How to Address Money-Related Relationship Problems
In this economy, money is a hot topic for everyone. But when times get tough, relationships are tested beyond their limits, and many times this can lead to the end of marriages and the breakup of families. But it doesn’t always have to be this way. In fact, money problems can actually make your marriage or relationship stronger when dealt with appropriately.
It’s no secret that my husband and I have financial difficulties. He was recently injured on the job, and now we have to deal with workman’s comp. But you will never catch us fighting about money, and I’m not bragging.
My first marriage was riddled with arguments over money, so I’ve been there. It’s not easy, and arguing only makes things more stressful than they already are.
Have you and your significant other ever argued over money?
I learned quite a bit about relationships and stress with my first marriage. The majority of what I learned was what not to do, but I learned the lessons nonetheless.
In my current marriage, my husband and I have been through dire financial problems more times than I can count, but we have never argued about it.
Instead, we’ve turned it into something that brings us closer together. In fact, it’s happened so often that we just smile and say “PLOT TWIST!!”
Is Money Really the Issue?
Money gets a lot of flak for instigating arguments among couples, but it’s sometimes just a scapegoat. Before trying to fix your money problems, you need to make sure that money is really the issue. I made this mistake in my first marriage. Money was actually the least of our problems; we really just didn’t like each other.
Trying to fix a money problem when that’s really not the main issue in your relationship is like trying to change the light bulb when the fixture is burned out. It’s just not going to work! You may temporarily diffuse the issue, but it’s not a long term solution.
A little soul searching can go a long way. Before you delve into your financial issues, ask yourself these questions (your significant other should do the same):
- Do I really love my significant other?
- What do I love about my significant other? (In other words, prove it to yourself.)
- Is money really the problem, or am I using it to hide the real issue?
Once it’s been established that money really is the problem, it’s time to deal with it.
Admitting There is a Problem in the Relationship
It sounds cliché, but it is actually true. Just because you know there is a problem doesn’t mean your significant other does. You both have to be on the same page. Your significant other may think everything is fine, or they may be waiting for you to bring up the issue because they avoid confrontation like the plague (like I do).
The first step is to have a conversation with your significant other and get things out in the open. This doesn’t have to be one of those touchy-feely emotional conversations (although many times they end up that way). It can simply be a “hey honey, we need to talk about our money situation.” Certain things should be covered in this conversation like:
- Why exactly are you concerned? Do you not have enough money coming in, or is it being spent too quickly?
- Do you have too many bills?
- Is either one of you buying things without talking to the other first?
- Does either one of you have a laissez faire (direct translation: let us be) attitude toward money?
- Is money a status symbol for either of you?
- Do you both have opinions about money that are on opposite ends of the spectrum? Or are they identical?
Get everything out in the open. Write things down if you have to, just make sure both of you fully understand the other person’s point of view. Misunderstandings happen because we fail to understand that everyone perceives things differently. Semantics plays a valuable role in describing that perception, so choose your words carefully.
Solving the Problems Money Has Caused
Once you’re both on the same page, or at least a similar page, it’s time to figure out what can be done to fix the problem, improve your relationship and ascertain why it affected your relationship in the first place so it doesn’t happen again.
Most couples think they don’t have enough money coming in, but this is usually not the case. The majority of us can live on our current pittance…I mean income… with a bit of finagling. It comes down to finding the things you can live without and eliminating them. Priorities need to be set, but because you’re a couple, you have to do this together. That’s not as easy as it sounds.
This is when the family budget comes in quite handy. I hate budgeting, but it’s a very effective tool when you’re trying to find out where your money is going.
Your budget can be as simple as writing all of your bills and their amounts on a piece of paper, or it can be as elaborate as an excel spreadsheet produced from Quicken. Use whatever method works for you, but do it together. The goal here is for both of you to see how much money is coming in, and how much is going out.
Of course, there are people who really don’t make enough to pay all of their bills. Unfortunately, I fall into this latter category because of recent events. This is probably the hardest situation to deal with because you don’t know where your next meal is coming from, let alone how to keep the lights on, and that makes it much more stressful on both the couple and their relationship.
If this is your situation, I understand how dire things are. There is no end in sight, and it’s easy to get depressed and give up. But I can tell you, a solution will always present itself.
I’ve been through this enough times to know that patience is a virtue. But the worst thing you can do is take it out on your spouse. Unfortunately, we tend to lash out at the people who are closest to us, especially in stressful situations. But those people are also the only ones who will be there when the dust settles.
The most important thing to remember in this type of financial (or any) dilemma, is that you are both in this together. You are not suffering through this alone.
Even if your significant other isn’t showing it, they are just as concerned as you are. We all deal with stress differently, and while many people show visible signs of stress, there are just as many who don’t show any signs at all.
Creating a Financial Plan
Once you both understand where the money is going, you can start to find a solution and create a plan.
A financial plan is a necessity for couples, but it doesn’t have to be elaborate. It can simply be a set of guidelines, something that can help you make a financial decision if your significant other is unavailable. Don’t forget to:
- Create a savings plan
- Create an emergency fund
- Plan for incidentals (those “oops… I need” moments)
- Create an entertainment fund
- Create an emergency fund (in case your emergency fund runs out – you can never be too prepared)
- Set aside some money for investments
- Create a contingency plan
Once you have a plan in place, stick with it! It’s easy to slip back into old habits.
Have you ever suddenly lost all of your income and had to scramble to make ends meet?
Create a Financial Contingency Plan
You’ll notice I added “create a contingency plan.” Most people don’t think of this until it’s too late. Life has a tendency to throw curve balls at us when we least expect it.
Major life events like marriage, kids, divorces, and health problems can crop up at any time and throw a wrench in your current financial plan.
If you just started your financial plan or haven't had time to build up an emergency fund, secondary emergency fund, or a savings account, you’re going to need help should you lose your main source of income suddenly. A “contingency plan” is essentially plan B.
My current situation is a perfect example. We lost our major source of income because my husband was injured on the job. This type of situation puts a tremendous strain on any relationship, but having a backup plan can alleviate some of that strain.
To create a thorough contingency plan, you should:
- Create a list of local resources that can help you get back on your feet such as churches, or other agencies that can offer financial assistance. Many counties have agencies that help out with specific expenses like utility bills and rent.
- Research how to apply for Medicaid and Food Stamps from your state’s website. Don’t forget to include an address for the office closest to you, as well as its phone number.
- Make a list of phone numbers and other contact information of family members who may be willing to help. Make sure you talk to these people ahead of time, before something happens.
- Contact your utility companies and find out if they allow you to make payment arrangements. Make sure you get the details on how their system works. For example, both AT&T and Verizon Wireless will allow you to make a payment arrangement (I make an arrangement every month), but if you miss the payment date, you won’t be able to make another arrangement for 6 months. Many power companies allow you to do this as well.
- Find out how to get a loan from your bank, and how long it will take. Make sure to ask about emergency situations like job loss. Some banks won’t lend money to anyone who is currently unemployed.
- Know your FICO score! If you've lost your income, chances are your credit report isn't pretty. Know exactly what is on your credit report from ALL three agencies: Experian, TransUnion and Equifax. The most important of these is Equifax. If you decide to buy a home, or are forced to buy the one you are in by your landlord (as has recently happened to us), Equifax is the company all loan agencies turn to for credit reports.
- Rebuild your credit. Once you know what your credit score looks like, you can attempt to fix it. Pay off what you can or contact the collection agencies and try to make a deal with them, but don't let them take out an automatic payment once a month. This will just get you into more trouble should you lose your income. If you have bad credit because you have a collections account on your report and nothing else (like I do) then you'll need to apply for credit cards. Capital One offers one for those with really low credit scores. You can also try a secured credit card, but be aware that these require a deposit. You'll need to make sure any credit card you apply for reports to all three credit bureaus.
Not All Credit Cards Are Created Equal
Avoid First Premier credit cards. Their cards can charge you well over $400 a year in fees and in some cases over $170 a month!
Think Outside the Box
- Find out your state’s unemployment laws and get information on how to apply for it.
- Contact your mortgage company (or landlord if you rent) and find out what you need to do if you suddenly lose your income.
- Inventory all of your belongings and their approximate resale value. That way, if/when the time comes you’ll know what items will bring in the most cash. I know it’s horrible to think about, but selling “stuff” is better than losing your home or going hungry.
- Find ways to make money working at home and make a list of them. Better yet, find online work-at-home jobs.
Doing all of this now, when you aren’t stressed out and have a steady income, can greatly reduce the amount of stress you’ll go through if it ever happens.
When it comes to finances and your relationship, it’s important to remember that communication is the key. It doesn’t matter how many plans you create; if you can’t talk to your significant other, your relationship will be doomed from the beginning. If you can’t work things out together, seek counseling. There is a solution to every problem. Whether or not you want to find it together is the real question.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.