Do you and your significant other regularly argue about money? Don't worry, if you answered, "Yes," you’re not alone.
A large number of couples have financial squabbles, according to TD Bank’s Annual Love and Money survey. While 86% of American couples responding to the 2021 survey said they talk about money once a month, a third also said they argue about money in that same timeframe.
For couples who didn’t talk about money early and often, they later regretted it. Not talking about money on a regular basis is the biggest financial mistake people say they make within relationships (18%), followed by waiting too long to discuss money (13%).
But rest assured, by following a few proven tips, you can minimize arguments about who is spending too much, who isn’t saving enough and more.
The best way to minimize arguments: explore what you both really want out of life and what steps you need to take to get there, says Marlow Felton, who co-authored the book, “Couples Money: What Every Couple Should Know About Money and Relationships,” with her husband and fellow financial professional Chris Felton.
“Most couples never sit down and write out their goals and dreams, but if they knew where they were going financially and what that would take, then they would have a common goal to work toward,” Marlow says. “After they determine their savings goals, everything else falls into place.”
Don't stop talking
"It’s good for couples to have conversations regularly about their finances, perhaps monthly or even weekly, as well as every time either person is considering a major purchase," says Michael Kinane, TD Bank’s Head of Consumer Deposits, Products and Payments.
Maintaining a ledger also helps. This classic tool tracks every expenditure for the household, including for the kids, vacations and shared discretionary purchases such as clothes, trips or gifts.
“When couples end up disagreeing about money, it tends to be when one person is handling the majority of the finances, including paying bills. This could lead to a lack of understanding or clarity around where the money is going,” Kinane says. “However, maintaining a ledger brings more transparency, because each person then can readily see all of the financial activity.”
If couples maintain separate accounts, possibly for discretionary spending, there still needs to be a level of clarity so they can stay on budget, Kinane says. If couples share the same account for discretionary spending, they should make sure they are having conversions about what can work and what sometimes isn’t working, and then make adjustments.
Felton and her husband segregate funds into different accounts: a joint account for household expenses and several other joint accounts for designated purposes, such as Christmas gifts, travel and college expenses for their children.
“Then we have separate individual accounts for each other that we call our ‘fun funds,’” she says. “We can spend what we want in our fun funds because they are a set amount and they don’t get in the way of achieving our joint financial goals.”
Spreadsheets can lead to fewer fights
The Feltons maintain a spreadsheet listing how much they have in all of their accounts, and how much it makes sense for the couple to contribute to those different accounts.
“It’s important to have conversions about this and work toward a mutually agreed upon decision,” she says.
Every week, the couple updates the account balances listed on the spreadsheet, to see if any have shrunk, so they can course correct.
“That way, we won’t be caught off guard when we need the money, and this also helps us keep track of our net worth,” Felton says. “Some people do this on a monthly basis. It’s not good to wait until the end of the year or at tax time, because the pain of course correction might end up being much bigger.”
Spreadsheets are also great at minimizing arguments – “because it’s all there in black and white," she says.
Financial infidelity hurts relationships
TD’s Love and Money survey also found that 10% of couples admitted to keeping a financial secret, which can often be a relationship killer.
Among those who do have financial secrets from their partner, credit card debt remains the most common (42%), followed by a secret bank account (18%).
Should people “hide” expenditures from their significant other, or at least not tell each other about every single expenditure each makes?
It depends, Kinane says.
“My wife wouldn’t care if I bought a Starbucks this morning, but if we were just starting out not making a lot of money and I was eating out every day, then she would care,” he says. “If couples always keep secrets on spending, more than likely their relationship won’t last. There has to be mutual respect about spending money.”
Likewise, Felton doesn’t tell her husband about every expenditure, but “financial infidelity," including large purchases, can be detrimental to a relationship.
“I once worked with a couple that were really behind on their retirement goals in part because the husband bought a boat without consulting his wife,” she says. “You could tell by the look on her face that she felt very betrayed – it was if he had cheated on her."
And if one person “messes up,” they should know when to apologize to
avoid drawn out arguments, Kinane says.
“Own it, have the discussion and then move on,” he says.