Calming the Emotional Sea of Money Management


Money is among the most common topics couples argue about. I don’t think it matters if you have a lot or a little, managing money can stir up a lot of emotion.

So, how do you navigate the waters of money management when you share bills and money? Do you keep separate accounts? Do you sit down each month and pay the bills together? I don’t think there is a right or wrong way here. Yet, I do think the more you can take emotions out of money management, the more cooperative you will be when discussing money matters.

How do you know that your emotions have gotten in the way of managing your money better? Here are some signs that your emotions may be holding you captive when it comes to money:

  • Spending beyond your means/income
  • Hiding debt/credit cards from spouse
  • Never opening/looking at bank statements
  • Letting someone else manage the money for you
  • Managing spending for someone else
  • Not wanting to talk about financial details
  • Overspending to get even with spouse/feel better about self
    Do any of these sound like you? Before you go pointing a finger at your spouse or significant other, try to only take an inventory of yourself. It’s always easier to see others flaws, isn’t it?
    Once you recognize your part in, what can you do to calm the emotional waters under the surface of the conflict about money?
Sort out worry from the facts.

With the unemployment rate higher than usual and talk of economic recession, it’s really hard not to have some worry about finances these days. Yet, when you can tease out your worry from the facts, you better understand your financial reality. Maybe it’s worse than you thought, but maybe it’s not as bad as you had feared.

For instance, Jane worries about her husband, Ted’s real estate investments. Jane fears that the real estate mortgage may have to be paid by the family budget. When she looks at the facts, Jane is able to recognize that Ted has never paid for his investment property out of their joint account. So, how did this worry get stirred up?

Jane shields Ted from money matters. She handles all the bills and bank statements. She does not want to upset her husband. Ted grew up “dirt poor” as he describes it, so spends freely as he makes it. Ted worries that the money will run out, so he better buy it when he has the money. If there is ever a money problem, Jane figures out a solution. Jane usually spends less and accommodates Ted’s spending habits.

So, how does this couple get back on track?

Communicate the facts.

Once both Jane and Ted have identified their money worries; that is, there “what ifs.” Then, this couple opens up a choice, to make decisions based on what if or what is.

They could each communicate the facts instead of continuing to swim in their worries. Instead of keeping each other in the dark, they each could communicate the facts. For instance, Jane can include Ted in the bill paying process by stating, “I can’t pay (bill name) this month.” And, Ted can also communicate the facts by stating, “I want to buy a new weed eater for $150 next month.”

It is much easier to discuss the facts then your worries. This approach invites problem solving by keeping emotions turned down. Once couples are more cooperative and open with each other about their money facts, they can get down to the practical steps of getting their finances on track.

If you are looking for a new way to manage your money, here are some practical steps to help you find out what works for you.

Identify Your financial goals.

When you are steeped in conflict and differences, you may not think you have a common goal. While you may differ on the small things, I bet you have a common value or goal. What is it? Get out of debt? Save for vacations/home repairs/emergencies? Replace your car? Invest in retirement?

Once you have identified your joint, long term financial goals, also identify your short-term, individual goals. Join sport league? Get weekly manicures? Whatever your individual goals, decide whether it is realistic to make both the couple and individual goals happen? If it is, how do you make your goals a reality?

Develop a plan to make your goals happen.

Find a system for defining how to live within your current income. Financial guru, Dave Ramsey urges us to “spend it on paper first.” (Click here to download free budgeting forms.)

Writing it down helps you see the facts as well as your choices. Out of this, define for yourself what you are willing to do and what you are not. For instance, if you want more cable channels, what are you willing to give up? Is someone willing to make more money or spend less in an area?

Follow through with your plan.

I think this is the hardest part; that is, following through with your plan and continuing to manage your emotional reactions with your spouse. By now, you have identified what gets in the way of managing your money better, both inside and out.

People manage their actions and reactions in different ways. Experiment and discover what works for you. When old habits and heated arguments start to peak their ugly head, ask yourself this: Do you want to act based on how you feel in the situation or your long-term goals?

Don’t let fear and money be your master! You may be sharing your ship with your first mate, but you are the captain of the sea.

It’s your turn. I want to hear your perspective. What helps you share your resources with your first mate? Share what helps you navigate the waters of money management.

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Photo Credits: Mike Baird

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