money is going. That way, you can more easily work out where you can trim costs.
This story was originally published in The Singapore Women's Weekly.