Some women like jewelry. Some prefer roses. But for me, nothing is more thrilling than when my husband says, “Baby, let’s do the budget.”
It’s so romantic sitting on the couch with our laptops, me reciting each charge on our debit card statement and him typing it all into an Excel spreadsheet. Nothing beats knowing the fridge is stocked, the bills are paid and a surprise car repair won’t mean the end of the world.
I know what kind of toll financial strife can take. I have a friend who “destroys the evidence” after she goes shopping. She tucks new clothing into the back of the closet, hides bags, tags and fast-food wrappers the trash – all to avoid her husband’s wrath.
“To keep your relationships healthy, it’s critical to discuss differences and come up with compromises that work for both of you,” said Pamela Yellen, a financial expert and author who has come up with a financial literacy curriculum called “Your Money Revolution.”
Here are her tips for couples looking to “boost financial intimacy.”
• Talk when you’re both calm. Money is not about numbers on a piece of paper, it’s about deep emotional fears and anxieties. For men – traditionally the providers – money is tied to self-worth. For women, who generally equate money with security and survival, finances can feel like a matter of life or death. Go easy on each other.
• Come up with a budget together. You’re not going to agree on everything, so use one of the zillion budgeting guideline sheets available online to get an idea of what percentage of your budget should go where. Come up with a budget for personal discretionary spending and savings. You both have equal ownership of everything. If you can’t grasp that now, you’ll get the picture in divorce court, when the judge lops everything in half.
• Embrace your differences. Opposites attract, and that’s a good thing. Two shopaholics will find themselves in the poorhouse, but a shopaholic and a penny pincher have a better chance of balancing each other out. Look for what you can learn from your spouse.
• Avoid debt as if your relationship depends on it, because it probably does. Debt is a relationship killer. If you want to be miserable and end up in divorce, by all means – charge up those credit accounts. If you want a happy marriage, start by living within your means.
• Realize that financial infidelity is no better than regular old cheating. If you’re not honest about your spending, “your cheatin’ heart will tell on you” sooner or later. Whether it’s secret shopping sprees, hidden credit cards or trips to the casino, come clean, apologize and fix it together.
If the financial behaviors are driven by emotional issues or addictions, it’s especially important to lean on your spouse for help instead of trying to cover it up. You’re partners, after all.