3 Rules for a Fair Fight Over Money

Ok folks how much of the mistakes are we making?

Thought this was a good article for us to think about & try to start to implement

but can someone explain to me why it’s so easy to find this information but so hard to actually do?


The Basics

3 rules for a fair fight over money
A skirmish over the family finances is rarely only about money. A few simple rules can keep the discussion to a low roar, and you might even accomplish something.

 By MP Dunleavey

Editor’s note: Columnist MP Dunleavey and six other women have come together online to strip away the myths surrounding money, lay bare their assets and liberate themselves from debt. Follow the quest for financial fabulousness of these "Women in Red" every second Monday in Dunleavey’s column on MSN Money.

The other night, Beth and her husband, Scott, tried to create a better budget for their family — and ended up in a big ol’ fight. How? They employed all the time-honored tricks couples use when they want to rile each other up.

  • He thought her method (using Quicken on an Apple Macintosh) wasn’t efficient, and he said so.
  • She thought his method (figuring things out with paper and pencil) was stupid, and she said so.
  • They each stuck stubbornly to their guns and refused to compromise.
  • She lost her temper, yelled, slammed doors, cried, etc.
  • He sat there quietly and waited for her to come around, which she did.

Phew! On a different day, with a little more stress, this classic money fight could have escalated to name-calling and making nasty digs at one another. It didn’t, however — even when Beth’s much-touted computer method crashed. “Scott didn’t say a word, and I know I would have been gloating if the situation were reversed,” Beth admits.

Most arguments can be volatile, but money fights, like forest fires, can leap from spark to blaze before you can say, “Honey, where’s the Visa bill?” That’s why it’s important to know the proper way to fight about money, so you don’t end up with your marriage in charred ruins and zero progress on the financial front.

Everybody fights over money
In case you think you and your spouse are the only people who bicker about money — relax! Among the Women in Red, everyone fights about money. It’s practically a Women in Red tradition.

This may be atypical, but all the women in the group are planners, while our spouses seem to be allergic to that notion. Anna, who is expecting a baby in a few weeks, has been trying to get her husband to discuss their financial future. He’s coming around, but it’s been hard. “He told me ‘plan’ is a four-letter word to him,” she says.

Beth was astonished to learn recently that her husband . . . had no plans to retire, ever. “He’s an architect, and that’s a field where you can keep designing into your 80s,” she says. “So he didn’t think he needed to save any retirement money.”

I found their confessions reassuring because my husband, for one, is pretty agreeable when I make a money plan — but plannING, the verb form, eludes him. (Of course, he would say that the verb savING doesn’t come naturally to me either, which is true.)

How did I marry this person?
Of course the part that hasn’t been reassuring at all is the sheer, mind-boggling complexity of why money can be such a sore spot. The number of issues, both financial and psychological, that play into even the simplest disagreement are enough to cause blockages in all your major arteries:

  • Are you a saver or a spender, and which money style did you marry?
  • Do you pool your finances or keep them separate?
  • What does money mean to you — freedom, security, adventure, power, being taken care of?
  • How were you raised to handle money, to talk about money?
  • Do you trust your spouse to make “good” financial decisions, or do you feel the need to stay in control?
  • What does the word “lifestyle” mean to you and to your spouse?

A money fight, in other words, is rarely just about money. “I think money fights are a manifestation of more general issues in the relationship,” says Beth’s husband, Scott. Their recent budget blowout, he says, was partly a reflection of the fact that, until recently, Beth has been doing most of the planning. “I haven’t been as involved in the day-to-day spending,” he says.

He admits that this is a pattern in other areas of the relationship, too. “By not participating, that’s a way for me to avoid conflict,” he says.

The 3 rules for a fair fight over money
While the grains of subtlety within each fight could fill a beach, it’s more important to be aware of some of the basic building blocks of money conflicts. You can analyze whose father did what to whom until the cows have cocktail hour, but what really matters is following three (only three!) basic rules when a money conflict starts to brew.

  • Fight about money — and nothing else. Psychologist Carol Kauffman, Ph.D., who often counsels people about their financial issues, points out that the worst mistake you can make is using money to fight about something else: “Money is a great attractor. It’s like a magnet for all the other issues in the relationship,” she says. When you do discuss money, “keep it pure. Not, ‘Why didn’t you sleep with me last night’ or ‘We don’t spend enough time together.’”

    Or, as Anna puts it, “I’m most successful when I can keep the conversation about what the conversation is supposed to be about.”

    The flip side, of course, is fighting about something else, when money is the real problem, as Anna did last week. “I was attacking my husband about something completely different, and, halfway through, I realized I was actually furious about money. So then I started attacking him about that.” She chuckles remorsefully. “That wasn’t so good either.”

    But it leads to the next commandment of money fighting:

  • Fight for each other, not against each other. Kauffman says that most couples have a tendency to polarize their positions in a fight (usually while pointing fingers): You’re a planner, he’s not. He’s controlling; you’re easygoing. You’re a Scorpio, he’s a Capricorn, etc.

    As Beth describes her dynamic with Scott: “He feels like what we’re doing in terms of long-term planning is enough, but I want to do more — so he thinks I’m an alarmist.”

    Kauffman says a better strategy is to find each person’s financial strengths, whatever they may be, and use those to refocus you on the fact that you are –sorry! — in this together. One thing I’ve discovered is that my husband may not know a 401(k) from an AK-47, but he’s frugal. By letting him set the tone for our get-out-of-debt lifestyle, we’re actually saving more money.

    This tactic will also help you . . .

  • Think like a financial unit. My editor, who admits to having weathered his share of money fights with his wife of 23 years, says the most important task any couple can undertake is to stop thinking like Two and start thinking and acting like One.

    For that, you need to agree on a set of shared goals and, one hopes, a few shared values. You may always have values that differ from your mate’s, but you need to see eye to eye about certain aspects of your financial life so that your priorities are aligned.

    Yalitza and her spouse are on the horns of this very dilemma. She’s in school full-time; he has agreed to be the breadwinner but also wants to pursue his music career. Now they’re trying to figure out which of their goals is financially viable. They can’t do everything.

    Both Anna and Beth say that having a child has helped to create more financial unity in their marriages. While Scott agrees that parenthood has had an impact, he credits their new budget with easing most of their money tensions.

    “Now we have a mutually agreed-upon spending plan,” he says. Even better, the “60% solution” doesn’t reflect anyone’s agenda. “Here are the percentages, here is our income — you can’t argue with it.”

    A last piece of advice: Don’t let it fester
    I know I said three (only three!) things, but here’s one more thing you need to know about money fights: Don’t wait for the issue that’s bugging you to become a fight. The fact is, most of us are irritated long before we’re furious — and that’s a much better state of mind to be in if you’re going to point out a money problem.


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