Married to Your Economic Opposite?

Filed under: Opinions

Early in our marriage my husband and I realized we were economic opposites. I was reared in an upper-middle class world where in the summers all parents enrolled their four-year-olds in private swimming lessons, children got braces when their adult teeth came in, and teens got a driver's license and a new car on the same day.

In the frugal world of Bill's childhood, kids got necessities and few extras. He learned to swim at the public pool, didn't see a dentist until he was twelve, and got his first used car his junior year of college. Different definitions of "For richer or poorer" kindled emotions and fueled insecurity. We saw firsthand how money has the power to destroy a relationship that is infinitely more valuable, so we did what Rob Becker urges men and women to do in the close of "Defending the Caveman": visit each other's world without judgment. Issue by issue, we loosened our death grips on our inherited definitions of what's "normal" and negotiated our way to common ground -- from "what my parents always did" to "what we do" -- and financial tenants that would define our lifestyle.

Over the years, some directions have shifted with the size and age of our family, but we all know due north. Here are some like values Bill and I discovered that became the underpinnings of our Family Fiscal Policy you can use to craft your own.

Being willing to negotiate is vital to the success of any organization, whether it's a small business, Fortune 500 company, or a family. Unwillingness to budge from your spending preferences produces resentment and often makes rational discussions impossible. Try to understand how your mate is wired and honor each other's uniqueness.

There's no yours, mine, and ours. It's all ours. You can find experts who disagree, but from the standpoint of someone happily married for more than 30 years, marriage is a total commitment of all you are and have to each other. Holding onto 'my' money sends a clear signal that you're not fully committed to the relationship and often leads to separate lives and little accountability. Separate checking accounts are okay only with an attitude of openness and answerability.

Don't fail to track cash. Estimate all the cash you'll need for the next week or two, and make one -- and only one -- trip to the ATM. Store the cash in an envelope in a secure place. Keep a pen handy to jot down how much and when you or family members take out cash so you can track spending. Or, try what one friend calls her 'envelope method.' At the first of the month, she withdraws the cash she needs to pay for household expenses (not bills) for a month. She puts budgeted amounts in labeled envelopes -- groceries, drug store items, entertainment, school supplies, clothing, baby-sitting, miscellaneous -- and keeps them in a drawer. She pays cash for everything, and when the money is gone for the month, it's gone.

Have a saving and giving plan. The best way to do this is to take out any amounts you want to save and give as soon as you're paid. This forces you to limit spending. Automatic payroll deductions are a good way to do this.

Don't overuse credit cards. That great pair of shoes on sale for 20 percent off can end up costing you 120 percent. Making only the minimum monthly payments will cost you thousands in interest fees that could otherwise be applied toward savings or a family vacation.

Don't cut out fun. When finances get really tight, it's tempting to let survival mode rob your family of the joys of life. Even if you're in the midst of a severe family bailout, eliminating fun and recreation altogether is a ticket to disaster. Scale back and determine to enjoy the best things in life. They're free you know. And for those that take money, saving sites like SmartyPig help make saving for that vacation easier.

How have you and your spouse negotiated financial peace -- or not?

Kathy Peel is the author of 20 books including, The Busy Mom's Guide to a Happy, Organized Home, winner of the 2009 Mom's Choice Award for Best Family and Parenting Resource. Download a free study guide at www.familymanager.com.

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.