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Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Marriage and Finance

I have been bothered recently by the number of divorces amongst my friends and acquaintances. What's really interesting is when you hear about many of them, you hear that financial issues are the top reason for discord.

I will admit that this was a problem for my husband and I until about two years ago. I thought our relationship would not stand the test until we sat down and talked about our finances. We were not on the same page for many years. I want to be financially secure and have money for retirement. He was not nearly as concerned about having a back up plan. This was cause for argument on numerous occassions. I know we were no different than many other couples.

It's interesting that this is a major cause of problems in a marriage, yet many couples starting out do not talk about how they will handle their money. Young couples probably assume (like I did) that as a couple you will be on the same page about money. I also think they probably watch too much television/film and have a picture of marriage and money that is not at all accurate. TV and film make falling in love seem so easy to maintain. There is no work involved when it only lasts 30 minutes to 2 hours! The media portrays couples as living in lovely homes, driving nice cars, being able to afford private schools, designer clothes, expensive hair and fancy dinners. Pardon me, but this is a load of crap.

In reality, many couples are overwhelmed right now by mortgages they cannot afford. If they are paying for designer clothes, they are probably putting it on a maxed out credit card that is sending them towards financial ruin. If they are driving an expensive car, it is probably leased. What a waste of money. They may look good, but on the inside there is a storm brewing.

Due to our tough economic times, we are now hearing about the couples that had been living this way. This economy is teaching us to finally come clean about our monehy. I hope this teaches everyone to look at their spending habits and convinces them not to fall into an old habit of spending willy-nilly. I am still working on this myself every day. Our big expenditure seems to be food - eating out and random grocery store trips. I found that we were spending over a thousand dollars on food in a month! That's insane. We want instant gratification. We don't want to wait to enjoy ourselves. Can you imagine how much we could have saved over the years if we had not spent money on eating out? It makes me sick, but we are turning this around. We are a work in progress and that is how we have to look at marriage.

Lay-offs are putting more financial strain on many (and I mean MANY) of my friends and family members. Luckily, my husband and I had started to come together financially before he lost his job last year. We also did not freak out when he did lose his job. We made accomodations and we are still here to talk about it a year later and we are much better off than we were a year ago - financially and emotionally.

I am no financial expert and I am certainly not an expert on marriage. My husband and I have had many struggles throughout our 10 years. We are just now getting the hang of this. It takes time, practice, humor and forgiveness to make a marriage work. More than anything else, it takes a lot of communication.

My advice would be to sit down with your spouse. Discuss your income and outflow in a very calm manner. I know many people become defensive right away when discussing how they handle money. Do not accuse. Do not say things like, "YOU spend too much money or YOU aren't saving, etc". Start your sentences with, "I feel that we are not saving enough money or I feel that we are spending too much". Take responsibility for your own actions as well. You may not agree on how to do this at first. Make compromises to start. My husband and I were not completely ready to make some of the changes that we have since made. It takes time. Now, we find discussing our goals as a source of enjoyment. We have fun talking about ways to save money or to cut expenses. We are becoming closer. We are becoming a team. I just can't believe it took us this long!

Give it time. You may be ready to talk about it, but your spouse might not. Don't nag them about it. Gently persuade over time. Find ways to make it their idea if you must, but don't give up too soon. I hear couples splitting because they can't agree and they haven't really tried. Don't be a statistic! Don't be ashamed to ask for help. Even strong relationships need help from a mediator or counselor from time to time. Just keep at it and good luck.

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