Making Money Work in Your Relationship

"We agree on most things," Nancy said recently as she and her husband sat in my office.

"We even have the same taste in food and movies. But when it comes to money, Robert and I are on opposite sides of the universe."

Robert laughed in agreement. "Say the word 'payday' to me and I think of a night out, a trip to Mexico, new snow skis -- that kind of thing. Say the word to Nancy and she thinks mortgage and utility bills."

Nancy and Robert are not unusual. Maybe you've noticed that when you and your spouse or significant other discuss money, sparks fly or feelings smolder. Not only do many people have different (and conflicting) money styles, but money means something different to each of us.

As Many Styles as People

Maybe you spend freely and he is a penny pincher; maybe you know where every dollar goes and he's lucky if he can find a bill in his pocket. You feel comfortable with stocks; he wants Treasuries or CDs. Perhaps you make financial decisions easily, quickly and sometimes impulsively, and he has analysis paralysis and can't bring himself to make a decision until forced to do so.

When Nancy and Robert sat before me, I could see their struggles. To Nancy a paycheck symbolizes safety, comfort, and security; to Robert it was permission to venture out, to be stimulated by the new and exciting.

The Four Money Motivators

If I ask 20 people about what money means to them, I get 20 different responses: trips to Tahiti, kid's college tuition, power, sexiness, tummy tucks, freedom, security -- and yes, even happiness.

What I've found is that our money personalities or styles are shaped by early experiences and how our parents handled (or didn't handle) money. When we become adults, our individual quirks, biases and beliefs cluster into primary themes.

There are four primary money motivators that influence how we use money:

  • Enjoying freedom: "That bonus? I'm spending it on a trip I've wanted to take."
  • Building security: "I'm looking at some nice safe investments; that's my nest egg."
  • Having power: "I work hard; I deserve that new car, and I'm going to get it."
  • Enhancing relationships: "If I won the lottery? Oh, I'd buy gifts for everyone and have a big family reunion and invite people from all over."

Solutions for Couples

Here are four ideas for managing your money together more effectively:

  • Schedule a regular weekly or monthly meeting to discuss finances or update each other. Set a time limit, stay focused on the subject at hand, stay objective. When you've finished, reward yourselves with dinner out or something fun.

  • Divide financial tasks (check reconciliation, preparing for taxes, gathering information about investments, etc.) so that you are both "in the loop." If that isn't possible, then schedule regular update meetings for the one handling the task to report to the other.

  • Make decisions together; unilateral decision making is a real deal killer and makes the other person become entrenched in his or her money style.

  • Lastly, understand that you and your partner's money styles were shaped by an accumulation of experiences. Just because your partner is different from you when it comes to money doesn't mean he's wrong. The more you "blame," the more he'll have to defend his position. When he does that, you'll find your money styles polarizing and your priorities getting even further apart.

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