One of the top causes of divorce in America is money issues. The reason is where we spend our money and how we allocate our money reveals so much about us as people. It reveals who we are, what our values are, and what we prioritize. This makes budgeting complicated.
You have to pay your bills, then decide where to allocate your disposable income. Do you budget for the weekly Target run (yes, always yes), do you budget for a bimonthly nail appointment (maybe), or do you budget for a fun night out with the girls (again, yassss)?
But, when you’re married, budgeting changes a bit. Now, the things you value, your spouse may not. He may not understand why you need to go to Target each week (ummm, what???), or he may go slack-jawed when he sees how much acrylics or dips cost per month. Suddenly, you have to start explaining your purchases and debit card activity to someone else.
And it goes the other way too. He wants to spend how much to golf with his buddies each Saturday? He wants to go in on season tickets for the team this year with a group of college friends...but wait...the tickets cost how much?
Before, you didn’t have to justify your spending to anyone other than the gal looking back at you in the mirror, but now you have to explain your spending habits to your husband, and he has to explain his spending habits to you. You have two different voices, two different sets of priorities, two different world views coming together on an Excel spreadsheet.
Budgeting with Your Spouse
For us, we had a lot of conflict and arguments when we set up our initial budget because the financial situations we grew up in were different. I grew up lower middle class. We never had to worry about putting food on the table, but we never went on vacations, ever. Our only trips were to see our grandparents, and we always went by car, and we packed lunches and snacks on the road because the gas station food was overpriced. My folks prioritized savings, no matter how little it was. They were determined to save some money every month. They drilled that into my head growing up. “Save, save, save” as much as you can, because you never know what’s around the bend.
My husband grew up differently. His parents went through a season where money was extremely tight, and they needed to rely on the generosity of the food bank and other resources to help feed them. As a result, he grew up knowing that he had to eat whatever was put in front of him, being picky simply wasn’t an option. There was a season of his life where his family couldn’t go out to eat, or pick up donuts on Saturday, or throw whatever they wanted into the grocery cart.
Not surprisingly, both of those outlooks and experiences would play a role in how we as adults wanted to spend our money.
You have two different sets of priorities and world views coming together on one Excel spreadsheet.
When we first got our financial act together and did our budget, I would often get frustrated with him for spending too much on groceries. See, as a type A, Excel-loving, following the rules gal, (and yes, I do think I am a super fun good time) spending more than we budgeted in any category would send me into freak out mode. I would check our bank account at work, and I would be so frustrated when I saw a debit card swipe at the grocery store that was not planned for. My heart would start to race, and my palms would get sweaty. (Obviously, the characters on TV I most identify with are Monica Gellar and Claire Dunphy.)
I’d whip open that spreadsheet at lightning speed, update the budget category, and gasp that we had overspent. And then, I would start to see red, and may or may not send an overly dramatic text, probably along the lines of “You went to the store and spent too much on groceries. Now we are over budget. Now we will never get to retire or go on a vacation. Thanks.”
I’ll be honest, a lot of the conflict we had early on in marriage was due to my need for control and my need to set boundaries and to never, ever, under any circumstances cross those boundaries. (I repeat, I am super cool, super fun…I think…) It was a big source of tension for us.
One day, I was talking to a friend, and she said something that resonated with me. She said, “We’re all adults doing our best to make up for the scars, scares, and experiences from our childhood.”
It was in that moment that I realized, I wasn’t taking into account his past and lived experiences. I was simply trying to enforce my will on him. And that was not fair.
Before You Budget, Vocalize Your Needs and Priorities
What we needed to do was to put down our pencils, calculators, and spreadsheets – and talk. We needed to be open, vulnerable, and honest, and share our “whys,” our motivations, our goals for our family. So, we did what we should have done first, we talked. And we listened.
We needed to be vulnerable and honest, and share our “whys,” our motivations, and our goals.
I’m a bit high-strung, a bit dramatic, a bit extreme, and deal with anxiety. It’s really easy for me to look to the future and get scared about the unknowns and the things to come. As a result, I’m a big saver. I needed to sit down with my husband and explain that I was nervous about the future, and I needed for us to make saving a priority. That was important to me.
He then looked at me and explained that he understood my needs, and he shared his. He told me what it was like as a kid to have certain foods strictly off-limits. To see other kids at school getting prepackaged snacks and cookies or candy in their lunch boxes, while he ate from the free lunch line at school. He needed the freedom to go grocery shopping, and know that he was able to choose the foods he wanted, rather than be told what he could buy or how much of it.
Finding a Compromise
Once we understood each other’s mindset, we then began to rework our budget. He suggested making our savings automatic. That way, on the 5th of each month, a transfer went from our checking account to our savings account. In that instance, he honored my need to save and made my priority his priority. He made my need his need. That gave me so much comfort, and I felt so very loved because he took on my mindset and met me where I was.
For me, I needed to give him the space to come up with more realistic numbers for our different budget categories. He needed the chance to buy things for his new family. He needed the chance to be less rigid with money at the grocery store. And so we budgeted for a mid-week grocery shop, and he was the one to do it.
We adjusted our numbers, and each decided to give up a little to honor the other’s needs.
We adjusted our numbers, and each decided to give up a little. We lowered our home décor budget, which meant I had to wait until those throw pillows, or blankets, or new dishes went on sale at Target, and he gave up his daily Starbucks habit. With those little changes, we were able to find a bit more money to save and a bit more money to put into our grocery budget. It was actually easier than I expected. In the words of Michael Scott, it was a “win-win-win” for both of us.
What it came down to was him honoring me and my needs, and me honoring him and his needs. We both needed to let go of control, seek compromise, and work together as one, rather than working as two individuals.
More often than not, we do better when we step into someone else’s shoes. We do better when we try to view the world through their lens. We want the best for our spouse, the best for ourselves, and the best for us. Because ultimately, we chose one another. We chose to build a life together, and for me to succeed, and for him to succeed, we have to succeed. I had to learn then, and continue to remind myself now, that compromise is not a dirty word. That this is not a zero-sum game. We’re in this relationship for the long haul, and to go the distance, we need to go together.
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