Top Common Fights Over Money And What You Can Do To Avoid Them

by Silicon Valley Blogger on 2007-06-1811

You’ve probably heard that cliche about what causes the most fights between couples: sex, money and family. Well then since we’re all about money over here, that’s something we can go into further detail.

Just check out this infamous ITunes spender who threw money at music to the tune of $8,000 a month. Not surprisingly, his fiance dumped him.

I used to wonder how my husband-to-be had more than 700 music CDs and more than 300 movie DVDs and hundreds and hundreds of record albums until I discovered that he had $43,000 in credit-card debt. In looking at his last bill (for one month) he had charged more than 8,000 iTunes at 99 cents each and had charges at places that sell music and movies, too. This guy made $45,000 a year. Called off the wedding.

In the blogosphere itself, this topic has been handled in depth in more than a few sites, but I wanted to reflect on those matters that have personally affected me or other people I know.

So here’s what I think are the most common financial arguments that may cause cracks in relationships if not handled quite properly. If you’re wondering which of these have happened to me personally, you’ll just have to guess.

Ten Typical Fights That Couples Have Over Money

Itunes and Ipod

#1 Requesting a prenup
I have seen some of these get sprung on unsuspecting lovebirds before and almost always, the reaction isn’t good. But really, what is the big deal? Doesn’t this just show you’re thinking with their mind and not your heart? Then again, if you ask me this question right before my wedding and not today after 11 years of marriage then you might get a different answer! However, I’d only advocate this if there is a huge discrepancy in people’s wealth and if it involves protecting OPM — that is, the “other people’s money” here would be somebody’s inheritance from their sheik father for instance. If there’s nothing much to protect, then doing a prenuptial agreement may inject some questions to a budding commitment that may or may not be easily brushed off.

#2 Merging financial accounts, assets and liabilities
Oh my. After you get married, this is just one more thing, or chore, to work on. It can be as hideous as you make it to be. Someone who’s used to independence and individuality will opt for separate accounts. The other will want convenience and simplicity and will demand merged accounts. I’m just glad I opted for what my spouse wanted, as it turned out actually easier for us in the end. Also my spouse is less of the control freak I am, so everything “joint” has worked for us.

#3 Different spending and saving habits
This is a tough one, especially if you are polar opposites with your partner. But then again, if you happen to have the same habits as your overspending partner, then you could get into trouble. I worked with someone whose husband inherited $1,000,000 from his grandmother 7 years ago. That’s a cool million. What did they do? They both partied heavily for 2 years and awoke to no money one day. They’ve built themselves back up to solvency but are once more avid conspicuous consumers. In this case, old spending habits die hard.

#4 Sudden weight of one’s financial history
Did you wake up one day to find out that your partner is harboring a deep dark secret? That he or she has some hidden liabilities you’ve never heard of? Gah! This is a serious deal breaker. Well at least, I KNEW that my partner had credit card debt before we started our lives together. After marrying, we worked on wiping that debt out as soon as we could.

#5 Financial matters involving other family members
Potentially causing some turmoil here is the change in family dynamics that can occur when other family members get involved in your financial life. How so? Typical scenarios: someone needs to borrow money, you can’t resist and they never pay you back. Or someone needs to live with you due to temporary homelessness and it turns out to be indefinite. Some of these things you can’t really avoid, since family is family. But deciding as a unit will alleviate any conflicts and bad feelings that can arise from this.

#6 Job transfers and relocations
To uproot yourself from everything familiar is quite a challenge. Not everyone wants to do this, even if the call for a better lifestyle and improved job prospects beckon. A good friend sold their Orange County house a couple of years ago for a favorable price. They had a simple tract home and sunny weather. Her husband found a better opportunity in Minnesota where they purchased a much more affordable but also much nicer home that was clearly a step up from what they used to have. Though the new digs seems cool, they had to trade in an all around moderate climate for occasional snow. Or blizzards. And sadly had to leave their network of friends behind.

#7 Change in financial status
Lots of splits happen when things change and rock the boat. Just ask some lottery winners or people who become permanently unemployed. Getting laid off or going on voluntary unemployment for a while could make the sparks fly! Even the threat of a lifestyle or financial status change can fuel discord.

#8 Different financial priorities and goals
Someone wants to buy a house. Somebody else wants a sports car or a vacation and enjoys rent living just fine. Resources don’t cut it all, so priorities need to be hatched, but there’s the rub. Everybody has a different view of what paradise is and how to get there.

#9 Handling the cost of raising children
Some of the most controversial topics in our circle is how to deal with the subject of kids: when to have them, how (yes, even how!) to have them and raising them. What about the one couple where the wife wants to have children but the husband would prefer to focus on business? Maybe it’s a question entirely about affordability. Most everyone I know with school age kids goes through the big debate of private versus public education. Many try out for some form of financial assistance and that usually settles the question.

#10 Making financial mistakes
We all make mistakes and I’ve even aired my own list here. But there could be some mistakes that are too grand to ignore and may become the root of many an argument. The issue here is whether these mistakes are learned from and can be forgiven. If your spouse makes a lousy investment in secret, can you forgive them?

How To Get Along Over Money

It’s easier said than done, but here are some of the things done to TRY to get along better when it comes to money. Let’s be realistic here, the topic is a sore spot for many people and many times, somebody’s ingrained traits and behavior can get in the way of a harmonious relationship with their mate and their finances. In those cases, they’ll need to seek change and do so on their own and/or with outside assistance.

#1 Communicate
Leave the lines open and try to put aside your ego. A fight over money need not escalate if people communicate. It’s like any other way to control and defuse a heated situation.

#2 Compromise
Find some common ground and work towards like goals. If you’re arguing about relocating for a better job or career, give it a try for a while. Instead of selling your home, have it rented while you try out a life elsewhere and see if you can adjust to it. In my case, my spouse wanted to quit his job and abandon his perks in order to start a company. It was a huge source of disagreement for a while (it wasn’t about doing it, it was more about TIMING) but I gave in with a caveat:

(a) convince me the idea is good enough to pursue (he did)
(b) give it a year or two or a change in strategy will be taken (he agreed)

So far so good.

#3 Take roles
The happiest couples are those I’ve seen who can take roles in the stewardship of their lives and their finances. Look at yours and your mate’s strengths and skills and see if you can assign yourselves the appropriate responsibilities. It worked out well for us as my spouse is not at all interested in managing and controlling the finances. It so happens that I am, so this is a slam dunk situation. What about the case when both people want to do it? Or nobody wants to do it? That’s something a couple needs to work out in time.

#4 Handle your finances separately
Another good way to diffuse money issues is to deal with your own money. Keep individual accounts, file individual tax returns, pursue separate careers. This is a typical avenue that couples take while living together which they oftentimes extend into their marriage once they get hitched.

#5 Get some counsel
If all else fails, get some professional help. Third party financial counselors can provide some insight to your problems and structure a plan to get you over these humps. Another option is to solicit the advice of friends, mentors and relatives who’ve been successful with their partnerships.

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Copyright © 2007 The Digerati Life. All Rights Reserved.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

A Tentative Personal Finance Blog June 18, 2007 at 3:50 pm

The biggest source of contention with my wife was figuring out what sort of investments we should be in. She’s very conservative and doesn’t understand the stock market at all. I’m very aggressive and think the stock market is the road to riches. We talked a lot about it and read tons of material together and finally decided on a middle road.

MoneyChangesThings June 18, 2007 at 4:37 pm

These are all very smart analyses of couple-money issues.
We have found that it is useful to agree on the amount each of us can spend without consulting the other. When we were young and of modest means, it was $100. Now, with inflation and prosperity, it is $200. I thought the $200 was ridiculously low – we could spend much more without it really impacting our life – but Partner is the anxious one and I went along with it. truth is I rarely spend more than $200 on anything anyway.

credit card clever June 18, 2007 at 10:32 pm

I had been dating Mike for half a year. He gave me a nice golden ring for Christmas, I also noticed he bought some new stuff for himself and his Mom. By that time he had just gotten a new job. Still I knew he was very tight on money and I was sure from the very beginging he had used a credit card. Was I right! A few months later he told me about his debt he couldn’t pay off at the moment. I was the only person who could help him with that so I ended up basically paying for my own Christmas gift. And the end of this story might be pretty surprising for you. We are still together. We are getting married this fall. And I am not sorry that I helped the person I love to get through hard times.

Silicon Valley Blogger June 22, 2007 at 8:35 am

I have the same experiences as you all. Many of our discussions are about “when should we pull the plug on this stock” etc.

Credit Card Clever, it’s nice to hear your story. In the end, you can only gauge the whole person, not just their inclinations towards money, when you decide to share your life with them.

Elena August 2, 2007 at 2:13 am

I think it is curcial that every couple discusses money matter together. Otherwise you will end up like in the examples above!
“handling finances seperately” is deffinitely also a good tip, because you never know how the relationship is gonna work out.

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