When you vowed to take your spouse for richer or poorer, did you ever consider that your partner’s actions might one day make you poorer? Most everyone has some level of financial baggage and, without a solid plan for combining your personal finances, a couple can easily fall into poor spending patterns. In turn, this can cause the relationship to become unhealthy and the couple to completely fall off their expected financial track.
Could your relationship be hurting your spending? Every couple is different, but here are seven behaviors that can hurt your relationship’s finances.
1. Your Lack of Communication
Many couples — particularly those in unhealthy relationships — are afraid to talk about their personal finances. Why? Many hold a deep-rooted fear that a candid money talk will make one or both partners feel bad. But nothing could be further from the truth. Robyn Crane, money expert and international bestselling author of “Mind Over Money Management,” suggests that good communication is the foundation of a strong relationship.
It’s common for couples to divide household responsibilities: For example: He makes the decisions about spending and bills, while she’s the primary breadwinner. “It’s okay to have different roles but there has to be transparency about what’s going on financially,” said Crane. “You have to be open, honest and genuine with each other, and talk about what’s going on with your money.”
2. You Don’t Know Each Other’s Financial Fears
“Finances are the only thing more scandalous to talk about in public than sex. And when the money is low, our natural primal response is fear and anxiety,” said personal performance coach Devon White. “These feelings keep people from making good decisions.”
Crane agrees. Often people feel unworthy, inadequate or even judged by their partner, and those emotions keep them from coming clean about what’s really going on with their personal finances. “Many are also afraid,” she said, “They haven’t looked at the money situation because it’s scary to them.”
Spending patterns often have some sort of emotional trigger: A wife may feel insignificant, or a husband may feel his life is out of control. “Spending habits have to do with meeting a need,” said Crane. “To be successful, initiate the conversation from a place of acceptance and non-judgement.” Take responsibility for your own role in the situation — did you avoid looking at the bills, for example — and admit to your own mistakes. It’s never a bad idea to say I love you in a conversation like this.”
3. You’re Wasting Money
If you don’t know what you want out of life, it’s easy to fall in to the “keeping up with the Joneses” trap. Large houses, sports cars and expensive jewelry are on the wish list for some couples, and there’s nothing wrong with that. “It all comes down to being on the same page for what you ultimately want,” said Crane. “Let’s say I want my husband to buy me expensive gifts. What else do I want? Do I want private school for my kids? Do I want a financially secure retirement?”
Sometimes you can get it all, but more often than not you find you’re spending money on things you don’t actually think are important. “You have to decide if you can prioritize your wants, or if you’d rather work an extra 10 years so you can pay for it all,” said Crane. “You have to be intentional about the choices you make.”
4. You Aren’t Sharing Responsibility
It’s tempting to point the finger at a partner, particularly for those with different financial expenditures. However, “When you decide to get married, you create a partnership,” said Crane. “You have one financial future.”
Say one person enters a marriage with $200,000 in medical or law school debt. It could be easy for her spouse to be resentful of that financial burden, particularly if he doesn’t have any student debt of his own. It can be difficult to watch all that money being spent on loans one didn’t personally incur.
Even so, Crane believes marriage is a financial alliance, and that couples should work together figure it out. Once medical school training is finished or an associate makes partner, for example, there is usually a big bump in earnings. In the end, “It will positively impact their future,” said Crane. “That’s the benefit of a combined plan and a combined future.”
5. You Haven’t Discussed Goals
Money is a tool, like a ladder. If used correctly, it can help you grasp something that was previously out of reach. If you and your partner haven’t figured out what you want, however, you could easily wake up one day and find that you’ve been climbing a ladder that’s been leaning against the wrong wall. You’ve been throwing your money at someone else’s goals.
“Choose your goal, state it simply and refer to it regularly,” said White, when referring to the best way to stay on financial track. Then, talk about it often. That way, you and your partner are on the same page about what you’re working toward, and your goal remains at the forefront of your mind.
Stating the goal is just the beginning. It takes work to figure out how to turn a heavy financial conversation into something a little easier to talk about. “My wife and I often talk in southern accents — we’re from New York,” White said when asked about how he makes financial discussions more light-hearted. The key is to keep the mood light and fun, so that setting financial goals — and sticking to them — becomes an activity you enjoy together, and look forward to.
6. You’re Not Tracking Expenses
Many couples don’t take the time to track what they’re bringing in against what they’re spending. Crane invites clients to trace monthly income, spending and savings in a side-by-side spreadsheet, so they can see progress made over time. “By tracking expenditures manually, and not using an online service like Mint.com, you start to train your brain in a way that allows you to start making conscious choices about your money,” she said.
It’s harder to justify the cumulative effect of a Netflix subscription, a weekly dinner out and the kids’ summer camp tuition when you take the time to write down every expense, every month. “If you look at each month, side by side, a couple will start to identify where they’re spending on things they don’t truly value,” said Crane. “I’m not saying you shouldn’t send your kids to camp. I’s saying you should know what’s important to you, and you should put your money there.”
That’s the kind of clarity it takes for couple can move from negative monthly cash flow to net positive. “$200 saved a month creates a totally different future for a couple who’d previously been overspending,” she said.
7. Your Partner is Financially Unfaithful
Sometimes hidden spending stems from a deeper issue like a gambling addiction, manic spending or physical infidelity. “If a partner has been lying to you and you find out they’ve been hiding debt, you have every right to walk away from the relationship,” said Crane. “You have to decide if you’re willing to forgive the person — 100 percent forgive them — or else walk away now.”
If you decide to forgive, a serious heart-to-heart is in order. “Come to the conversation from a place of acceptance and understanding, instead of from judgement and blame,” she said. “You need to ask, ‘Can you explain to me why it was so important to keep this from me?’” Then, you must decide as a team how to get your personal finances under control.
In the end, for a relationship to thrive, a couple should communicate clearly and proactively work together to understand each other’s relationship with money, and how those feelings can affect the family’s personal finances. Financial transparency is of utmost importance, suggested Crane. “The solution is to be involved. Know what’s going on,” she said. “Be aligned in your financial choices.”
This article originally appeared on GoBankingRates.
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