The Bottom Line
If you read last month's column, you've been busy balancing the workload in your home. Maybe you've juggled a few jobs around so that everyone is feeling less put upon and more loved. (If you missed it, visit www.itsallpink.com.) This month, let's explore another important balancing act-one of those top five issues that spell trouble in a marriage: M.O.N.E.Y.
Money is real, but it's also a metaphor. While arguments over the Visa bill appear to be about cash flow, I believe the real conflict is about something bigger than the balance due. You see, money can symbolize much more than the things it can buy. For some, it represents prestige and power. Many men flex the money muscle to massage their egos. Mega mansions, hot cars and theatre-size flat screens are often symbolic of a need to demonstrate superiority on some level. Women do it, too, in the form of designer shoes and handbags, flashy jewelry and even cosmetic enhancements.
While money can't buy love, for some, it holds the power to make us feel loved. A good example is an engagement ring. What does it mean to have a big diamond, small diamond, no diamond or one purchased at the pawn shop? It means different things to different people. When my husband and I discussed marriage, the ring was important to me, not as a fashion statement, but as a symbol of personal value. Call me a material girl, but an honest one. I promised never to ask for another piece of jewelry-an easy promise to keep. You see, no other piece of jewelry matters. Every time I look at that sparkling diamond, I feel loved.
What we choose to spend our money on sends a clear message about our values and beliefs and often reflects our backgrounds. I love expensive shoes, probably because growing up I never had more than two pair of shoes in a given year, and they came from Pic 'n Pay. I could now give Imelda Marcos a run for her money. Perhaps it's a symbol of rising above my roots. Or maybe it's just because I can. It's really not about the money or the shoes, is it? And this is what couples need to understand about one another. Once you know what your mate values and why, money issues can be discussed on a deeper, more intimate level and financial decisions can reflect your personal closeness.
Yours, mine and ours
There is a tendency within marriage to equate earning capacity with control, and this is often at the root of the wallet wars. Both men and women need a certain degree of financial independence. I recommend maintaining three checking accounts: a joint account and two individual personal accounts. I also recommend separate credit cards with the express agreement that debt is not to be accumulated and that each partner is responsible for his or her own monthly payments. A joint credit card is optional, but must be used only for specific types of expenses expressly agreed upon (e.g. gas or medical expenses) and paid off each month out of the joint account.
You'll need a savings plan, as well. For many people, accumulating money is the greater goal. It represents security and/or self-control, and again, gives some insight beyond the bottom line. But since I've never heard a couple argue over who saved too much, let's get back to the spending.
No matter how much or little disposable income you have, a budget is an absolute necessity. If you are an accounting wiz and can create your own spreadsheet, have at it. I found a wonderful free budget template online that gets the job done easily. Check it out at www.free-financialadvice.net/create-budget.html and share this task with your mate.
Once you have a clear picture of your spending patterns, then you can negotiate a plan for funding your joint and personal accounts. What is left after all expenses are paid and savings goals met should be divided in an equitable manner-not necessarily dollar-for-dollar, but in a way that you each deem fair. For example, I maintain enough money in my personal account to pay for specialty clothing (those shoes!), hair appointments, spa treatments, makeup and other feminine accoutrements. I never have to feel guilty about what I spend as long as I have met my obligations to the shared account and savings. The same goes for my husband. As long as he meets his monthly financial obligations, if he wants to buy a new weed eater, a guitar, or a red BMW convertible, who am I to question how he spends his personal money?
This system can be a bit tricky if one partner is not working outside the home, in which case, it is crucial to negotiate a reasonable amount of no-questions-asked money to be deposited in the non-working spouse's personal account each month. Make sure this amount fits the budget and all necessary shared expenses are covered first so that no resentment, stress or guilt results from the arrangement.
Spend some time thinking about what you value and why. If you are engaged to be married, it's time to bring those hidden debts and shopping binges out of the closet and talk seriously about your financial future BEFORE you start fighting over the almighty dollar. If you have been under oath for a year or 50 years, it's not too late to come clean and have an open discussion about money matters. It's all based on communication and compromise. By sharing your true feelings about money and coming up with mutual goals and an agreeable economic policy, you open the door for a more intimate understanding-a valuable investment in your marriage.