Tired of the same-old, same-old money arguments with your spouse? While it's true that there are no guaranteed quick fixes for the world's oldest argument (other than, perhaps, a quickie Vegas divorce), there are some relatively easy ways to make some progress toward greater financial and relationship harmony.
Before you roll your eyes and say, despairingly, "Nothing will help!" give our tips a try. You might find that changing the terms of your money arguments (the setting, the agenda, and, yes, perhaps even your own outlook) is a lot more helpful and progressive than waiting around for your spouse to change.
1. Change the pattern of the conversation
Don't replay old discussions. If your debate tactics were going to work, they would have already convinced your partner, right? If you are always the one starting the discussions, ask your partner to initiate a conversation about the way he/she would like it to start. Instead of nagging, accusatory statements ("We'll never be able to send the kids to college if you keep using the credit card!"), focus on the important outcome ("Let's find a way to give the kids an education.").
Remember, money is just pieces of paper, plastic, and black-and-white numbers on account statements. You can choose to see it as a wedge in your relationship, or an opportunity to enhance your lives. By focusing your conversations on the positive things that money -- and its proper management -- can provide, you emphasize what you can have, not what you have to give up.
2. Link achieving goals with rewards
Some money moves lack "sizzle," regardless of how smart they may be. Who enjoys buying insurance? Who likes budgets? Who gets a thrill out of contributing to an IRA? For some things, a little extra incentive might be what your spouse needs.
So instead of just saying, "We need to save for our retirement in 25 years," link it to shorter-term perks as well as long-term savings. Choose something that is motivating yet not financially debilitating. Perhaps even link the reward allowed to the goal achieved, e.g., "For every $100 we save for retirement, we can spend $10 on ______." Whatever you decide, make sure you each have some mad money. Goals that require complete self-denial are bound to fail.
3. Make a money date
Money conversations often flare up at the most spontaneous and inopportune times. ("Pardon me, Mr. Car Salesman, but I must have it out with my wife.") Use every ounce of self-control you can muster and make a money date to talk about it -- in the near future (within a week). Choose a great setting and come with an agenda of action-oriented tasks. If you know a confrontation-provoking event is coming up, do some preemptive problem-solving.
Consider having a regular "state of the union" discussion, perhaps every first Thursday evening of the month. You can go over money matters such as account balances and the upcoming vacation, as well as non-financial items, such as the calendar and upcoming events.
At the very least, schedule a 90-minute financial summit with your co-CEO (of the household) every quarter. It doesn't have to be a formal meeting with PowerPoint presentations and group-bonding activities (unless you're into that kind of thing). Instead, come prepared to answer three important questions every three months:
If you're the one responsible for tracking these items, have your bedfellow come prepared with some money-saving or debt-busting ideas. At the very least, this will put your family on the same page regarding your financial reality. Plus, it'll work as a motivating factor when you both watch those savings numbers add up each quarter. (For a complete discussion on conducting a financial checkup, including a slew of handy worksheets, check out The Motley Fool Personal Finance Workbook.)
4. Live with the ghosts
Recognize that many of the most volatile, unreasonable, volcanic conversations about money have their roots in our murkier, deeper, more ghoulish past. While you may not be able to get rid of the skeletons in the closet, you may be able to avoid bumping into them so often.
Since no one gets taught how to manage money in school, we all learned from our parents. And what we do is often a repetition of, or a reaction to, what they did. This is not always good. It's important to keep in mind that, for example, the profligate lifestyle of your spouse's father has something to do with why your partner holds on to the checkbook with both hands.
That said, the money sins of our parents are not a good excuse for you -- as adults -- to get away with bad habits. But knowing why you and your consort make less-than-ideal use of your capital is a step toward creating better habits.
5. Have a money ménage à trois
If all else fails, invite a third party by seeking professional help -- though not necessarily a shrink. Get a financial advisor to bring some objectivity to your financial analysis, especially if big-money issues such as retirement, inheritances, or home purchases are at stake. An independent opinion -- someone who can discuss the issue in terms of numbers and not neuroses -- might be what settles the matter and turns the pain into a plan. (If you think professional advice is in your future, visit our Advisor Center for guidance.)
For more on handling money with your honey, check out The Motley Fool's Guide to Couples and Cash.