By Lila Quintiliani, AFC®, Military Saves Senior Program Manager
Money has sometimes been called the “last taboo.” A recent survey found 70% of Americans consider money an intimate topic, even more so than politics or religion. In another study, 57% of those surveyed said they purposely avoid talking about the subject with friends. And money is often seen as the biggest relationship challenge, as well as the main source of marital conflict. Money is simultaneously something we don’t want to openly discuss, yet it is also the root cause of many arguments and can stimulate feelings of stress, shame, and fear.
Ironically, even when we think we are not talking about money, we are subtly sending signals to our loved ones.
"Most families do not recognize this, but they are always communicating their values, beliefs, and attitudes about money – albeit indirectly,” said Dr. Michael Thomas, Accredited Financial Counselor (AFC®) and a lecturer at the University of Georgia. “Huffing and puffing whenever a bill arrives is financial communication. These actions associate bills with stress and displeasure. Avoiding conversations about money is financial communication. Avoidance demonstrates that it is not socially or culturally acceptable to discuss financial matters.”
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So how can we learn to communicate in a positive way about money that will not only keep the familial peace, but will also teach our kids good savings habits and behaviors?
Talk to Your Partner
In an ideal world, couples would have long conversations about their finances right from the beginning, when they first begin dating. They would disclose both their dreams and their debts. But if you haven’t had a serious money talk with your loved one, it’s not too late to start.
It’s important to pick the right time and place – neither of you should be tired, hungry, or distracted. The television should not be on. You should both be calm, and should try to avoid accusatory language.
It also helps if you can also understand the “why” behind your partner’s views on spending. Some people are extreme savers because they grew up with financial insecurity. Others spend lavishly because it’s their way of showing generosity.
Once you know someone’s money backstory, it may not only explain why they act the way they do, but it also may help to come up with a solution to the conflict. Perhaps there’s a certain amount in savings that will make someone feel “safe.” Or maybe a partner who likes to buy extravagant presents can cook a meal for a loved one or buy flowers at the grocery store.
Create Ground Rules
Consider setting some parameters that both you and your partner can agree on, such as a dollar limit beyond which one partner won’t spend without consulting the other first (I once knew a couple where the husband purchased a car without telling his wife).
Bill paying and other financial tasks should be clearly defined so that there’s no confusion – missed payments can lead to late fees and negative impacts to credit scores.
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If there is conflict over the little things, such as spending too much on hobbies or fancy coffee drinks, you might set up a small monthly allotment to a “discretionary fund” for each partner. This is money that each person can spend as they wish without comment by the other spouse.
Get the Family on Board
Talk about goals, both short and long term – not just as a couple, but as a family. It helps to get kids on board. You don’t want your children stressed, but it’s important for them to learn there are certain family priorities, and it may be necessary to give up spending in one area to achieve a shared goal.
Perhaps most importantly, display the savings behaviors you would like to see in your children. They watch you closely and absorb what you do and what you say, even if it might not seem like it at the time.
At the end of the day, Dr. Thomas said, “How we model our financial values, beliefs, and attitudes is just as important, if not more important, than what we say about money. It turns out the old adage is true: Actions speak louder than words."
MOAA is teaming with Military Saves, a campaign coordinated by the nonprofit Consumer Federation of America, as part of Military Saves Month. Need help getting into the savings habit? Visit MilitarySaves.org and take the Military Saves Pledge today. You’ll receive tips, resources, and motivation that will help you reach your saving goals.