"The lies we want to believe tell us something about ourselves."
-- Eula Biss, Having and Being Had

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Do You Argue About Money?

     Right now I'm in Phoenix, but I'm thinking about a time at home, about two weeks ago, when B approached me after breakfast. "I have something to ask you," she said. "It's a little awkward."

     "Okay," I replied, wondering if anything was wrong. "What is it?"

     "You have to leave the house tomorrow. Between 12 and 1 p.m."

     "Uh, okay." Now I was really puzzled. "Why is that?"

     "Melanie is coming over."

     "Who's Melanie?"

     "She's from the fabric store. We're going to talk about recovering those two chairs in the living room."

     "Ah," I said, suddenly understanding. We've been talking about those two chairs for at least a year. They seem fine to me. But B says they don't fit into our decor, and they have to be either recovered or replaced. I don't see the point. Recovering old chairs? It costs hundreds of dollars, for each chair! We certainly have better things to spend our money on than recovering perfectly good chairs that we hardly ever use.

     Which is why B is asking me -- no, telling me -- to get out of the house, and out of her way. She doesn't want me skulking around and harrumphing about how it costs too much and we don't need to do it anyway. .

     Still . . . "I have to be out of the house?" I pursued. "I can't just go upstairs, and stay there and not show my face?"

     "No. Out of the house." Clearly, she has heard enough from me. And no matter what I say, she is doing this.

     And so I went out for the afternoon. I went to the mall and bought myself a new Ping Pong paddle and had lunch in the food court. And with this scenario in mind, I thought I'd bring you some advice on how not to argue about money. Goodness knows . . . not from me. But from Jeremy Kisner, my go-to financial adviser at Surevest Wealth Management in Phoenix (which is maybe why I thought of this).

     Here's what he says. And it occurs to me that his approach might extend beyond money issues and be helpful for any kind of communication with a friend or loved one:

     Money is a hot-button issue in many relationships. It's common for partners to have different spending and savings priorities, and this often leads to conflict. Usually, one partner is more focused on the present and places a higher priority on using money to have fun, buy nice things, be generous, or engage in "retail therapy" to escape stress or anxiety. The other may be more focused on the future, feeling that the most important use of money is to provide security so they will be financially independent.

     Partners often try to convince each other that their priorities are the correct way of looking at things. But this usually doesn't go well. Discussions about money often lead to arguments or uncomfortable silences. Furthermore, financial distress is often cited as the #1 cause of divorce. So instead of avoiding financial discussions, try to follow these seven tips for better outcomes:

     Start with questions. Your first instinct is probably to "tell" your partner what you want, why your priority is important. That is the opposite of how you should approach these conversations. Instead, ask a question that might start a productive dialogue. What do you think has been your best, and your worst, financial decision? What spending decisions have brought you good memories? What was money like in your household when you were growing up? The answers show you why people think the way they do, and help you better understand their financial mindset.

     Don't focus on what you are going to say. Instead, focus on listening. Good listening is a learned behavior that doesn't come naturally for most people. It entails more than waiting your turn to talk. Good listening means asking clarifying questions, even when you think you know what the other person means. Learn to pause before speaking and repeat back what you've heard.

     Find goals you both agree on. Each of you should make a list of the goals you'd like to reach. Then find common goals and agree to work toward them. Each of you needs to be willing to make sacrifices to reach the goals, and if you're initiating the conversation, you should be the first one to offer up something. Do you need to cut down on the Starbucks visits, Botox treatments, dog grooming, poker nights?

     Do not be judgmental. You may find yourself thinking, Wow, it is really stupid to spend so much on XYZ. It is completely normal to have different spending priorities, but if you're judgmental, you're going to poison the well and kill any chance of progress.

     Admit your own mistakes and regrets. The best way to prepare for this discussion is not by gathering evidence of what your spouse has done wrong. Instead, evaluate your own spending and figure out which of your own decisions turned out to be mistakes, and what changes you can make. Then you might ask if your partner has any spending habits or decisions they would be willing to change.

     Be appreciative. If your partner admits to overspending, don't pounce. Instead, be understanding, even sympathetic, and ask more questions such as: What do you think would be more reasonable? Then appreciate their answer, their honesty, and their willingness to work together.

     Agree to revisit periodically. You and your partner should meet to discuss your household budget on a regular basis, perhaps once a month. This is an ideal time to reaffirm priorities and talk about financial goals. Of course, it's always easier to avoid these conversations. But as I like to say, "A lazy man works twice as hard." In other words, a little discipline prevents a lot of future headache. Good luck with your money conversations!


gigi-hawaii said...

David and I always have arguments over money. Somehow, we work it out.

Olga said...

My husband and did not argue about money. We split mutual expenses 50/50 and whatever we wanted to spend for our own hobbies, interests or wants were as we could afford on an individual basis.
Neither on of us was irresponsible with money and Mike had a system for keeping track of our spending that was somewhat complicated (I couldn't replicate it now) but that really worked well for us.

DJan said...

I'm so glad that we don't argue over money. It helps for us both to have enough extra cash that we can buy things we want without worrying about what the other person wants. But just for the record, I wouldn't want old chairs to be recycled. I like to buy new ones, but that's just me. :-)

Kay said...

We don't argue much about money either. He handles it, pretty much. What we "argue" about, believe it or not is the use of energy. He worked for the EPA. We have solar panels, but he wants me to use fans instead of the air conditioner, hang clothes instead of using the dryer. He also likes it warm, while I like it cool. We've been married almost 50 years though and happy, so what the heck...

Kathy @ SMART Living 365.com said...

Hi Tom! After 42 years Thom and I have figured out a way to make it work. We are both pretty hard headed and in the beginning it was a bit "vocal" but we have gradually worked out a system that works for us both. When we both got on the page about 10 years ago to make "rightsizing" our life a priority that made a BIG difference. We seldom argue these days but it did take a few years to get there! Good for you for coming up with a system that works for you. ~Kathy

Tom said...

Well, Kay, I'm anti-air conditioning, too ... as long as I live in Pennsylvania. But if I lived in Arizona, I'd be extremely pro-air conditioning. I think we all probably argue less about money as we get older ... perhaps because we've "rightsized" our lives and no longer have to shoulder all those financial obligations such as food and clothes for the kids, college tuition, then saving for retirement, and there's always the mortgage, etc., etc.

Wisewebwoman said...

I wish I had those pointers in my life when I was in partnerships. I often found too, that arguments about money often disguised other problems within the marital framework and vice versa of course.

These could be applied to all elements of a relationship - parenting, vacationing, etc.


Rebecca Olkowski said...

I can so relate to why she wanted you out of the house. We have a disgusting couch that has holes in it from the dogs. I want to burn it. For now we have it covered with a washable couch cover but it still looks disgusting. He doesn't see the point of getting rid of it.

Diane Dahli said...

I used to feel, as B does, that decor was important enough to argue about! My strategy now is to give it some time, and see if it really will change our lives to have that piece of furniture, or new bed cover, or whatever. Most times, I'm willing to compromise, but it does take some conversation (not arguing!) to get there! Once I've given it some time, and if I still feel strongly, we'll decide to go ahead with the purchase. Good luck with this Tom—hope the resolution is positive!

Arkansas Patti said...

Wish I had those guidelines when I was married. Now days I only argue with myself and I always win.

Janette said...

This week was our first loud noises over money in about ten years. I swallowed my pride very quickly when we were told the price to redo the roof. At first I protested, then I staged a "Really? that is an insane amount of money!" and last agreed that I had messed up. My mess up was chasing a dream house over a practical roof.
My husband THINKS we have fought about money, but really we haven't. When I run into a charge that I have no idea where it is from, I ask about it. He thinks I am accusing him of spending too much. I have to back down, and change my tone of voice. It smooths over.
I think that tone of voice is something he missed on his list. Otherwise the list is pretty complete.

Madeline Kasian said...

Husband and I have been together for so long, we seem to have "hive mind" when it comes to money. We are mostly on same page. We both enjoy a beautiful home and spend LOTS of time IN IT so we agree on upgrades now and then.. new patio furniture cushions last summer, new carpet for guest room and sitting room this summer.. but we spend frugally. We've made a few money "mistakes" together over the years but never really big ones, and have always been able to regroup. My "retail therapy" involves visits to consignment store only, and my husband appreciates that i do not shlep around house in sweatpants so he is supportive of a few new pieces of pretty clothing here and there.He gardens and I never question his gardening/home depot spending. We like to travel, but agree some places are too cost prohibitive.. neither of us feels deprived that we choose not to go to Europe every year or river cruises that break the bank,etc. (the one European cruise we took was too costly in my opinion and I did not get as much fun out of it as I do in, say Santa Fe or San Diego,actually!!!) We do still have one or two "exotic" trip ideas before we grow older, so booked an affordable Thailand trip.. through a tour company with great reputation and good value..flying out of West coast so much more affordable than NYC trips.. We find ways to travel inexpensively and enjoy it just as much..I just feel blessed we are on the same page. No arguments here!!

Anonymous said...

Join the "Don't Marry Movement". There are 3 main points:

-Never legally marry an American woman
-Never have children with an American woman
-If you are married to an American woman, never buy a house so she cannot steal it from you in divorce

Read the full essay explaining the purpose of the movement here: https://womenarestupid.site/blog/the-don-t-marry-movement

Janis said...

I feel fortunate that money isn't a source of controversy between my husband and I. Since we both are frugal and careful, neither of us thinks the other is spending unwisely. Best of all, he always encourages me to buy clothes that I want... I'm usually the one who ultimately talks myself out of purchases like that. I love how B was able to be honest about her need for you to vacate the premises... and you were willing to give her the space she needed.

Tabor said...

All excellent advice and should make life easier. I am so lucky in that after growing up poor, my budget these days is more generous than I deserve. There is always money left over at the end of the month that goes into savings while still living a very expensive life style. Adding to that is the both of us have pretty much the same view of how to spend and on what.

Friko said...

Very good advice Tom. Money is so often the cause of rows, we take money matters so terribly seriously. I had very little for large parts of my life and had to think carefully before spending it. I would say that now, that life has got easier financially, I no longer worry about spending in my modest way. If I need a chair reupholstered I do so. It’s no big deal and a bit of spending gives me pleasure.

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