Budget Fights: The Breakthrough


“I feel like this happens in every couple. One person is always the saver, and the other is always the spender,” one of the women in my small group remarked.

This came after a brief discussion about how different we each are from our spouses in how we approach money. Some of us are in the I’ll-shop-at-Aldi-and-wear-secondhand-clothes-until-you-pry-the-pennies-from-my-cold-dead-fingers boat, while others have a much easier time spending money and much harder time saving. Both bring something very necessary to the relationship, but sometimes that’s hard to see.

I bring this up because my husband and I recently had a HUGE, yet seemingly obvious breakthrough in our approach to finances. Here’s what happened:

We had money set aside to pay taxes this year. Because of all of our deductions, though, we actually ended up getting a tax refund. I wanted to put it on our debt snowball. My husband wanted to use it to pay for some tools and materials that we’ll need to buy for the yard this summer.

After 2 days of passive-aggressiveness and cold-shouldering, we realized: we are actually on the same page with our ultimate goals.

His perception of what I was thinking: “We need to spend every last dime on the debt snowball FOREVER AND EVER AND NEVER BUY ANYTHING.”

What I was thinking: “Let’s put this money towards our debt snowball and pay off a few more loans. Then, when we need some extra cash in June or July, we can just create a spot in that month’s budget.”

My perception of what he was thinking: “I want to spend this money and I want to spend it NOW.”

What he was actually thinking: “Let’s take a reasonable portion of this money and set it aside for expenses that we know will come up this summer.”

The realization that we both wanted to use the money wisely was a little sobering for us, because it uncovered a much larger communication issue. We’ve been together for a decade, and it has taken us this long to understand where the other person is coming from. When we finally talked about it, we realized that we were each holding on to harmful and untrue perceptions of the other person–he believed that I wanted to spend as little as possible just for the fun of it, and I believed that he didn’t care at all about having a healthy financial future. In reality, we discovered that we both want to 1) get rid of our debt and 2) be able to actually enjoy the money that we make.

In addition to our goals, the other important discovery was that we each absorb information differently. Because I am the saver and the one who manages our budget, it is constantly at the front of my mind. I know exactly how much we bring in each month, where it goes, and how much debt we have left. My husband, on the other hand, is a very visual person. No matter how many times I would update him on our progress verbally, it felt very stifling and vague to him. To help keep him motivated, he suggested putting a progress chart on the refrigerator that we can update each time we make a payment. DONE. We even took it a step further and hung a picture of the Golden Gate Bridge with the words “SUMMER 2017!” above the chart, to remind us of the reward we’re giving ourselves once the non-mortgage debt is gone.

If you and your spouse or significant other can’t seem to get on the same page about budgeting, here’s what I would suggest (please…save yourself a decade of communication issues):

  1. HAVE THE HARD TALKS. The hardest part is to even initiate the conversation in the first place.
  2. Do the perception vs. reality test: Ask your spouse what s/he believes you are thinking. Then explain how close to reality it is.
  3. Be honest. If you are scared about money, tell your spouse. Tell them WHY you are scared.
  4. Discuss your END GOALS. This is one place where we got tripped up for the longest time. Our intermediate goals were different, but our END GOALS were the same.
  5. Uncover how each of you best absorbs information, and what you each need to stay motivated. Do those things.

I can’t begin to tell you what a relief it is to finally be on the same page. In a short amount of time, I have seen our progress speed up, and it is so nice to finally be able to happily share that with each other.






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