Money. Just the word alone is loaded for singles and couples alike — talking about money can sometimes feel even more overwhelming than talking about sex. Words such as control, shame, power, and guilt are some of the many associations couples attach to money. With that in mind, two different people coming into a relationship with two different approaches to money can quickly become a huge challenge.
So what's a couple to do? Well, a quick fix approach could be for both people to keep their money, accounts, etc. separate from each other and voila: neither person has to ever deal with the other person's issues, hang ups, neurosis, etc. about money (but if that's the case, they might even want to consider living in separate houses, as well). So it's an option, but not one that I would recommend, seeing as keeping everything separate only enables a couple to not have to look at and understand their own relationship (for better or worse) with money.
Couple Profile: Joe and Samara
Opposites attract — and money is the #1 subject of conflict for couples, so it makes sense that opposites attract regarding money styles. Savers and spenders really do attract each other. Take this couple who appeared to be splitting up because of these classic money conflicts. The wife, Samara, feels that it is important to enjoy life as they live it. She wants to go out to nice restaurants, and she wants her husband, Joe, to buy her flowers or jewelry, in order to demonstrate — not just say — that he loves her.
Joe is noticeably distraught over their breakup, but his background makes it difficult for him to spend money on what he considers to be "luxuries." Joe had it rough when he was a teenager. He left his parents, and lived on his own from the age of 15. Joe had worked hard, and had saved up $100,000, which he used as the downpayment for their home. Joe had never seen so much money in his life, and he felt that it was hard-earned and worth preserving. Joe was already planning how he would put their infant son through college.
Samara said to him, "You feel that the money is more important than I am." Joe denied this, but Samara said that this issue was causing the end of their family. She said, "It would be better for our son for us to go out to dinner sometimes and put less money in his college savings account than to not have his two parents living together."
Understanding Your "Money Type"
Now for those of you willing to take the mega money couple challenge, the first step is to understand your own "money type". Are you a spender, a sneaker (i.e. running into the house with your new pair of Prada shoes and shoving them behind the dirty laundry basket before your husband comes home from work), a sensible saver or a penny pincher.?
Once you have tagged your type and are willing to look at it honestly, use that information to understand your own relationship with money. For example, if you are in fact a "sneaker", then perhaps as a child you learned that from your own mother who would take you shopping, hide the bags in the car, and then come home to find your father waiting at the door asking how much money she spent. Hence, you learned that spending money must be a secret.
If you're a "penny pincher", you may have grown up with a parent who gambled your family's savings away, leaving you and your siblings with no funds for college. You learned to not trust there ever being any money; that it could slip through your fingers at a moment's notice.
Sensible savers tend to be careful planners. Thinking about retirement, or paying for college for a child, even if many years away, are as real, and concrete to a saver, as the need to pay for a new fall wardrobe. Savers tend to be people who can hold their budgets in their head. They are good at estimating how much money comes in every month, and how much has gone out — so if you ask, "Can we afford to go out to dinner tonight?", your typical saver will know immediately if the answer is "yes" or "no". Savers read their monthly bank, retirement and investment statements, and the numbers divulged affect their moods.
Spenders tend to be people who live in the moment. They do not see the point of scrimping, saving, and denying themselves, only to get ill or step in front of a bus, and leave their savings for their heirs to enjoy. Spenders look for excuses to "splurge" or "let themselves go" to celebrate events that are happening now — and the fact that it's Friday might be enough! Spenders have a philosophy that life is meant to be lived in the moment. They don't easily connect the moment to the credit card bill that they will get in a month. Retirement and saving for a child's college, as well as monthly statements, are all abstract, distant concepts that spenders can't quite wrap their minds around. Who knows what will be in ten ears?
After you have recognized your own habits, talk to your partner about their relationship with money. How was money dealt with (or not) within their family of origin? What are the fears and false beliefs about money that he or she brings into the relationship? The benefit of you having this information may allow you to have a little more compassion for whatever hangup he or she has with money, and it will help you see the full picture of the money power struggle between the two of you.
So, now that you have a better picture of how both of your past effects your differing money personalities, you need to figure out together how to work as a team despite differing feelings about money. How can you give up your own need to control, yet build a safe structure for you both? Keep reading...
More relationship coach advice from YourTango: