Stronger Marriage

Making Cents: Money Matters can be a Major Source of Conflict

By Carma Wadley
Deseret News senior writer

If you received a gift of $500 what would you do with it? Pay off bills? Buy clothes? Buy a DVD? Put it in your savings account?

Is that your final answer? And does everyone in the family agree?

Few things cause as much friction in marriage and family relations as finances, notes Lorilee Allred, housing and financial specialist with the Salt Lake County USU Extension Service.

She cites a survey conducted by Yankelovich, Skelley and White in which 54 percent of American families said they argue about money "a lot."

Husbands and wives might quibble over spending habits; parents might disagree with how teenagers want to shop; middle-age men and women may still be getting criticism from their parents. And in today's culture there are many temptations it's easy to want everything. After all, a lot of companies are spending big bucks to convince you that you can't live without their products.

So, when resources are limited as they are for most of us contentions can arise.

Part of the problem, says Allred, is that there are no hard and fast rules. Money management works differently for every family; different personalities and attitudes impact how money is spent.

But one of the things that can make the biggest difference, she says, is communication. "Good communication is one of the most important things you can do to minimize the friction. If you talk about what is important, if you understand the differences, you can work out compromises."

And, she says, be sure everyone is included. "The more involvement from the family, the easier it becomes."

Families need to talk about their values. They need to discuss and set financial goals both long term and short term. "If all the family members agree, they will be more willing to work together to meet those goals."

And, she advises, this is something you should do each year. "We mature. We change our minds. We value different things at different times. Our focus changes." By talking about these things ahead of time, you may avoid arguments that might arise.

Families should also set monthly budget categories and make sure everyone knows how much there is to spend on food or clothing, how much it will cost to fix a car. You need to lay the ground rules maybe things like whoever drives the car has to help pay for gas, or family members who want special treats from the grocery store or certain brands of clothes can save up to pay for those extras.

Before coming to work at the Extension Service, Allred was a financial counselor at a place that also offered marriage and family counseling. It was interesting, she says, to see how many of the clients were referred back and forth: those with marriage problems that stemmed from finances and those with financial problems that needed help with their marriage. In both cases, better communication was a key.

And, she says, in cases where just one family member came for counseling, it was not nearly as successful as when all the family was involved.

Talking about finances is important, she says, but sometimes it helps to write things down. "When you see things written, they seem more real." So, one way to get your family talking is to have them fill out a questionnaire such as the one printed here. Then compare and talk about answers. See where you agree and disagree. Be sure you are really listening to each other. Tell each other how you feel. Make sure everyone has a chance to talk. Try to be flexible, to see how individual wants fit into those of the family as a whole.

Look at how your spending personalities vary. "My husband is a Type 2, and I'm more of a cross between Type 1 and 4," says Allred. "So sometimes we have a hard time understanding each other's wants. But the more you understand about those views, the easier it is to discuss it."

If financial problems are severe, you may need to seek professional counseling and advice. But communication can do a lot to head off small problems before they get big, she says. So, make "let's talk about it" your final answer.

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