By Jon Hsieh*, M.S.W., LCSW
David Bach's Myth No.1: "If we love each other, we won't fight about money!" Fact: "Money has very little to do with love...and a lot to do with how much you fight."
In a written interview Carrie Schwab-Pomerantz reported the following: "We found through our research at Schwab that fewer than one in three families have frequent conversations about money and investing. And, in fact, it falls between sex and drugs as one of the least talked—about topics." And so it is for most couples.
Certainly, there are couples out there who are gifted in money management, investment, planning and saving. And there are other couples who currently have no idea how much money is in their checking account. To them, a balanced checkbook simply means they managed to avoid bouncing any checks this month. Whatever your situation, you might still experience the number one complaint I hear about finances in marriage: "We can't seem to talk about money — we just don't know how to do it without having some sort of meltdown!"
A typical scenario can go something like this. You are about to make a quick run to the store. You begin looking for the checkbook. You see your spouse give you a glance — he or she is holding the checkbook in one hand AND a stack of bills in the other...the mortgage invoice, credit card statements, utilities and the next student loan payment. At that moment, you feel like a deer in headlights — you freeze. You can feel the pressure begin to build. And then it happens. You don't remember who said what first! But you find yourself in the middle of a major meltdown. All you can remember is that you had almost made it out the door.
Maybe meltdowns aren't your style. But do you ever find yourself avoiding discussions about financial topics with your spouse? Do you find yourself becoming increasingly anxious, stressed, and even angry when the subject of money comes up? Do you find yourself getting into arguments and conflicts whenever financial decisions need to be made? If this is you, know that you are not alone!
Author David Bach offers the following helpful suggestions in his book, "Smart Couples Finish Rich."
Suggestion No. 1: Find out how your partner feels about money. What does money mean to him or her? When I got married, my wife and I had a conversation about the meaning of money in our lives. For me, it meant freedom. It was about my ability to move in the world and make it my own. For my wife, it meant security. It was about paying bills on time, having little debt, and about hope for the future. As you might imagine, these differences have implications as to how we spend money, save money, and generally manage money differently.
Suggestion No. 2: Define your VALUES! What is really important to you? What are the values that you want to shape your life? David Bach writes, "Your life values should determine every life decision you make!" Of all the financial information and advice available — this is probably the most important principle for building a financially healthy marriage.
Try this exercise: Sit down with your spouse. With pen and paper, each of you should make a list of your values. Remember that values are distinct from goals. Examples of values include security, independence, growth, family and health. Goals might include having a million dollars by retirement, becoming debt free, paying off the mortgage early, or traveling around the world. Whatever your goals might be, it is important to begin with your values first. Reduce your list of values to the top five. Then talk with your spouse about your values. Talk about why these values are important to you! Then let your spouse tell you about his or her values. Notice the values that are similar and different and decide together to help each other make room for, and honor, both sets of values.
Suggestion No.3: Assess your current financial behavior. In other words, does your financial behavior match the values you have just listed? If there is one guaranteed recipe for conflict in a marriage, it is that our behavior does not reflect our values.
Finally, suggestion No.4: AFTER you know what you want and WHY, gather the information you need to begin making a financial plan. Financial planning tips can be easily found at the bookstore or on the Web. What can't be found — the part that only you can decide — is what values will drive your financial behavior, decisions and future.
So, take a deep breath, sit with your spouse, grab pen and paper, and begin a habit of regular, ongoing, conversations about your values and money. No meltdowns required.