“Hey Sweetie, can we make a budget?”
That question used to send shivers up my spine. When I heard it, I would ask myself: why do we need a budget? Does she not trust me and our spending? Why does she want to be so restrictive?
Unfortunately, every time my wife mentioned budgeting or finances, I would get defensive or avoid the topic altogether. Which caused us to have the same discussion for years with no resolution. No budget was ever set.
Maybe some of you can relate.
I’m happy to report that we now follow a budget and have also started teaching our kids how to live with one. So how did we get from there to here? The precipitating change wasn’t having had the “budget talk,” finally learning how to set a budget or understanding why we needed one — though these are all important discussions.
We already knew who the spender was (me) and who the saver was (my wife Valerie). That was easy! Though this dynamic was part of the problem, it wasn’t the root of our financial conflict. Instead, it was this: for each of us, money meant something completely different.
The more we talk with other couples about finances, the more we realize we aren’t alone.
For me, money used to mean status. And the only way to show that I had money was to own really nice things. So when I purchased items, I wanted them to be brand name, top of the line and reliable. For example, when we were shopping for a new TV, I wanted the biggest, best, newest set on the market because having the best meant I was important and successful. So when Valerie would try to reason with me, I would be crushed. I thought she was being cheap and didn’t want to have fun. Which isn’t true. She just placed a different value on money.
For Valerie, money meant security. She had a heavy sense of responsibility to use it wisely. She wanted to know where our money was going and that there was enough in the bank so we wouldn’t have to live paycheque to paycheque. She didn’t want to be wasteful or have debt. But at times, she would be afraid to spend any money at all, which was not healthy either.
In my view, a budget was restrictive, whereas Valerie looked at it as providing the appropriate freedom in spending and saving wisely. To me, it was a fun killer, but Valerie saw it as a way to have fun within our means. I saw a budget as a money tracker, but Valerie thought of it as a way to spend freely, within the agreed upon restraints.
We had some differences, to say the least! Understanding the significance that money held for each of us — and how our differing values created tension in our marriage — helped us to begin to have healthy financial discussions. Getting to the root of our conflict led us to be able to create a budget and stick with it.
And guess what? We are financially healthier, we are financially smarter, and our relationship is better for it. WHO KNEW!?!
I am still more of the spender and Valerie is still more of the saver in our relationship. That difference hasn’t changed, but our understanding of how we approach our finances has — and we now better appreciate our differences.
How about you and your relationship? What does money represent to you? Does the way in which each of you value money create tension? Or do you appreciate the difference?
Do you and your spouse have challenges communicating about money? The following session from the Great Marriages Don’t Just Happen series is an excellent resource to help you begin to have healthy financial discussions and to better understand the values you each place on money.
Here is a printable handout to guide your conversation as you participate in this session.