If you have ever tried to merge finances with another person, you know how challenging it can be. In coaching, it is one of the biggest hurdles we have to get past before we can even get started. Here are 7 steps to get on the same page with your spouse about money.
Financial Challenges Couples Face
Living with another human has its challenges. Trying to get two people with separate incomes, goals, ideas, backgrounds, and beliefs on the same page, working towards a common goal is hard. No place is that more evident than when dealing with money.
Add to that, most couples live together prior to marriage, or are getting married later in life which compounds this issue and adds another level of complexity because money habits are established long before you are spouses.
What does this look like? Separate finances. In other words, the financial patterns of each individual operating within a relationship are established early on and many couples continue to keep their finances separate, or find themselves struggling and arguing about money if and when they try to merge their finances later on.
It is no secret that inflation has hit most Americans, as well as our friends in the UK and worldwide pretty hard causing many couples to take a hard look at the state of their finances.
Let me paint a picture for you of how this typically looks: One person in the relationship is worried, anxious and frustrated about money. The other is just living life as usual.
The one who is worried begins to do a deep dive into the world of budgeting, paying off debt, living frugally, and begins to get serious about cleaning up their finances. They then impose new ideas, radical lifestyle changes and restrictions on the household, or they try to clean this up on their own.
Any guesses how this plays out? You guessed it, even though their intentions are good, money fights, accusations, resentment, frustration, hidden spending, anger, hurt feelings, and resistance by the partner are often the result.
If you are serious about cleaning up your finances, you must first get clear about what that actually means. Finances expose vulnerabilities and embarrassment, both of which people try to hide behind facebook worthy social media feeds. In its simplest form though, Finances are basically behavior plus money. This can take many forms: Investing, paying off debt, building up savings, decreasing spending, estate planning, etc.
Step 1: Talk About It
Sit down with your spouse and share your feelings. I know, I know, I get super icked out at the mere mention of the word “feelings”, but trust me, you explaining to your spouse that you are worried because your grocery bill has doubled and you are having trouble making ends meet, will go a lot further than laying down a strict budget and expecting them to just get on board.
You might be surprised to learn they feel the same way, or they are just completely unaware it is even a problem if you always pay the bills. Share your worries so they know where you are coming from, and this isn’t coming at them straight out of left field.
Step 2: Know your Why
When setting any goal in life, it is helpful to know your why. This gives you purpose and helps keep you motivated, because after all, finances are a long game. This isn’t going to happen overnight. This is a lifestyle change, a belief change and a behavior change. It will involve sacrifice.
Sit down together and get to dreaming! What does your dream life look like? Are you quitting the job you hate, going back to school, traveling the world, working part time, staying home with your kids, starting that business you have always dreamed about, buying a house, or becoming fabulously wealthy?
I encourage you both to do this exercise separately, and then review your dreams together. Look for the common ground. You, my friend, have just found your why! When one of you goes off the rails (because longgame, it will happen) you bring your endgame back into focus and re engage to get back in gear.
It is a lot easier to buckle down and pay off debt with the end goal of starting your own business, treating yourself to a fabulous vacation once a year or just becoming fabulously wealthy, than just hammering down with sheer willpower. The first is highly motivating, the second highly exhausting.
Step 3: Get on a Plan
The biggest mistake I see most people make, by far, is trying to do it all at once. Following a program such as Dave Ramsey’s Baby Steps for example or the Compass Money Map will give you a clear plan and a roadmap to success. This is where Financial Coaching can be hugely beneficial as you can sit down with a coach, discuss your goals, and get a custom plan to get you on the right track, get your budget set-up, and work through any challenges. This takes all of the DIY and guesswork out of the process.
Step 4: Get Clear on the State of Your Finances
Your budget is the critical piece of the puzzle. This is the tool you will use each month to get clear, and stay on track. If you need a budget template or help learning how to do this, you can get that here.
This is where you get down to brass tacks. Sit down with a list of all of your expenses and your check stubs, and complete your budget for the month. All of your income and every expense. This is also a great time to look for ways to reduce spending!
This is going to show you exactly how much money you have leftover at the end of the month, just how close you are to breaking even, or if you are in the negative at the end of the month.
Do not do this exercise without your partner. Sit down together, build, and agree to your budget every month ahead of time. This will increase your partner’s buy in and increase accountability.
Step 5: Budget Check-in’s
Review your budget together for a mid-month and end of month check-in to keep you accountable and to help build accuracy the following month.
It takes a few months to get this dialed in, but you’ll get the hang of it, so stick with it.
Step 6: Agree on Ground Rules Ahead of Time
While it would be so great if your partner was as serious as you are about changing your financial picture, often that isn’t the case until you begin to see some real progress.
Agreeing to ground rules ahead of time can be helpful and hold both partners accountable. (Because let’s be honest, my spouse does not understand my need for my lovely lavender moisturizer, and I will never understand his obsession with truck parts).
These are just some ideas.
- Each person gets a set “allowance” every month (which is included in your budget of course). Cash is a great option here, but the idea is, each person can spend that money on whatever they want, guilt free. When the money’s gone, it’s gone. This can help set limits on “miscellaneous spending”.
- Agreeing that for any purchase over $100, you must both agree on it beforehand.
- Agreeing to sleep on any purchase over $100. Often, the “need” or urge to purchase the item will pass. If not, see No. 2.
- Set up a Sinking Fund and save for larger purchases.
Step 7: Celebrate Your Wins
It takes commitment and self control to reach your money goals. Celebrating wins along the way are a great way to stay the course! When you reach your savings goal, get your debt paid off, pay off your student loans or pay off your house, treat yourself to a nice dinner out or a bottle of champagne (saved for and paid for in cash, of course). You’ve worked hard! Just don’t go overboard. It is so easy to fall into the “I deserve this” trap.
You’ve Got This!
Money stresses and goals look very different depending on your stage of life, so resist the temptation to compare yourself to others. In fact, the next time you scroll past the curated living room on instagram, consider for a moment that while gorgeous and covet worthy, the individual may have purchased all of that “stuff” with debt.
Most people begin in debt! If this is you, I want to remind you that you are not a failure and are exactly the same as most Americans. Let’s be honest, it has become the “norm”. In fact, according to Dave Ramsey, 77% of all Americans have some form of debt. It is debt, worry, frustration and fear that usually motivates people to change. I know that was the case for me, and I am so happy that you are taking the first step in living counter-culturally! You can build considerable wealth, one step at a time. Can you imagine what your life would look like if you paid yourself the amount of money you are shelling out on debt payments every month! Cha Ching!
I’m cheering you on,
If you have any helpful tips that have worked for you, please share them in the comment section
Jenna Dowell is the owner of Elevations Wellness & Financial Coaching, Nurse Exec, Mountain Girl, Dog Mama, Adventurer and Fellow Dreamer.