6 Serious Money Fights and How to Avoid Them
Winning your budget battles means coming out on the same side.
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Did you see that couple in the photo right at the top of this article? They look so happy in that serene sunlight setting, don’t they?
That’s what we see of 90% of the couples in our lives right? The same goes for how we see others with their friends, family, roommates, etc. on social media.
It’s hard to look at a picture like the one above or one of a girls’ trip to Vegas or even a family holiday card and imagine all those smiling faces are anything less than delighted.
I hate to break it to you but behind every photo op, there was a conversation about money. And if you’ve ever been on a group text or email thread about planning a vacation, you know it’s not always sunshine and rainbows.
Let’s, for a second, assume the couple in that photo above is a real couple—not one that I found on a stock photography website—who happen to have amazing equipment capable of capturing that moment at that level of photo quality. What you don’t see in the picture is the conversations they’ve had about money from buying that photography equipment, to the van they drove to their campsite and the backpacking gear they bought to hike their way to view spots like this one.
What you really don’t see in that picture or even if you were a fly on the wall during their prior conversation about money, is all of the events stemming back to each person’s childhood that have shaped the way they think about money leading up to that moment.
No matter how much wealth you do or don’t have, your upbringing plays a massive role in how you feel about and can talk about money. For many, this means feeling like you can’t talk about money at all with your peers and even with your spouse—not very openly at least.
The stigmas we’ve faced about money in our lives can making talking about it taboo.
But the number one thing you must do to avoid fighting about money with others, is to proactively talk about it with them before it gets to a point where it becomes a fight.
How do tell your partner you can't make rent?
Honesty is the best policy here. Tell them as soon as you know, admit your goof, and know that everyone makes mistakes!
I’ve been here. I had a job move me from full time to part time and I knew I wouldn’t be able to contribute my portion of the rent/bills. I immediately called my husband (then boyfriend) and obviously, being the supportive partner he is, he was very understanding and didn’t even flinch about money he just wanted to make sure I wasn’t too sad. It honestly took so much weight off. I agree that honesty is the best policy here and that the way your partner reacts to this news is going to tell you a lot about them.
How do you ask your partner to contribute more financially?
I think assessing one another’s comfort level with splitting bills and such is a really important step to take before you move in together. If you’re feeling like your relationship is moving to that next level, I can’t stress how important communication is!
This comes down to purpose. Why are you asking them to contribute more? Are you feeling stressed about not being able to cover expenses? Do you want to have more money because of something you’re dreaming about? If it’s the former, let them know how you feel without shaming them. Share your feelings and fears of what you're dreading as an outcome. If you're feeling used, tell them that. Again without shaming them. If you want them to contribute more because you have goals or dreams that have to do with your lifestyle—maybe retiring early—you need to share those goals with them and see what they think. If they’re not on the same page take that into account. Maybe they are scared of aggressive financial goals. That gives you something to talk about that will bring you closer together not tear you apart. Ultimately, make sure you know that your love for them isn’t about money but that this is about building your life together so they feel safe to talk about it openly.
Before you ask your partner to pay more, it’s important to first think about their income and if they are already struggling. For Amy and I, we split bills based on our income. For a while there, I paid ¾ the mortgage instead of us each paying ½. Now we’ve come to the point where she is able to split the mortgage 50/50. I feel like if one partner is making a whole lot more money than the other, there is the matter of being fair. Also, it becomes equal when you base it off of income. This can also be said if one has to pay a lot per month on previous debt. You can be fair in that area too, if you’d like. But, if they go out tomorrow and buy a brand new Tesla, then that’s on them for opting for a higher car payment. You should not pay more on the mortgage because of their Tesla decision.
How do you tell your partner to stop overspending?
This depends on if you share finances or not. If you don’t share finances, you likely don’t have much of a leg to stand on here. It’s always good, though, to suggest getting more educated about a topic. So, if you don’t share bank accounts you can still talk about lifestyle creep. If you do share money, keep focused on goals in order to keep things from being too heated. I.e. “I worry that buying that motorcycle might keep us from saving up for a down payment on a home, and that goal is very important to me.”
I think that sharing a bank account is a totally shared responsibility - which includes TRUST. If your partner continues to overspend after having a serious discussion about it, then I would let them know that you are not willing to continue sharing a bank account with them. Trust has been broken by their lack of responsibility.
Financial autonomy is a huge part of being an adult and feeling respected in a relationship. If you shame your partner for their spending, it’s going to come off as judgemental and start a fight. It also might come as pretty parental. Create space for autonomy by maintaining individual accounts where you can spend what you want. Work this into your budget as the final item on the list once everything and I mean EVERYTHING is accounted for—including joint and personal savings. I’ve had multiple friends talk about this as an issue after combining finances but ultimately this is the biggest secret to not fighting about money whether you're basically broke or have a comfortable savings cushion.
When/how in a new relationship do you broach the topic of who pays for what?
Whomever created the plan/invited the other should be willing to pay, but you should take turns paying to be most ethical.
If you’re living together and want to buy a new TV, I think it’s best to do a 50/50 split. The other alternative (though it’s more for pessimists lol) would be to take turns paying 100% of certain household items. That way, if you end up breaking up, you know what is yours to take.
In a new relationship, I tend to agree it’s who makes the plans or I’d say treat it as you would with your friends and split pretty much everything. HOWEVER, if someone does offer or insist to pay, I wouldn’t say no.
How do you approach paying off past debt prior to the shared account (including student loan debt)?
This is really up to the couple and how they work together. I believe that a marriage is less about a legally binding contract with the government and more about bonding together as a team. When you have obstacles or goals—financial or not—it’s a team effort. Sometimes that’s more about moral support and other times it’s actually about contributing. If I’m the one with debt, I’d never EVER assume that my partner would cover me unless they offer. If I’m the one without debt, I would totally offer when it comes to things like student loans, car loans, medical debt etc. things that are about improving your life and will help our shared financial position. For something like a credit card or deferred payment type debt for something more frivolous (my husband and his guitars for example), I don’t get as much primary enjoyment out of it so I’d rather not pay that off unless he falls on hard times.
I do believe that it’s up to the couple whether or not to assist with paying for their partner’s previous debt, but once you get married, I do feel like that should be part of it - in my personal opinion. It’s a lifetime commitment and at that point, her debt is my debt. Prior to marriage? I keep the prior debt separated.
How do you tell your partner you don’t want to ever share a bank account?
I don’t share bank accounts because of issues with sharing bank accounts in my past (ie: I got screwed over - lol). I know approaching this subject with Amy took her off guard at first, but it’s actually worked very well. We never have money fights because we developed a system. We split the cost of groceries, our mortgage, and bigger purchases and then we worry about our own individual car payments, cell phone bills, etc. Some partners take offense to someone NOT wanting to share an account with them which could cause a money fight.
This definitely feels like a headache for me mostly due to past issues with roommates but honestly with apps like venmo and cash app it has never been easier to pay shared bills and living expenses. As long as you are still looking at shared expenses together and have that level of transparency, I don’t see why it needs to be an issue. Additionally, just like this would be coming from a place where you have issues with trust, I’d say a partner telling me they aren’t comfortable sharing an account could create an issue with trust. I’d at least want to know their financial position—especially given debts and an idea of their net worth if we’re talking long term/marriage.
That makes total sense, Melissa. The crazy fact not everyone knows is that if you have a joint bank account with someone, they can legally drain the account without your permission. You both do not have to be present to completely remove all of the funds from a savings and/or checking account. I had this happen to me with an ex and in the matter of 1 hour $60k was gone. I was in shock, but Wells Fargo said she was 100% able to do that. I 100% agree it’s very important to be transparent with your finances like you said - past debts, net worth, etc. Amy and I do that and once we are officially married things will change in that department. I like having at least 1 account though that is just mine so that I never have to worry about Amy saying I’m overspending. I like to shop. Amy agrees that she also wants this too because she definitely enjoys getting packages from ULTA.
Talking about money with your partner does not have to feel taboo. Honesty and transparency is truly the best policy. Rather than avoiding these tough conversations, trust your partner and be open with them! You will feel much better getting everything out in the open, rather than bottling it all inside until you miss rent or blow up on them for overspending on video games or shopping sprees.
Have you ever come across these situations? How did you handle them? Let us know in the comments below.