Money issues are one of the leading causes of divorce — but this doesn’t have to be the case in your relationship. No matter what you’ve been told: Money is not the enemy. It’s a piece of paper that wields plenty of power when used correctly.
Having it in the bank can help you and your spouse sleep better and maybe even afford you a lovely trip somewhere once in a while. But saving and spending isn’t intuitive for all folks — and some really struggle with the concept of saving pennies for a rainy day. Anyone who can relate knows it’s difficult enough to balance a personal budget, ensure all of the bills are paid and stay out of debt when you’re single and living on your own or with a roommate. Throw in a partner — the person you love and trust more than anyone else in the world — and the struggle is kicked up a notch.
Now, imagine both you and your partner positively suck at managing your finances. Kaboom — that’s the sound of the mini explosion you should get used to hearing every day until you both make a conscientious effort to get better at money — and fast.
“This is a tough one, but generally the biggest cause for being bad with money is poor ability to delay gratification,” Dr. Scott Carroll, author of the upcoming book Made in Heaven: How to Marry the Perfect Man for You, explains. “The second biggest cause is probably having a poor ability to distinguish between what you want and what you truly need. While the third cause is probably not anticipating incidentals, one-time expenses and emergencies.”
Carroll explains each cause in more detail — and provides tips on how you and your spouse can work together to overcome your problem.
1. Inability to delay gratification
Most of us have been there before. We want a new car (or a new pair of shoes or tickets to the Bahamas) and we want it now. Somewhere along the way, our “I want” may even turn to “I need” as we fool ourselves into believing we deserve a monetary reward for working so hard or that our two-month-old heels will inevitably cause foot trouble if we don’t replace them with Louboutins asap. But, like any other bad habit, you can overcome the desire to spend recklessly. “The key is a committed effort that you sustain over time and continue despite relapses and setbacks, like getting in shape or quitting smoking,” Carroll says. “Persistence is so critical that I like to remind people that the average former smoker had to quit eight or nine times before they succeeded. Support in the form of a coach, therapist or a 12-step group like Overspenders Anonymous can help.”
2. Confusing wants with needs
Lots of couples, particularly young ones, have difficulty distinguishing between things they need (like food, water and a roof over their heads) and things they want (almost everything else). Carroll suggests sitting with your partner and thinking about what you can do without — perhaps you can make coffee at home instead of indulging in daily lattes. Or maybe you decide to get an Internet connection but forego cable. Little things you do will add up big-time when you realize you can actually bank a few dollars at the end of the month.
3. Failing to plan ahead
There should never be a time in which a bill comes as a big surprise. Know your monthly expenses — chart them using a simple spreadsheet, if necessary, and think ahead about unpaid bills before deciding to treat yourselves to another dinner out. “Not anticipating expenses is another symptom of lack of experience,” Carroll says. “Again, this is mostly a knowledge issue. However, some people are perfectly aware of this and choose to ignore this fact, preferring to gamble that nothing will go wrong. Typically, they either like the excitement of knowing they will probably lose (hence the appeal of gambling) or want something so badly that they will take these kinds of risks to get it.”
4. Spending instead of working on a relationship
Bottom line: The happier you are in your relationship, and the more you’re focused on each other and your future together as a couple, the less likely you are to blow your savings on a yacht. “One cause for married couples to have money problems is if they are spending money to cover up or fix an underlying problem in their relationship,” Carroll says. “Happy couples don’t tend to overspend. They may need a couples’ therapist more than a financial advisor.”
If this sounds like your situation, consider it a blessing that you were able to take control of the root cause of your problem before you both rack up even more debt and dig yourselves into a bigger hole. Tackling your problems together can only make you stronger (and in this case wealthier), both individually and as a couple.