2-Minute Therapy is a regular series providing simple, effective advice on how to make sure your spouse thinks you’re as awesome as your kid thinks you are.
It’s easy to play the financial blame game with someone who spends $300 on a hair dying not despite but because it’s impossible to tell the hair was dyed at all. But, to misquote ineffective disciplinarians everywhere, every time you point your finger, that’s 3 overpriced rounds of golf pointing back at you. If you and your partner are arguing over frivolous spending, here’s a simple first step to take: Forget emotionally loaded words like “frivolous.”
“It’s a lot easier to approach this conversation if you can do it with numbers instead of emotions,” says Lauren Lyons Cole, a certified financial planner who’s spoken everywhere from Harvard to the Wall Street Journal about how to control your financial destiny. Cole believes there’s also no such thing as “frivolous” if it’s within the budget. Figuring out that budget together is the hard part, and stopping each other from spending outside of it — well, that’s the harder part.Set Exciting Goals First
Inject what could be a frustrating conversation about finances with positive motivation by discussing what’s in your ideal future together — fully funded college accounts? A 4-bedroom home? One of those water jetpacks? “That’s a more effective way to talk about this than just ‘cutting back,’ which is just kind of sad and hard,” Cole says. Once you both have eyes on the same prizes, the steps to getting there are usually these:
- Save 15 percent for retirement annually
- Save an additional 10 percent annually for a rainy day savings account
- Get housing costs to under 25 percent of your take-home (after taxes) income
Those aren’t exactly light lifts for most families. The housing goal may have to wait for your next promotion (or a move to Kansas), but Cole advises you reach the first two goals by aiming to double what you save every year until you get there.
“It’s a lot easier to approach this conversation if you can do it with numbers instead of emotions.”
Discuss Your Financial Pasts
If your baby is frequently better dressed than you are, it could be because your partner never had nice things growing up and doesn’t want the kid to have that same feeling, which isn’t a crime. While you’re at it, you might want to acknowledge that you’re the only one who thinks the kid looks cute kitted out head to toe in your home team’s logo. “There’s no right or wrong answer,” Cole says. “It’s just a matter of understanding why the other person is doing that so you can be supportive and not combative when making financial changes.” Approach problems aggressively and you’ll inspire defensiveness; approach them empathetically to find common ground and healthy resolutions — also known as “being in a relationship.”Figure Out Where You Are
Numbers are famous for their honesty, so let them dictate the conversation about budgets. Start by subtracting fixed expenses from income: Add every monthly bill that comes with a predictable date and price, and then subtract it from the total going into your bank account every month. The answer to that equation is your flexible spending. “This number is like the splash of cold water in your face,” she says. Ready for another douse? Remember that flex spending not only includes the fun stuff (Netflix, date night, that $14 6-pack of craft beer in the poison bottles, etc.) but also essentials (groceries, gas, etc.) that vary month to month.
Review Solutions Together
Sites like Mint.com (and sites that some pros think are better than Mint.com) will categorize your every missing dollar in handy pie charts, so you can find the leak in the family ship without slaving over details. These services can help you get a handle on weekly expenses, which is the timeline on which flex spending tends to happen. Review that while considering these options to retain more dough:
- Grand Changes: Long-term solutions that raise your income and/or reduce fixed expenses — find a new job, downsize houses, sell the car … right, on to option 2.
- Flex Spending Cutbacks: Daily changes that fatten wallets immediately — drink PBR, switch to one-ply, wait for the movie to come to On Demand.
“If the couple can afford it, both people should get a certain amount of hands-off, no-questions-asked money.”
Start An Allowance (And Maybe Don’t Call It That)
Talking about an allowance can have the same effect as buying your wife a treadmill for her birthday if you play your cards wrong, so here’s how to do it: Figure out a number, based on your flexible spending as a couple, that you can reasonably allocate to yourself next month, and talk about your allowance for the month. Let your partner follow your lead.
“If the couple can afford it, both people should get a certain amount of hands-off, no-questions-asked money,” she says. Allowances let each partner feel as if the other isn’t looking over their shoulder with a spreadsheet. Play your cards right, and this will end with you sleeping in the bed, and a monthly conversation that ensures you’re working together toward financial stability.
And, if that’s not motivating enough for you, put that monthly allowance straight into a savings account earmarked: “water jetpack.”