Do you know what’s hard about marriage? Money. Specifically, talking about money.
Where I’m from, you don’t talk about money. It’s not polite. It’s no one else’s business. If you don’t have enough money, you’re embarrassed and if you have too much money, you’re embarrassed. And you’re simply not supposed to be honest about it. Even among (and maybe especially among) your family members. You would never dare ask your parents how they’re doing financially in their retirement. They would never imagine asking you if you felt comfortable fiscally. No one sees behind the curtain.
So then you meet someone that you want to spend your life with and you have NO IDEA how to talk about money to the person you now share money with.
In 11 questions to ask before you get into a financial relationship, I talked about questions to ask before you combine finances. But what do you do when you’ve already combined finances and the finances are not pretty?
Here’s what I’ve learned after seven years of marriage. There is NEVER a good time to talk about money, especially when your finances are not where you want them to be. It is easier to ignore the mounting debt or the looming bills due and just keep putting off a depressing conversation or an argument with your partner.
So here’s my proposal. Make a game of it.
Here are five common financial problems between couples and five games to play to start solving them.
Problem 1: You’ve been saying for six months that you need to sit down together and do a budget but it’s still not done.
Game Solution: Freeze Tag
Your family is on a spending freeze until you sit down to do a budget. No one can buy anything that’s not a total necessity. No lunches out. No Starbucks. No hair cuts. No movies. No wine. No $1 candy bar from the vending machine. Determine chore fines ahead of time. If you cheat, you do the dishes for a week. If your partner cheats he washes all the sheets and towels, etc. If you have kids, include them. You’ll be less likely to cheat if your child is looking to you as an example (hopefully).
When my husband and I did a spending freeze, we realized just how much of a spending habit we were in. We rarely spend a lot of money at once, but we spend a little money almost every time we leave the house. And if your spending is frozen, you’ll both be a little quicker to find time to create that budget.
Problem 2: You or your partner or both of you don’t really know the specifics of your joint finances and you’re avoiding the truth.
Game Solution: Trivia
Create a ten question quiz about your team finances - each partner gets to contribute five questions. You can use the questions below or create your own. Without doing any research (or cheating) each partner answers the questions individually to the best of his/her ability.
How much was our last water bill?
What do we spend on gasoline each month?
What is the APR on each of our credit cards?
Exactly how much credit card debt do we currently have?
How much money is in our savings account?
Do I know the user name and password to each of our financial accounts?
What day of the month is our phone bill due?
How much money did we spend on food last month?
What is the yearly deductible on our medical insurance?
How much do we pay for car insurance each month?
When are our medical insurance premiums due?
- How much did we spend on entertainment last month (movies, cable/satellite, sports tickets, etc.)?
How much did we spend on drinks (Starbucks, Jamba Juice, 7-Eleven slurpees, diet Cokes at McDonalds, bar tabs) last month?
How much did we put on credit cards in the last three months?
Now find the correct answers to your ten questions together. Look up your bank statements together. Research your bills together. Track down your credit card statements together.
Each answer is worth ten minutes. A correct answer buys you ten minutes to not think about finances. A wrong answer buys you ten minutes of organizing/educating yourself on your finances.
So if you got three questions wrong, you devote thirty minutes to your finances this week. If your partner got six questions wrong, he should devote an hour to your finances. Maybe you take thirty minutes to put all due dates for bills on the calendar. Maybe he takes an hour to create a username and password spreadsheet for all of your accounts and he lists all of your debt and APRs on another page for easy reference.
For every question you get right, you get ten minutes to do anything other than think about finances. Go streak through the neighborhood for twenty minutes and then take a fifty-minute bath. Bonus points if you include your partner. You’ve earned it.
Problem 3: We have very different views on money.
Game Solution: Role Play
Agree for one month to treat finances the way your partner does. He thinks you spend too much. You think he’s cheap. So (within reason) for the next month he is going to spend more money on what he wants to spend money on and you are going to be cheap. When he orders a crock-pot off of QVC, you are going to roll your eyes and ask him why the hell he needs another crock-pot. When you tell him he can’t order the steak at dinner because it’s too expensive, he gets to be grumpy and embarrassed.
If your partner usually handles all the bills, it’s your turn this month. If you usually deal with the credit card company, it’s his turn this month.
What if your partner’s behavior is a reaction to yours? Maybe she doesn’t pay any of the bills because you do it. Maybe he would be a little less cheap if you were a little more cheap. You have to at least attempt to see the other side. It’s not fair to shut down when your partner has a differing opinion on your finances. There has to be a compromise now or a whole, whole lot of resentment later.
Problem 4: One of us is good with money and the other isn’t.
Game Solution: Follow the Leader
Let the person in your partnership who has a better grasp on finances, control your finances for one month. Just try it for one month and see how that feels and what it does to/for your relationship.
Problem 5: We don’t know where to begin
Game Solution: Truth and Dare
Well, you have to start by knowing the truth of your finances. Then dare each other to step up to the plate. Each month for a year, pick a challenge and hold each other to it.
For example, my husband and I discovered that we spent thousands of dollars in a three month span on food. That’s a truth. So we dared each other to see if we could stick to a $100 a week food budget for a month.
Maybe you spent $75 last month on drinks. So you challenge each other to not spend any money on drinks this month. Or your savings needs a boost, so dare each other to come up with an extra $100 a piece this month.
Or see who can negotiate the lowest APR on your credit cards or find a way to lower your monthly bills by $20. Or, my personal favorite, is a cheap date challenge. Which partner can take the other on the best free date this month?
Challenge each other. Accept the challenge. That’s what a good partnership does. Don’t let your finances bring your relationship down. Let your relationship bring your finances up. Let your money be a positive reflection of how you work together. You’re better together. So get started.
Photo credit: jeff_golden