Ask any married couple to identify the number one problem in their marriage and almost all of them will say communication. Push the question a little further and ask them what they have trouble communicating about and they’ll say, “Money.” You’d think it would be sex, but it’s not. It’s money. For some reason, we’re much more comfortable talking about sex than money in our marriages.
I guess there are several reasons for it. First, money represents power. The one who controls the money in the relationship controls most everything else as well. Think about it. Where you go on vacation, what restaurants you eat at – and if you eat out at all – are all determined by “what we can afford” and that, of course, is determined by the one who has the check book.
Second, money is about dreams and desires. To do what we want to do, we need money. Whether it’s to finish our degree, live in a certain neighborhood or the gym we go to is all decided by the one who has the check book.
So much of who we are, our identity and self-worth, is tied up with and connected to money. If our boss thinks we’re doing a good job, then we get a raise. We get more money. If we’re not doing a good job, we get fired and thus, lose money. This makes talking about money very difficult because we always see it as talking about ourselves and our value to the relationship. Try telling a stay at home parent they don’t bring anything to the family finances, and they’ll tell you exactly what they’re worth!
To add to the confusion, husbands and wives usually come with two different understandings of money and its purpose. Usually, one is a spender and the other is a saver. It’s not always that way. You can end up with two savers or two spenders and these situations bring problems all their own. Rarely does the couple have similar understandings of money.
So, how do we talk about money? First, realize money is a thing. Money has no heart. It has no soul. Money has no mind or will of its own. Money does whatever we tell it do. Nothing more or nothing less.
That means we need to take ownership of our money. We need to understand we’re in control of our money and our money doesn’t control us. And the first step to exerting our control over money is to set a family budget. Budgets aren’t that hard and shouldn’t be that scary. You can find several budget worksheets, and Dave Ramsey has several on his website by clicking here.
Sit down together and make a plan for where you want your money to go. House payments, groceries, gas for cars, yard care, clothing, entertainment – put it all down. First, you’ll be amazed at how much it costs to live, and secondly, you’ll be ashamed at how much money you’re mindlessly blowing each week. Got to have that Starbucks every morning? That means you could be spending over $100 a month just on Starbucks!The most important part of this process is that you’re doing it together. That way, each line item is agreed on and negotiated. Each dollar spent is spent in light of where you want your family to be in 1 year, 5 years, 10 years and yes, retirement. I know, that seems like it’s a long way off. It’s not. Trust me. It’ll be here before you know it.
Do you want kids? Do you want your kids to go to college? What kind of car can you afford? (That’s usually a lot different from the car you want). Where does the money go? Is that where you want it to go? What about insurance? What happens to the family if you’re not there? Do you have your wills done?
I know these are hard questions and we put them off thinking that we’ll find a good time to talk about them …”someday.” The problem is that someday never comes.
That means these questions and worries are never addressed. They keep walking around our heads like guests who have stayed too long. They eat up energy. They eat up joy. They eat up passion.
See where I’m going with this?
Sit down together – and I emphasize TOGETHER – and work out a family financial plan. (OK, it’s a budget, but doesn’t “family financial plan” sound so much better?)
Here are some sample questions to get you started:
What are your monthly expenses?
How much debt do you have? Do you have a plan to pay it off? How soon?
How much do you need in savings? How much do you have now? How much will you save a month?
Where do you want to be in 1 year? 5 years? 20 years? (Trust me. It gets here faster than you think).
One of the unexpected surprises you’ll discover is how well you work together to solve your financial problems. Sure, there’s a lot of give and take, but what you’ll really notice is how smart each of you is in different areas. You really do make a good team. This little moment will surprisingly deepen your respect and love for your spouse.
Once you have a budget in place, use it for a couple of months and see how it works. Feel free to make whatever adjustments you need to make. Keep working at it until you have a budget that works for your family.
Then watch what happens. You’ll find yourselves not worried about what you’ll do if “something happens.” You won’t be stressed during the month wondering where your money is or how you’re going to pay for this or that. You’ll know because you have a plan.
So, what will you do with all of that left-over energy? My guess is you’ll think of something.