Sylvia Says: Relationship Q & A

Relationship Q & A

Dear Sylvia: My fiancée and I have been together for two years and are getting married in June. Although we agree on most things, there’s one source conflict that has been constant throughout our relationship—her parent’s financial dependence on her. My future in-laws do not work, my father-in-law can’t because of a disability, but my mother-in-law just elects not to. My wife gives them almost half of her take home pay every month.

I’ve told her that when we get married this has to stop. I want to build a life for ourselves and our future family and we can’t do that when she’s supporting her parents. She refuses to stop giving them money and says she can’t just “cut them off.” I’m afraid this issue will eventually ruin our relationship. How do I help her cut the financial cord?

Financially Frustrated Fiancé

Dear Financially: People often say you don’t just marry the woman (or man) you marry the family. You’re learning first-hand the truth of this adage. You mention that this has been a constant source of conflict between you two, so you can’t realistically think things will change the moment you say “I do.”

As your fiancée has noted, she isn’t going to cut her parents off completely. However, since she is electing to start a new life and family with you, she needs to make you, not her parents her number one priority. As a result, she needs to compromise and make changes and you need to back down from your rigid demand.

Try to reach a compromise that allows her to help her parents to a degree and simultaneously allows you two to build a strong financial foundation—together.  Maybe she can setup a separate bank account that she uses to help support her parents. This way, you won’t feel like your money is going to support them, which can lead to resentment. Then instead of funneling 50% of her take home pay into that account, she cuts down to 25% or less. The rest of her money then goes toward building your life together.

Additionally (and this may be the hardest part), she is going to need to set new boundaries with her parents. Perhaps she can help her mom get a part-time job and look into ways her Dad can bring home additional cash (If she has siblings they need to be chipping in too, this burden can’t rest entirely on her shoulders). She is going to have to be firm and let her parents know that you are her top priority. If she can’t (or refuses to) do that then you may want to think twice before walking down the aisle.

Dear Sylvia: My close friend of 15-years and I have recently drifted apart since we are at different stages in our lives. After not seeing each other for several months, we finally planned a lunch date. When I was on my way to meet her, she texted me and told me that one of her friends, who I had never met and that she sees daily, would be joining us.

Lunch was fine and we had a good time, but I was hurt that she made plans for her friend to join without asking me.  Plus, her presence made it so my friend and I couldn’t connect the way we would have had it just been the two of us. The debacle has made me not want to make any future plans with her.  Did she feel like she had to bring a buffer because she feels distance between us too?  Should I say something to her or just let it go?  Should I not be bothered by this?

Ruined Reunion

Dear Reunion: Although people often say “the more the merrier,” in this case that couldn’t be farther from the truth. You were looking forward to a reunion with your friend and she ruined it by bringing a third wheel. I can understand your hurt, but it’s possible there was no ill-will behind the extra invite. In fact, maybe she wanted her friend to meet one of her oldest and dearest pals. On the other hand, like you said, she may have felt awkward about the lunch given the distance that has grown between you.

Regardless,  a 15-year friendship is no small feat, and although her behavior makes you want to push her away, I think you owe it to yourself and your friendship to have a conversation not just about the lunch, but about your relationship. Set aside a time to talk either in person or over the phone (don’t do email!). Start by letting your friend know how much you value her and her friendship, but feel that you’ve grown apart recently. Then tell her how much you were looking forward to catching up and were hurt and disappointed when she brought her friend along. Next, let her speak. It’s important to get her perspective on the situation. She may feel the same way and be grateful for the opportunity to talk about things and reignite your friendship, or she may have no idea that she hurt you and quickly apologize. But if you don’t talk to her, you’ll never know and resentment and negativity will fester.

Friendships ebb and flow. Sometimes life circumstances bring us closer and others push us apart. One reason we may distance ourselves is because we don’t know what our role is in our friend’s new life. By talking, you can reaffirm your commitment to your friendship and renegotiate your ongoing roles in one another’s lives. Remember, sometimes the most difficult conversations to have are the most important ones.

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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

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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