Money is one of the main reasons couples fight. A personal finance story from Monday found that the recent troubles in the economy, stock and labour markets have led Canadians to sit down and discuss their finances more frequently, drawing some spouses closer together.
That said, there is still plenty of he-versus-she bickering going on over dollars and cents. Although budgeting, saving, spending and investing are not the sexiest topics around, experts agree that couples need to be united on the direction of their family's personal finances. Without clear communication, financial differences, misunderstandings and insecurities can tear a marriage apart.
Kelley Keehn, a financial expert based in Edmonton, spent 12 years working as a financial planner. She is the author of six books, including She Inc., The Woman's Guide to Money and The Prosperity Factor for Kids. Ms. Keehn joined us on Tuesday, June 23, at noon (ET) for a live online discussion. Your questions and her answers will appear in the space below.
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Roma Luciw, Globe Investor: Hi Kelley. Thanks for joining us today to discuss the thorny issue of love and money, specifically why it is that couples tend to argue over finances. Given that many people out there are struggling with the economic downturn, having either lost their job or seeing their investments get wiped out, it could be surprising to hear that money has actually brought some Canadian couples closer together. So I am going to start off this discussion by asking if you believe that money can actually unify a couple during a period of financial crisis?
Kelley: I do agree that couples can use this time of economic downturn and job losses to work together financially. As it's in the media daily that all of us need to be more frugal and resourceful, I think it opens up the opportunity for dialogue and breaks down (somewhat) the taboo of talking about money.
Balbinder Mahal: Hi Kelley. My wife is not working because they have shut down her company. So we now have two kids, a house and a single income, plus we are paying for school. All of this adds up to daily arguments and puts a strain on our relationship. How this can be avoided?
Kelley: I'm sorry to hear that Balbinder. During such a stressful time, there is no doubt that the arguments are daily. But you will get through this and need more than ever to agree to be a team and family unit. That way, once your team is back on it's feet, it will be much stronger and more creative for getting through the downturn.
First, is your wife looking for other work at the moment? Get her to make a list of all her skills and of things she enjoys. There might be a side businesses that she could start until she finds something suitable. You might discover that she could take an expense, such as your car, and perhaps turn it into a profit make by starting a driving service for seniors to get groceries or go to their doctors' appointments.
What your family needs right now is a budget. So here's what I'd like you to do. Have the family agree to have a money meeting and promise them that it will be fun. If you make a budget and discover you can afford to spend no more than $400 a month on food, dining and entertainment, and are actually spending $800 a month, that could drastically cut down on your daily arguments.
One idea is for you and your family to start a thirty day anti-budget hunt for the money experiment. Every day for the next month, I'd like you and your family to track absolutely every cent that you spend. At the end of the thirty days, I'd like you to examine that list carefully and look for creative ways that you slash expenses and maybe even bring in some extra money. Look for things like late fees, erroneous bank charges, lunches/bottled water out and more. Good luck with the challenge.
Michael: Every year my spouse takes a vacation with a friend or with her sister, usually flying somewhere fun. While I agree she deserves such a break and want her to be happy, our entire travel budget is only $2,000 to $3,000 a year and these jaunts tend to wipe out most of it, meaning our family vacation time amount to driving places, camping and staying with relatives. I'd like some great family vacations too, as well as a getaway for me. How can we resolve this fairly?
Kelley: Great question Michael. It does seem a little unfair that your wife is using your entire family travel budget without you. So, I would suggest having a fair conversation about this. Hopefully you can get her to see how she'd feel if you were doing the same with say your family and friends, something she might agree is not at all fair.
I'd suggest that you and your wife come up with a new vacation budget with specific terms and dollar amounts for your family trip as well as her future trips with her friends/sister. For example, you might decide that 75 per cent of your earmarked funds be used for the family trips and 25 per cent you both split for your own individual trips. If that dollar amount isn't enough for her (or you - but it doesn't sound like you're taking any solo jaunts), then suggest that she either cut some of her expenses to top that fund up or find a part-time job to bring in more income.
Anonymous #1: My wife and two adult kids are not working because of the bad economy. They are at home living the good life, going on six months now. But they feel it is okay to spend all my money and go further into debt. Although I work and pay all of the bills, it is not okay for me to spend any money on myself. What can I do?
Kelley: This is a serious issue that can't be blown off. Your family is a team and even though you are the only one with an income, you can present them with some options for cutting total household expenses or increasing income (garage sales, ebay, side business/jobs over the summer for your adult kids). In this economy, everyone has to be creative, roll up their sleeves and get frugal, particularly the unemployed.
Lastly, you should set a budget for your own spending, not request it. You are the golden goose at the moment and if your family wants you to stick around laying those eggs, it's in their best interest to support you.
Anonymous #2: My boyfriend and I recently bought a house. We are very open about our salaries and where money is going. We are sharing the costs of the house down the middle, but he makes three times the salary I do. As such, I often do not have a lot of money left over for trips and fun events, but he ends up paying for me because he wants me to enjoy myself too. I sometimes feel guilty for accepting his monetary help, as there is no way I can really pay him back. I tell him this, but he says that "his money is our money." I know that he is generous, sometimes too generous, so how do I avoid feeling guilty over this? I worry that one day it will turn into an issue. Our relationship is not transitory - we're very serious.
Kelley: Many people feel guilty about money. If your boyfriend's generosity isn't an issue to him but you keep making it an issue for yourself, it could become a problem in the future. Put yourself in his shoes and ask yourself honestly, if he lost his job tomorrow, would you be as generous? I'm guessing the from your note that you would be. And quite frankly, you don't know that he'll always earn more than you. There might in fact be a day when you need to take over. And if you were taking care of him financially, you wouldn't want him to feel guilt and pain. So, my advice is to feel good about your great mate and let go of the guilt. Share your feelings periodically with your partner if they stick around, but be choosy how often.
Sarah: Do you think it matters whether a couple has separate bank accounts, a single joint account or both? I feel reluctant to give up my own account altogether but not because I don't want us to share finances. I just feel I need some independence, no matter how happy we are together.
Kelley: Sarah, you are absolutely right to have your own account. Every relationship and dynamic is different (2nd, 3rd marriages, kids from previous relationships) so there's no magic "account" formula that works for everyone. You need to discuss and agree on what you're both willing to pay and how/if you'd like to combine which assets.
I generally recommend a joint account for household expenses, funded from a set portion of both your incomes. But I think it's absolutely essential that both spouses have their own account and furthermore, that a percentage of all household income is put into your individual accounts monthly. Even if it is a small amount, it is important that you both have funds that don't have to be justified to each other. This is where a lot of arguments start, and purchases are hidden trust issues arise.
Sonia: We don't have much money, but my husband finds it very hard to say no to his mother, a retiree who has very little by way of income. When she needs to do any big-ticket spending, he always steps up to the plate and offers to pay, even when we can hardly afford it. How can I change this?
Kelley: This is a tough one indeed. It is admirable that your husband and you are kind enough to help out his Mom, given that you're both struggling as well. If your husband did not help out he may regret it, especially since his Mom can't bring in more income.
I would suggest that you both have a conversation with his mom. If you haven't already done this, you need to let his Mom know about your own financial challenges. Second, find out what major big-ticket surprises are coming up. That way, you can do some advanced planning, as well as discuss alternatives such as government support for his Mom. If your husband wants to continue to help his Mother out, he may need to consider coming up with alternative financing, such as a second job.
Roma Luciw, Globe Investor: Thanks to Kelley for setting aside an hour today to join us and answer your questions on love and money. From the amount and tone of your questions, it appears that the tough times are indeed leading to money woes among Canadian couples. For further reading on this topic, please see our list of six ways to recession-proof your relationship.