How to stop fighting about money


It's money, not sex, that couples fight about the most. Here are five practical tools from Money Magazine reporter Carolyn Bigda, on how to stop fighting about money.

How to stop fighting about money

Carolyn Bigda recommends following the five "money vows" to keep the peace in your relationship when it comes to finances:

  1. Create a spending diary: for one month track every penny each of you spends to discover where your money is going.
  2. Set a limit to what splurges each of you will allow. One rule of thumb is to keep it to 0.5 percent or less of your salary.
  3. Make sure that you listen to each other and allow each other veto power to say no. Come to an agreement with your partner and consult before making purchases.
  4. Set a savings goal every year and commit to it. 15% of your income is recommended whether it's for retirement or buying a house. 
  5. Never turn your back on money issues; don't just leave the problem on the table and walk away from it. Work through money issues as a team.
Also, some couples find that keeping three separate checking accounts works well. One joint account and two personal accounts allows for couples to combine their income for joint expenses, but also have their own for personal purchases.

LISA: I'm Lisa Birnbach for You got married, you promised to love and honor one another for richer or poorer. So why are you fighting about money all the time? With me is Carolyn Bigda from Money magazine. How do you start fighting with your spouse?

CAROLYN: Yeah it's a very common occurence between couples. We did a survey, Money magazine did a survey last year and we found of our respondents 84% said there is tension in their relationship and it's all over money. 

LISA: Now you recommend at Money magazine something called a "money vow". Can you explain what that is? 

CAROLYN:  Yeah, we have five money vows actually that we recommend couples sort of abide by that will help ease any strain over money. The first one is to create a spending diary, basically, one month track where your money is going. Couples are often surprised to figure out just how much they're spending on gas or at the grocery store and they might have these notions that maybe the husband spends a lot of money, but the wife might be surprised that she's actually dropping a couple hundred at the grocery store when she could really save more there. 

LISA: And be completely honest. 

CAROLYN: Yes, be very honest, track every single penny, keep a little diary with you and then just from day to day, track down exactly what you're spending. 

LISA: And then you can decide. You can give yourselves a budget that way.

CAROLYN:  Yeah and the second vow that we recommend is to set a limit to what splurges you will allow yourself. One rule of thumb that we offer is to keep it to 0.5 percent or less of your salary. So if you're making $50,000 that would be $250. So you commit not to make that purchase without consulting with your spouse.

LISA:  What about giving your partner veto power over certain purchases?

CAROLYN:  Yes that's our third vow. You definetely want to make sure that you listen to each other and allow each other that power to say no. No you can't make that purchase or no you can't borrow that money. 

LISA:  Well there's a new trend, wives buying luxury items with cash, so that their husbands don't see the credit card bill.

CAROLYN:  As long as you talked about these things up front, you can spend your money as you want. But if it's something you're doing behind the scenes, if you have a bad feeling about it, then it's probably a sign that it's not within the plan that the two of you have created and it could cause tension down the road.

LISA: Do you recommend that couples keep little private funds? Not that they don't know about it, but that they can just use it separately for stuff that comes up.

CAROLYN: Sure. One very popular trick is to have three separate checking accounts so you have one checking account that's for household expenditures, both spouses are putting a share of income into this pot. And then to have one for each spouse and that's money they can spend at will without consulting the other. That they don't have any restrictions too. A lot of times that works out well for couples. 

LISA: Carolyn Bigda from Money magazine, I'm wondering about one of the vows, setting aside money for retirement. 

CAROLYN: The fourth vow that we have is to set a savings goal every year and one easy target is 15% of your income. And when I say easy, it's an easy number to think about and it's one that if you do it right early, it will get you toward your goals, whether that be retirement goals or saving for a house. So committing to saving 15% every year will help you keep on track. 

LISA: And finally, how do you get couples do actually stop fighting?

CAROLYN:  Well our fifth vow is to never turn your back on money issues. Go to bed mad one night that's fine, but don't just leave it on the table and walk away from it forever. If you sit down and reasonably think about it, even if you need time to let some emotions cool, whatever it is. As long as you face the issue, it will eventually have a resolution. Hopefully.

LISA: Well that is reassuring indeed. Carolyn thank you so much for being with us.

CAROLYN: Oh my pleasure. 

LISA:  For I'm Lisa Birnbach.

meet theexpert
  • Carolyn Bigda

    Carolyn Bigda Money Magazine Carolyn Bigda is a reporter at Money Magazine, covering credit, savings and debt. She writes a weekly syndicated column for the Chicago Tribune, tackling personal finance issues for twenty-somethings. She's been featured in interviews on ABC, CNN and many others, as well as several radio stations. more about this expert »

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