In the last Normal Marriage Post, we began looking at a topic that can be so problematic in marriage it ranks right up there with sex and communication. The topic was money.
In the last post, we looked at the two issues that make money and spending so difficult in marriage: money deficiencies and spousal differences. (If you haven’t read that post, take a second to check it out.)
In this post, we want to get practical. Whether your problem is too little money or too many differences, what can you do to make things better in the area of money and spending? How can you solve conflicts over money?
In order to solve our money conflicts, we must know how to solve conflicts in general.
SOLVING CONFLICTS IN GENERAL
Don’t do this…
When there is a conflict in marriage, a spouse will usually default to one of two positions:
- They will apply pressure to get their spouse to cave.
- They will fold and let the other spouse have their way.
Neither of these is a good way to solve a conflict in marriage. It makes one person a winner who feels superior and the other person a loser who feels dominated.
A better way to handle conflict in marriage is to look for a plan where…
- Both spouses get some of what they want.
- Neither spouse gets everything they want.
Some call this compromise. I prefer to call it a plan. And when it comes to how a couple spends their money, you need a plan.
Every marriage is different; with different circumstances, different resources, different desires, and different personalities. So it’s impossible, in a brief post, to give you a specific and detailed plan on how to spend your money.
But there are three general principles to help you develop a plan for spending your money. The three principles are:
1. Establish your percentages.
A good start for a spending plan is to aim for these percentages…
- 10% – Savings. This begins with saving for emergencies but moves on to saving for retirement and saving for personal goals.
- 10% – Giving. Generosity is its own reward. It not only helps others, but it breaks selfish anxiety within us that keeps us chained to our stuff. You’ll be surprised how generosity does more to increase what you have than decrease what you have.
- 80% – Living. First, this includes the fixed expenses that you currently have little control over…like: mortgage, rent, utilities, car payments, insurance, etc. Secondly, this includes discretionary spending over which you have more control…like eating out, vacations, entertainment, etc.
Reaching these percentages and goals may not be possible at first, but commit yourselves to do whatever you have to do to move toward these initial targets.
2. Create your proposal.
This is where we need to talk about the dreaded and dirty word “B” word…budget. Many of you winced, flinched, and maybe even threw up in your mouth a little when you read the word “budget.” To you, a budget feels as constricting as living with your parents. I get it. I felt the same way. But exchanging the word “budget” for the word “plan.” A budget is simply a plan that you make to help you get where you want to be.
My wife and I started budgeting, back when we were in grad school. I mentioned in the last post how difficult those years were for us financially. One day, while we were in a mad panic to figure out how we would pay the car insurance, I had a revelation.
I thought, “What’s wrong with me? I know car insurance comes around every six months. This is a simple math problem! I take the amount of the car payment, divide it by six, and that’s the amount of money we have to put away each month to cover the car insurance. So we started with just the car insurance. But the first time the car insurance came due and we weren’t running around in a panic, I thought, “This feels great! I wonder what else we can do this with.” And little by little, item by item, we developed a budget.
Now you don’t have to do this item by item as we did. You can create a complete spending plan all at once. And to help you with this, check out this worksheet I use when counseling couples.
3. Maintain your persistence.
Persistence may be the most important principle of all.
Things will not go smoothly at first. In the beginning…
- You may not have enough money to fund every budget category.
- Unexpected and unplanned expenses may come up.
- There might be expenses you planned but haven’t had enough time to build up the necessary reserves.
- Some of your categories will have to go unfunded, while you get other things paid off.
There will be times in the first 6-12 months of trying to implement your spending plan that you will feel it’s not working and want to give up. But if you will persist for 12-18 months, you will see things gradually start to come in line. When it comes to implementing your spending plan, persistence is your biggest ally.
We said in the last post that if you disagree on spending…it’s normal. But you still have to do something with it. So…
If you disagree on spending…make a plan and stick with it.
This doesn’t come easy for everyone. It didn’t for my wife and me. But I guarantee you can do it. Follow this basic plan. Seek out others who can help you with this. Take a class. Do whatever you have to not only agree on your spending but to align your spending habits to reach your goals.