It's the one thing there never seems to be enough of and the one thing couples fight about most.
She likes to shop, and he likes to save. She wants to save for a rainy day, and he wants to splurge on the trip of a lifetime.
Each has their own definition of needs versus wants. When two people with vastly different spending habits get married, conflict is bound to happen.
The good news is that paying the bills doesn't have to lead to arguments, and budgeting doesn't have to be akin to torture for you or your spouse.
If money is a major source of conflict in your marriage, or if you want to prevent it from becoming one, this series of articles by Dave Ramsey is for you. You'll learn how to:
Couples who want unity in the area of finances need to be willing to use each other for accountability and support.
My wife and I have made a pact that nothing major financially will be done without agreement from the other. This pact is sometimes a real pain. There are times I really want to spend money on something and I feel like I'm going into the principal's office to get permission. Sometimes she feels the same way.
Yet that short-term pain and relinquishing of "rights" has brought us closer and closer together. The trust and respect we have for each other because we don't have any "little secrets" has caused our marriage to prosper. Not only has our marriage prospered, but we also make fewer bad financial decisions and no major money decisions on impulse.
Sounds a little controlling — and maybe a little boring — but I assure you we love the benefits of increased intimacy and wealth.
In his book Making Love Last Forever, Gary Smalley says that men respond well to two types of communication techniques. The first is a rating system, such as 1 to 10. It might sound like this: "Honey, on a scale of one to ten, flowers are a three and you helping me put together a plan to be debt free is a nine." Sometimes we guys hear what you're saying, but don’t realize how important it is to you.
Smalley also suggests word pictures. He has a whole book of them called Love Languages; I recommend it. A word picture is a metaphor.
For example: "Honey, when you blow off looking at these bills with me and I have to deal with the collectors alone, it makes me feel the same way as I would if I were kidnapped right in front of you and you did nothing to protect me."
Let the emotion you are feeling — whether it's abandonment, resentment or whatever — show through in your word picture, but be careful not to be accusatory or use an angry tones; you don’t want to put your spouse on the defensive.
Husbands, when you're trying to get your wife onboard, remember that she is wired for relationships and security. Asking her a question such as, "How would it feel if we had $10,000 in savings just for emergencies?" will get her attention. Ninety-seven percent of women surveyed said they would like more communication in marriage.
So what if you said, "Honey, I was reading about how if we spent a few minutes a week working on a budget together, it would increase our communication in every area and ultimately create more intimacy and unity. Would you like to try that?" I’m willing to bet you won’t need to say much more.
It has been established that men and women have different financial and communication styles. Add to that the fact that opposites attract. Now we have room for conflict everywhere.
In a marriage one spouse is usually more creative and spontaneous than the other. That mate is a little — or even a lot — less organized and tends to see budgeting as a form of torture or control. I call this mate a Free Spirit. The other mate likely has more administrative skills and more of a bent towards numbers; this mate also tends to shoulder responsibility for the budget. Deep inside him or her is a Nerd. A Nerd has the capacity to create a 17-page perfect budget and present it to the family like a gloating dictator. The Free Spirit will smile — and then spend money however he or she wants to. And the budget wars are on.
A Word to the Nerd
Nerd, you should be the one to prepare the budget, because that's what we Nerds love to do. Next, submit it to the budget committee, meaning you and your spouse.
When you submit the budget (a.k.a. your masterpiece), remember to be quiet and listen. Your Free-Spirit spouse will not come to any more meetings if all you do is tell him or her what to do. The first draft of the budget is your chance to have your "say." After that, sit back and listen. Accept the fact that your mate has valid input. Remember, you are doing this to coax your spouse into better money management and financial unity — and believe me, your concessions are a small price to pay for unity.
The budget committee needs to have rules. First, keep the meeting brief. It's a budget committee meeting, not a Camp David accord. Nerds like me to love to look at all possible scenarios and projections. However, when the objective is agreement with your Free-Spirit spouse, you have about a 17-minute window of opportunity before he or she tunes out. Oh, you may see a physical body still sitting across the table from you, but his or her mind will have moved on to non-Nerd, non-budgetary activities.
Nerd, your three rules for the budget committee meeting are:
Rules for the Other Side
Free Spirits, you must show up for the budget committee meeting. This activity is important to your marriage and to your children’s future. The only way you can defend your position is to come to the meeting.
During the budget committee meeting, there is a phrase you must resolve to never say again: "Whatever you want to do, Honey." Wrong, cop-out breath! You have to stick in there and make this work. And as you sit there, you must be a grown-up and realize that we cannot spend more than we make and have financial security or build wealth. Your wants, needs, and desires must be combined with those of your family, and the new total must be less than your family income.
Free Spirit, your three rules are:
Although men and women are different, common sense tells us we have to work together. You spenders need a saver in your life, or you'll retire eating Alpo. You savers need a spender in your life so you'll have a life. Remember, you are no longer two individuals, but one couple. Working together is the only way to survive bad times and prosper in good ones.
For years I have taught that spouses must work together on their finances. One of the most consistent questions I get on our radio show and in letters is, "How do I get my spouse to join me in working on the money?"
Many men are really frustrated with wives who act like spoiled little girls who just want their stuff and want it now (red-faced and lip in pouting position)! Many more women are frustrated, angry and deeply resentful of men who refuse to help make decisions about money, leaving the women to shoulder the responsibility single-handedly.
Most Nerds, whether men or women, enjoy the task of building the plan, but deeply resent being left to do all the grown-up work on their own, especially if it means having to tolerate a spouse who persists in childish attitudes toward money. This may sound as though I'm being mean, but I'm not. I have seen way too many marriages damaged by one spouse financially abandoning the other, so I am being frank.
If you're having trouble getting your spouse to help with money issues or join the get-out-of-debt crusade, there are some things you don't want to do:
So what are you supposed to do?
First and foremost, a little — or a lot of — honest communication is in order. Tell your mate what you want and why. Let him or her know that you're excited about getting out of debt so the two of you can build wealth, and that you're excited about living on a plan so you will be able to save more, give more and live more.
Ask your spouse to read this series of articles with you. If that doesn't move you toward good conversation, then you may have to concentrate a little harder. Try writing down some of the points that concern you, and why. Sharing your thoughts and feelings on paper can be an effective way of getting your spouse's attention.
Men need to feel useful. When a wife "takes care of" the bills in a way that indirectly puts down her husband or implies that he is incompetent, it can only lead to one thing: Her husband will withdraw.
Ladies, if you are being reasonable and your husband just doesn't see the need to be involved in financial decisions, make him feel useful. Let him know that you need him, that you need his help. The one surefire way to drive your husband away from helping you is to nag. Nagging will drive a wedge between you and your man, one that may take years to remove.
Men, if you don't want your wives to nag, it's time to step up to the plate and bat. As the saying goes, "When a man refuses to act like a man, his wife will act like his mother."