At the beginning of their relationship, Terry Leija says she and her husband, Gene, argued about money constantly.
“We argued about it all the time because we didn’t have it,” Leija told MagnifyMoney. Their fights became so consistent they decided there was only one way to handle it — they’d both promise to stop fighting about money. “What’s the point in arguing when it doesn’t make a difference? You still don’t have the money. So we agreed a long time ago that we just wouldn’t fight over money,” she said.
The Leijas aren’t alone. A 2016 Ameriprise Financial survey of more than 1,500 married or cohabiting couples found one-third of all couples — including those who said they were happy in their relationship — argue over finances at least once a month. The same study reports more than one in five financial disagreements were about the other partner’s spending habits.
“One of the most common fights that any new couple will have is about money. And this continues. It doesn't matter if you are married a year or 50 years,” says David A. Frisch, a Melville, N.Y.-based financial planner.
What are the most common sources of money fights? MagnifyMoney recently hit the streets to ask couples to share the one thing they wish their spouse didn’t spend money on.
“When he makes a major purchase without telling me.”
The Leijas were one of several couples MagnifyMoney asked about spending pet peeves and how they resolved conflicts. Terry’s biggest financial pet peeve: when Gene spends money and doesn’t let her know about it. After 18 years of marriage, the Leijas say they don’t fight over money now, but they do discuss larger purchases beforehand to keep the peace.
“Every time we were going to make a purchase that we felt at the time was going to impact the both of us — because it was something unexpected — we talked it through,” Terry said.
“When she spends too much money on her hair.”
Ray Dawkins from Brooklyn, N.Y., has been married to his wife for 19 years. He says they often disagree about how much she spends at the hair salon. “I think it’s just a waste of money. I think you shouldn’t be spending that much money on hair,” says Dawkins.
“When we can’t agree on holiday purchases.”
Although they’ve dated for only 11 months, George Gibbons and Gregory Dinning’s largest expense is going on vacation.
Their recent trip to New York City was the couple’s third holiday together, so coordinating holiday purchases has been the source of the majority of their financial disagreements, they told MagnifyMoney. Otherwise, Greg dislikes when George spends on gas and cigarettes, and George dislikes when Greg splurges on cosmetics and food.
Although less-serious than financial infidelity, “spending habits” made up more than one-fifth of financial disagreements among couples in the Ameriprise survey, so your spouse’s spending pet peeve may have more weight in relationships than one would think.
We asked financial advisers to weigh in on a few tips for minimizing financial disagreements in your relationship.
6 Expert Tips to Keeping Financial Peace in Your Relationship
1. Face your finances as a team
Ruedy and Barbara Leeman from Columbus, Ohio, have been married for nearly 40 years. Their secret to keeping the peace is simple: communication. Ruedy says his peeve is when Barbara, a costume designer, spends on fabric she doesn’t have plans for using yet, while she dislikes when the Ohio State University project manager buys camera equipment and computers.
In the past, the couple said they would go back and forth about who was keeping track of finances, but realized they manage money differently. “We just talk about how we’re spending and if we’re overspending, what we are going to do,” says Barbara.
“Including both spouses in the financial conversation is important even if the other doesn't have an interest in it,” says Jonathan Swanburg, a Tri-Star Advisors investment adviser representative in Houston, Texas.
2. Make sure both partners know what’s going on financially
Both partners should at least have a general knowledge of the other partner’s financial information. This includes — but isn’t limited to — account information, retirement and estate planning information, and any necessary passwords or contact information for others involved in the partner’s finances, such as children from a previous marriage or an adviser.
When both spouses are informed about the couple’s finances it can help with current financial decisions, but it can also be a great help in case the more financially-savvy partner passes away or becomes disabled says Frisch.
3. Schedule time for money talks
Schedule a time once a month when both partners can get up to speed on shared and separate expenses and plan for future expenses. Simply having the time set aside as a family meeting time for review should help minimize conflict by keeping both partners regularly updated about what’s going on.
How often you choose to talk money matters with your spouse will depend on your relationship and its needs. It could be as rare as once a year around tax time. However, Colo.-based certified financial planner Brett Walters recommends couples speak about finances more often.
“Once you are in the habit, spend an hour or two at the most per month reviewing what the previous month looked like,” says Walters. He says it shouldn’t take more than about an hour or two to review everything and figure out where you need to make adjustments as a couple.
4. Talk about the “why”
Frisch suggests couples speak about more than just the numbers when they talk about money.
“When it comes down to it, when people think about money, they think mostly about the technical aspects of it. They don't always think about the emotional aspects of it,” says Frisch.
He acknowledges our attitudes and behavior related to money may have been impacted by our past experiences.
“Oftentimes one thing couples may point to is their parents and how their parents have managed their financial affairs. People are going to emulate what they grew up with,” says Frisch.
5. Get a third party involved
You might not be able to work out all of your financial disagreements on your own, which is okay. You can always enlist the help of a professional.
Walters recommends you consider your needs before seeking help. For example, if you’re young, you may want to find an adviser or planner who focuses on issues relevant to younger people like these companies that focus on millennials. Or, if you don’t have many assets to manage, you might want to consider hiring an online adviser like LearnVest for less than you’d likely pay in person.
If your financial disputes are pretty heated, your relationship may need help that your financial adviser can’t provide.
“Frequently what you see are couples that don’t agree on anything at all. They come in and they are pretty much on the verge of divorce,” says certified financial planner Anne C. Chernish, the president of Anchor Capital Management in Ithaca, NY. “There are some cases where I have to refer them to counselors. Differences that are that extreme need to be referred to a professional.”
6. Be patient with one another
In the end, if your significant other’s purchases bother you, but don’t break the bank, you might just need to practice tolerance with them.
“I found that there is so much fighting between couples about money that oftentimes the wife or the husband is just not tolerant with the other about money,” says Frisch. “If they were a little bit more tolerant, I think it would make it a lot easier.”
So, next time your spouse makes a purchase you don’t approve of, don’t fly off the handle. Take a deep breath and remind yourself of your commitment to one another. Ultimately, you may realize the person who puts up with your collection of expensive cameras is the one you adore, and you can tolerate yet another pair of shoes.
MagnifyMoney is a price comparison and financial education website, founded by former bankers who use their knowledge of how the system works to help you save money.