Love & Money: Yours, Mine, & Ours

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Last time, we chatted about managing money with your in-laws. This week, we’re going to focus on managing money with your honey. Despite the fact that your marriage is, hopefully, your most intimate relationship, many couples find talking about money difficult.

Couples grapple with different spending styles, decisions about whether or not to combine finances, and determining financial assistance to one another’s families. In fact, research by Papp, Cummings, and Goeke-Morey found that conflicts over money tend to be the most pervasive and troublesome issue of marital conflict and often go unresolved. As a result, couples may avoid discussing money with one another altogether. Although that may seem like a good short-term fix, it’s going to cost you a lot more than cash in the long run.

It’s important to note that having a calm, open, and respectful conversation will help you achieve the best results. Don’t start the conversation right after you open an astronomical credit card bill, or see a new designer bag sitting on the counter. Schedule a time, in advance, to discuss your finances. Then, both of you should come to the table with questions, comments, and concerns (or as I like to call them, QCCs).

Also, listen to where your partner is coming from and try to understand the root of his/her financial perspective. Often times, we repeat the past and spend or save the way our parents did. But, if that doesn’t jibe with your sweetie, then you need to work toward finding a mutually agreeable solution. Finances need to be a win-win situation and the first step to getting there is talking.

Below are some common situations couples experience and how to tackle them.

Situation 1: Spender vs. Saver

In a magical universe filled with rainbows and butterflies, partners agree 100% on how to spend and how to save their money. In reality, couples often have differing expectations. One partner may want to sock away all of the money, while the other partner likes to spend money on extravagant things, even if it means living paycheck to paycheck. These discrepancies are particularly problematic when finances are combined. Additionally, these habits are highly ingrained and hard to break. But just because they’re hard to break doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

First, if you’re committed to making your relationship work, you need to be committed to getting your finances in order. Make a budget and a long-term financial game plan that is (a) realistic, and (b) meets both partners’ needs. If only one person “wins” it’s less likely that the other partner will stick to the plan. Thus, it’s important that both partners are involved in the financial decisions.

If one partner is a compulsive saver, for instance, agree on a percent of your monthly take home pay that will go directly into savings. If the other partners love to eat out, come up with a realistic entertainment budget. This way, both partners get their needs met.

Also, you may want to consider each having a “fun money” fund to spend as you see fit. For instance, each partner gets $100/month to spend on lattes, shoes, gossip magazines, or whatever his/her heart desires. No questions asked. But, when it’s gone, it’s gone. This will allow each partner to feel like they have some financial independence, but also that they’re working as a team to meet their larger goals.

Finally, have monthly financial summits. Alright, it doesn’t need to be that intense, but set aside a time to chat each month about your budget, where things went right, or where things went wrong. Discuss any changes either of you want to make and check in to make sure your headed in the right direction to meet your long-term goals.

Situation 2: To Combine, or Not to Combine

Another issue couples struggle with is whether or not to combine finances. Although some sources say that joint-account couples are more satisfied, others suggest that separate is the way to go. In actuality, there is no “right” way to manage your finances. Only you and your sweetie can determine what’s best for you. However, there are two “must-dos” when determining whether to pool your resources or swim in separate financial waters.

First, it’s important to think and talk about why you want to keep your money separate. Do you want separate accounts because you don’t trust your partner? Do you just want to have a little freedom to spend as you please? Or, do you have a unique financial situation, such as remarrying in later life or having stepchildren that make it easier to keep things separate? It’s important to look at the reason for your decision and address any underlying issues that are affecting not only your finances, but your relationship as well.

If you find that bigger issues, such as lack of commitment or trust, are guiding your financial decisions than it’s important to have an open discussion about your concerns. It’s likely that these issues are impacting more than your finances, but the overall health of your relationship as well.

Second, you both need to agree on how your money is divided. For example, if you decide to keep separate “mad money” accounts and maintain joint checking account and savings accounts, you need to be in complete agreement over what comes out of what account. Do all joint activities (e.g., dinners out or vacations) and expenses, such as mortgage and groceries, come out of the joint account or does some of that have to come out of your personal account?

Additionally, if you do decide to have personal accounts in addition to joint accounts, it’s important to keep things as equitable as possible. If one partner makes more money, that person shouldn’t necessarily have more “fun money” or be able to do more activities because they earn more.  Also, it’s important that the priority be your joint accounts, not individual finances. Marriage and committed partnerships are team sports and financial inequality will eventually lead to resentment in the relationship.

Situation 3: Spreading the Wealth?

Couples may also grapple with differing opinions about if, and how, to give (or loan) money to extended family members. Some of these differences might be rooted in culture. Perhaps in your honey’s culture, children help support their parents and other siblings, even into adulthood; whereas in your culture, children may not be expected to provide financial aid to their parents or siblings.

Again, it’s important to listen to where your sweetie is coming from and come to a consensus regarding if (and how) you provide financial aid to family. Perhaps you agree to only give money to siblings as a “loan” and not a “gift” with concrete terms of repayment. Or, perhaps you both agree to give money to family freely.

The same type of agreement is needed when it comes to gift giving as well. Maybe it’s easiest to agree to spend $XX amount per family member for birthdays and holidays, this number may be influenced by the number of members you each have in your family. Or, maybe you have carte blanche when it comes to gifts. Either way, it’s important to talk about what you’re comfortable with and make sure that you and your love muffin agree.

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Although talking about finances may seem like a daunting relational task, it doesn’t have to be. Putting your cards on the table will help you and your honey set short- and long-term goals that will help you build a financial future together, which is a crucial step on the path to happily ever after.

Until Next Time,

Sylvia

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Love & Money: Managing Money & Your In-Laws

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Over the past few weeks, I’ve received emails and relationship questions from readers who are frustrated with their financial situations, either with their parents, their in-laws, or their own partner. Therefore, the next couple of blog posts are going to focus on “Love & Money.” To kick things off, we’re going to take a look at managing finances and your in-law relationships.

Research suggests that in-laws can be a big source of support, including financial support. Some in-laws are able to give generously and expect nothing in return. Others may not have the money to give, but lend support in different ways. And others still may not only keep track of every gift or small loan, but expect to have a say in your money matters. Readers have expressed several concerns ranging from monetary “gifts” that came with strings attached, financial dependence so great that it’s hard to get out from under your in-laws thumbs, or in-laws that never loosen the purse strings.

Today we’ll look at how to manage these thorny issues with your in-laws without starting a family feud!

Situation 1: The Financial “Gift”

Imagine that you’re buying your first home, a new car, or your new nursery needs decorating and out of nowhere your parents-in-law offer to give you a down payment, or offer to help you deck out the baby’s room. They say that it’s a gift, they’re happy to do it, and it makes them happy. You graciously accept, excited and appreciative.

Fast forward a few weeks, months, or years and you are wishing you never accepted this “gift” because it’s more trouble than it’s worth. Perhaps your in-laws constantly remind you of the “help” they gave you, especially when they want you to do something for them.

Or, maybe they feel that since they helped you with your house or car, they can comment on or dictate what you can and can’t do with it. “Oohhh, you really shouldn’t paint the living room that color, we’d hate it to affect the resale value.”

The Fix: You could bite your tongue, let your blood pressure skyrocket, and slowly lose your mind, or you can face it head on.  Enlist your sweetie pie to talk to his/her parents. It is important that your spouse does the talking, because even if you have a close relationship with your in-laws, they may be more sensitive to straight talk coming from you. Your partner needs to let your in-laws know that although you appreciate the generous gift they gave (stress that part, regardless if it was $5 or $5000), you do not appreciate feeling like there are strings attached to it. They may not even be aware that they’re acting like this, or calling them out may stop them in their tracks.

If this doesn’t work, then you need to come up with a plan to repay them so you don’t “owe” them anymore, or they don’t “own” you. I know it’s an unforeseen expense, but the price of being indebted to your in-laws forever is far greater.

Situation 2: You Need Financial Help

Sure, the economy is bouncing back, but not as quickly as you hoped. As a result, you may have found yourself needing to rely on your in-laws for some assistance to make ends meet. In addition to this being a difficult favor to ask, not setting proper boundaries and developing a concrete “pay back” plan can turn this arrangement into a hot mess before you can say “We need to borrow money.”

When you’re on someone’s pay roll, you tend to have to answer to the boss. Soon you may feel that your parents-in-law are monitoring (and commenting on) all of your behaviors and purchases. “Oh, more beer, great,” or “Wow, you bought a new TV? How did you manage to pay for that?” Soon, your life is not yours anymore and you’re beholden to your in-laws.

The Fix: Treat this like a business deal. Don’t nickel and dime them, or piecemeal small loans together. Instead, ask for a realistic lump sum or a monthly loan amount. Next, establish terms of repayment, in writing. Will payments start as soon as you or your honey find a job? What is time frame of repayment 6 months, 6 years? Will interest be charged? Can you take out another “loan” or is this a one-time deal?

Additionally, you may want to consider including a “no meddling” clause. Seriously, you should explicitly state that since this is a loan, your in-laws cannot question or comment on how you spend your loan money.

Although you may wish your parents-in-law would just give you the money free and clear (and some may), be warned that this has issues too (see Situation 1).

Situation 3: Your Never Get ANY Help

Your in-laws bankroll your sibling-in-laws’ lifestyles, or give them lavish presents while you and your family walk away empty-handed.

The Fix: Although it may hurt or infuriate you that your family gets short-changed, consider it a blessing. Given the potentially sticky situations that can arise, it is better to not have to rely on your in-laws financially. However, if they want to give a true gift, then go for it, but be proud of your ability to stand on your own two financial feet.

Your in-laws may be thinking the same thing. In fact, the lack of financial aid is likely a result of your in-laws’ confidence in you and pride of your financial independence, rather than a dislike or picking favorites (although, this can happen!).

And, don’t overlook the things they do to support you that aren’t financial: help moving, babysitting, or a shoulder to lean on. Those things are worth their weight in gold!

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Money and in-laws doesn’t have to go together like oil and vinegar. Although it can be tricky, with the right communication negotiating financial terms with your in-laws can be done without harming your relationship!

Until next time,

Sylvia

JustASquirrel_180RedCircleLogo (2)Don’t miss the next post in the Love & Money series: Mine, Yours, and Ours? Managing Finances in Marriage

Sylvia Says: Relationship Q&A

Dear Sylvia: My daughter- and son-in-law are a financial mess. They are in their mid-twenties, college educated, and gainfully employed; yet they live paycheck to paycheck, have immense credit card debt, and when they do come into some money they spend it on frivolous purchases rather than paying their bills. They recently asked me and my husband to co-sign on a car loan. Given their history of poor fiscal responsibility, my husband and I don’t feel comfortable with this request. How do we let them know we won’t be co-signing without damaging our relationship?

Perplexed Parents

Dear Perplexed: I applaud you and your husband for sticking to your guns and refusing to support your daughter- and son-in-law’s reckless financial behavior. Co-signing a car loan not only condones their hot mess of a financial situation, but could also negatively impact your credit score.

I think it’s important that you are upfront with them about your decision and the reasons why. Don’t hem and haw or pussyfoot around the topic. Explicitly outline what concerns you have about their financial situation. Also, explain to them how co-signing has consequences for your own financial standing, especially if they fall behind or fail to make payments (given their history, it’s a highly likely possibility).

Although you may be unwilling (rightfully so) to co-sign, you should be willing to help them get on track financially. Do not pay their bills or give them hand-outs, instead work with them either on your own or with a financial planner to set realistic financial goals and make a plan to achieve them.  They may be ticked now, but they’ll be grateful when they’re financially secure and don’t even need to ask for a co-signer!

Dear Sylvia: I am at my wit’s end with my close friend. Since we’ve been friends, it’s been a very one-sided friendship. She always has to be the center of attention and get her way.  This past year, for instance, everyone in our social circle turned 30. My friend threw herself an over-the- top, destination party, insisted that we all attend (although it cost an arm and a leg), and she made us wear themed- attire throughout the vacation. However, as the remainder of us celebrated our birthdays she made excuses for not attending parties, and when she did show up it was all about her. I know I can’t change her behavior, but I’d like to change how I respond to her. How can I stop being a doormat and start standing up for myself?

Backbone Needed

Dear Backbone: I admire that you recognize that you can’t change your friend, only the way you react to her. However, I question why you even want to remain friends with her? From the sound of it, she doesn’t seem to have any redeeming qualities. In this case, it may be better to cut your losses and move on. Life is far too short and your time is too precious to waste it on a toxic relationship.

However, since you do seem to want to remain friends with your pal, there are several things you can do to attempt to right the ship. But, because there are too many tips to suggest here, I’ll dedicate next week’s column to having difficult discussions with friends and loved ones. Check back next Wednesday to learn how to stop being a doormat and start standing your ground!

Dear Sylvia: My good friend and I have opposing politic views. Usually, it’s not a problem, but he has been very vocal about his opinions this campaign season. I fundamentally cannot support his candidate and am shocked and disappointed that he supports his candidate’s beliefs and policies. I’m finding it difficult to remain friends with someone whose views are in such opposition to mine. Should I give our friendship four more years or vote him out now?

Undecided Friend

Dear Undecided: Although having different viewpoints can spur friendly debates and open our eyes to different viewpoints, it can be difficult when beliefs clash on a moral and/or ethical level. However, since you seem to have been friends with this person for some time and this never has been an issue before, I’d have an open discussion before you decide to impeach him. You may find that your beliefs aren’t really too different, or you may learn why your friend holds a particular opinion. However, if you find that you and your friend’s beliefs clash too deeply for your liking, you may need to renegotiate your friendship. But, if James Carville and Mary Matalin can make a marriage last for almost 20 years, I think you and your friend can reach across the aisle and make your friendship work.

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 Have a relationship quandary? Submit it to Sylvia Says!

Don’t Let the Grinch Steal Your Christmas: Setting a Holiday Budget

Black Friday, Black Saturday (this was new to me this year!), Cyber Monday, etc… Although these days have different names, they all mean the same thing—spending money! And, if you’re like most people in this economy you don’t have tons of it to go around, which can be especially stressful come the holidays. Combine the regular amount of holiday stress with financial stress and you’re having a Blue Christmas!

Not only can money matters stress you out, they can put a strain on your relationship too. Money issues are often a major source of conflict in marriages. Some research even suggests that arguments about money tend to be more problematic and frequent than other issues, including raising children and division of household chores. Conflicts about money also tend to have a longer lasting impact on relationship satisfaction than arguments about other issues.

Interestingly, money is often considered a taboo topic leading people to avoid financial discussions. Failure to talk about finances can lead to arguments when you and your sweetie pie’s spending habits don’t match up or disaster when one partner doesn’t tell the other about debt or financial delinquency.

Although finances can strain your relationship at any point in time, the gift-giving season may bring this issue to the forefront. Not only do you want to find the best presents for your friends, family, and significant other, your honey bunny does too.  In addition, couples may want to feel that their family or friends are getting an “equal share.” If you spend $150 on your mom, your sweetie pie may feel that his mom gets that amount too. But, add in a couple of stepparents, stepsiblings, plus friends, and each other and your holiday budget is about to burst. So, what’s a couple to do?

There are several strategies couples can enact to ensure that their holiday gift-giving budget doesn’t get out of whack:

Talk to one another! Seems pretty obvious, I know; but, many couples don’t talk about money, which can lead to big time trouble. Have an open discussion about where you’re at financially and what is a realistic holiday budget. You may realize that you have more Christmas money to play Santa with or that you need to do a little DIY. But, you’ll never know if you don’t talk about it.

Set a budget! It’s important to have a budget in mind when shopping for holiday gifts, especially if your list is long and you’re checking it twice.  This can get tricky, however, when it comes to buying presents for individuals outside of your immediate family. You and your spouse may agree on how much to spend on each other and/or your children, but have very a different idea of what is an appropriate amount to spend on parents and adult siblings.

Maybe you’re used to spending hundreds on your parents, but your spouse doesn’t exchange gifts with her family. Try to meet somewhere in the middle. You shouldn’t be expected to give up giving gifts to your parents, but your spouse shouldn’t be expected to go along with an extravagant gift is she’s not comfortable with it or if it’s not in the budget.  So compromise and let your finances, not your emotions, be your guide.

In addition, if your gift giving protocol changes now that you’re attached, you may want to give your family a heads-up. Let them know that you and your spouse have decided to tighten your Santa suit belts, so gifts won’t be as extravagant as they’ve been in the past. It’s important to make sure you let your family knows this was a team decision, which it should be, and you and your spouse appreciate their understanding.

Trust each other! After you and your honey have set a realistic holiday budget, stick to it. It may be hard to not buy an extra present or two, but those little add-ons will not only derail your budget, but will also diminish trust between you and your partner. If you ignore the budget you and your significant other set you’re sending a message that you don’t care about what s/he has to say. So be a team player and stick to the plan!

Think outside the gift box! Don’t think that you have to buy everyone a gift or give a physical gift at all. If you have a large extended family try starting a grab bag or Yankee gift exchange.

Also, do something rather than giving or getting something. Research shows that the thrill of a new item wears off rather quickly, but the joy from doing something can last a lifetime. Instead of buying Dad another box of golf balls, why not get tickets to see his favorite band either just you and him or as a family? And instead of buying your wife a meaningless sweater, why not spend that money on a babysitter and have a dinner, just the two of you?  My husband and I, for example, typically set a $25 gift limit and then treat ourselves to a nice evening out. Getting all dolled-up to enjoy a romantic evening with my hubby is better than any material gift I can think of.

But, if you still really want to give a big-ticket item discuss alternative options with your sweetie (maybe a 32” versus 40” TV) or devise a plan to save in other areas (not going out to dinner or buying a new outfit for a holiday party) if you really want to make that big purchase.

Holiday gift-giving can be stressful, but it doesn’t have to be. By following these simple steps you and your sweetie pie can spend less time fretting about finances and more time hanging out under the mistletoe!

Until next time,

Sylvia

 

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