Jump directly to the Content

What Fighting About Money Will Cost You

Tips to keep you out of the red.

Most couples, when asked if they argue about money, will reply, "We really don't fight about money, we just have occasional disagreements."

Yeah, right.

When my husband, Bob, and I were newly married he (the born spender) went into an electronics store to purchase batteries and came out with a new VCR. We were $40K in debt and barely had enough money to buy groceries. When he came home to show his "trophy" to his new bride (the born saver) do you think I rejoiced?

But did we fight about his irresponsible, compulsive, and selfish, not to mention less-than-brilliant decision to drop $500 on a new VCR when we didn't even own a TV? Nah. We just had a mild "disagreement."

Not really.

Research indicates that couples who argue the most about money often end up accruing greater debt, and consequently have less in savings. Check out these tension-filled scenarios and their solutions.

HE SAYS: "I make a good living, I can buy a new power tool if I want one."

SHE SAYS: "Want is the operative word here; you don't use the power tools you have now!"

REALITY CHECK: Everyone likes to spend money with a certain amount of freedom. While you may have a better grip on this kind of spending than your spouse does, the desire to spend money the way you want is natural—it makes you neither good nor bad. It's what you do with this desire that counts.

SAVINGS SCHEME: If this "luxury spending" is budgeted into your monthly allocations, then there's no need to fight over how this money is used. Set up two "luxury" funds—one for each of you. Your "luxury" money is yours to do with as you want. You may choose to buy a spa session and your spouse may purchase a year's supply of Jelly Bellys®. No arguments needed.

HE SAYS: "We need to fund our Roth IRAs before we make any other kind of investment or expenditure."

SHE SAYS: "But you promised we could go to Hawaii this year!"

REALITY CHECK: According to Barbara Stenimetz, a financial planner in Burlingame, CA, tension mounts between partners partly because of poor communication. "It usually happens because the two people involved aren't on the same page. One spouse thinks they have a shared goal of saving for a house, car, or retirement, and the other doesn't."

SAVINGS SCHEME: Schedule a meeting to talk about your financial goals. Make sure you're relaxed and have ample time. Plan to go for the "win/win" deal in which each of you shares ownership in developing an overall savings plan. Instead of making the goal an "either/or" situation, strive for a creative way to save for both.

HE SAYS: "I didn't really spend that much money, it's just a little Harley. At least the motorcycle helmet was on sale!"

SHE SAYS: "I saw the loan booklet. If we make only the minimum payment each month, it will take until 2011 to pay off your 'little' spending spree!"

REALITY CHECK: In most marriages, one spouse is a born spender and the other is a born saver, which sets the stage for the sparks to fly and the savings account to dwindle.

SAVINGS SCHEME: Make a pact never to buy a big-ticket item—a piece of furniture, appliance, motorcycle—without your spouse's agreement. Then set a limit on how much either of you can spend without consulting the other. It's important that the born saver doesn't judge the born spender harshly. The best way to help a spender's buying habits come into balance is to figure out a workable family budget. If you've "been there, done that" and it still isn't working, try again—in front of a family counselor who's familiar with principles of household budgeting.

HE SAYS: "If we buy our son whatever he wants, he'll never learn about money. So I told him if he earns half of the money for his new bike, we'll give him the other half."

SHE SAYS: "Well, uh, this afternoon I bought him that bike. As a matter of fact, he's riding it now and said I was the 'best mom in the world!'"

REALITY CHECK: Most Christians feel a responsibility to teach their kids to grow in their personal faith, say "no" to drugs and alcohol, and abstain from premarital sex. But they don't talk about the topic that's cited as the number one reason for divorce—money issues. Rearing a money-savvy kid will greatly improve his odds of succeeding in his life and future marriage.

SAVINGS SCHEME: The key is to be united with your spouse on this topic, because it can become a source of tension for your marriage—as well as a money drain for your savings account. As a mom of seven, I know the challenge of teaching kids about money. Try to make learning about money a pleasurable experience. Agree to give your kids a regular allowance or "fun kid budget" at restaurants, the zoo, or theme parks. Calculate what it will cost for the meal (or event) and add extra padding. Then tell your child you'll give her a "budget" of "x" amount that's now her money to spend as she wishes. Plus, she gets to keep what she doesn't spend!

HE SAYS: "I just balanced the checkbook—or tried to. You hit the ATM so many times I'm amazed your card didn't break in half! How much do you still have?"

SHE SAYS: "Um … Nothing? I don't really know where I spent it. Although I do remember going to the Starbucks by the mall …"

REALITY CHECK: Most people aren't disciplined enough for the responsibility of multiple trips to the cash line. The more times you (or your spouse) visit the ATM or get cash back on a debit card, the more likely you are to end up cash poor.

SAVINGS SCHEME: There's an old saying, "If you aim at nothing, you'll hit it every time." Decide to limit your ATM or debit card withdrawals to a specific date and amount. If someone violates this boundary, agree that the guilty party will take the additional money from his or her "luxury fund." When you realize you won't have enough saved to have the anticipated manicure, then you might be more inclined to avoid spending in order to hit the savings target.

Ellie Kay is an MP regular contributor, and best-selling author of A Woman's Guide to Family Finances (Bethany House). For more information and money savings links, go to www.elliekay.com.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

Free CT Women Newsletter

Sign up for our Weekly newsletter: CT's weekly newsletter highlighting the voices of women writers. We report on news and give our opinion on topics such as church, family, sexuality, discipleship, pop culture, and more!

Disagreement; Marriage; Money
Today's Christian Woman, Summer, 2004
Posted September 12, 2008

Read These Next


Join in the conversation on Facebook or Twitter

Follow Us

More Newsletters