One day in February, your spouse turns to you and says, “Happy Valentine’s Day, honey. I have a surprise for you. I’ve bought a 70-inch plasma TV! Isn’t that great?”
A. Throw your arms around him and squeal with delight.
B. Cautiously flip through the television manual before grudgingly giving the purchase a thumbs up. After all, the last time you bought a TV, Kim Campbell was Prime Minister.
C. Freak. Completely. There’s no way you can afford any big purchases right now!
Of course there’s no right answer. Every couple’s financial situation is different during the course of their relationship. But if you find yourself fighting with your mate over money every month or even every week, it’s time to take action as soon as possible.
“Money effects every aspect of your relationship and every decision you make together,” says Bethany Palmer, on the line with her husband Scott Palmer from their home in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Known as “The Money Couple,” they’re the authors of First Comes Love, Then Comes Money: A couple’s guide to financial communication.
Here are three actions the Palmers suggest for couples to get on the same financial page:
1. Split the duties.
One of the biggest mistakes people make is appointing one person the boss of all money tasks, from bills to budgeting. Instead, divvy-up the tasks. For instance, one person organizes the bills and fills out a cash flow worksheet, while the other person actually pays the bills and balances the checkbook. By splitting the duties, both of you know exactly where your money is going.
2. Have a money huddle.
“Some people call it a money meeting, others call it ‘the hour from hell,’” jokes Scott. But whatever you decide to call it, set aside 45 minutes to an hour every two weeks to come together as a couple and check in. You can spend the time going over your budget and paying bills. Or, say you’re saving $200 every month for the trip-of-a-lifetime to Australia—you can use this time for tracking your savings. The important thing is to set aside time to talk money when you’re calm and rational, not during the heat of an argument.
3. Start a freedom account.
You like to spend a little something on a manicure each week. He prefers to blow some money on the latest techno-gizmo. If you’re both dipping into one account to pay for your luxuries, it’s easy to feel resentful if the money ebbs away after a spouse’s purchase. Instead, both people need their own accounts, specifically for life’s little luxuries, says Bethany. In the end you have three accounts: one for you, one for him and a joint account for the money to pay the bills.
Decide how much cash goes into your freedom accounts during your money huddles. And don’t forget to be open about what you spend with the cash—unless, of course, you want to keep your hubby’s Valentine’s gift a secret until the big reveal.
Kira Vermond is a freelance writer and author of Chatelaine’s own Earn, Spend, Save: The savvy guide to a richer, smarter, debt-free life (Wiley, 2010). You can also listen to her career and money advice on CBC Radio weekday mornings across Canada.