Why couples may be fighting about money this lockdown

Published September 4, 2020, 12:12 PM

by Jane Kingsu-Cheng

And seven ways to avoid financial disagreements

Within a span of two weeks, news about two couples who fought over money circulated online. Vlogger China Roces who used her partner Tim Sawyer’s Facebook account to stream their ongoing argument about money issues, while comedian Gladys Guevarra went live in the same platform to explain to her followers why she cancelled all their orders, claiming that her partner Leon Sumagui ran away with a day’s cash amount worth of deliveries.

This lockdown has been testing each and everyone of us. Arguments will arise one way or another, but if money is involved, conflicts get even more complicated. And one of the biggest sources of arguments in the family, more so between couples, is money. In the early years of their marriage, parenting advocate and financial speaker Carl Dy admits that he wasn’t used to supporting a whole household. “I took for granted the benefits of living with my parents, so the extra financial responsibility was a burden. My wife Jenny and I were different when it came to handling money—I was a spender, and she was a saver,” says Carl. 

Over 17 years of marriage, they have equipped themselves on money management. Attending financial seminars and being mentored by their church leaders, they now hold parenting and financial talks as part of their advocacy. Jenny adds, “We got to know and adjust to each other’s financial DNA. We have adopted changes which allowed us to tweak our views about money and each other. We respect and understand each other more now, valuing the difference in opinion and financial habits.”

But some couples aren’t as aware about each other’s financial views. In a recent survey done online with over 40 participants, Carl and Jenny revealed that these are the major money arguments that arise among Filipino families: One spouse does not agree on how another one spends money, earning spouse not being honest with his income, extended family expenses, impulsive spending, no financial goals, bigger earning spouse not respecting the other, not having an agreed financial plan with some having no plans at all, milk tea versus alcohol spending, secret bank accounts, not being honest, and saving to invest versus saving to spend. 

From this survey, Carl and Jenny came up with six reasons why couples argue about money: lack of respect for each other’s money views, no budget and undefined short and long term family goals, lack of communications, no clear roles and boundaries, debt and past mistakes, and more expenses than income. 

So how can couples improve their financial strategies together as a team? Carl lists seven ways, in his own words.

1. Increase your income and live within your means.

The first step to creating a fool proof financial strategy is to make sure your income can cover for your monthly expense. First is to tighten your belt best you can and save on your monthly expenses. Second, make the most out of your time to earn more, find a second income or a side hustle on the weekends.

It is essential that a couple has an agreed monthly hurdle amount in mind, meaning how much is your bare minimum break even expense per month. Identify your monthly magic number.

2. Financial date night and budget meetings.

Just like how a company would have budget meetings to discuss their goals and finances, couples should also have intentional dates or meetings to plan out their financial strategy.

An annual goal setting is good to develop broad strokes while a couple can discuss short term wants and needs on a monthly or even weekly basis. Set a goal together and divide the target into monthly goals. Weekly goals make it easier to achieve daily goals.

A good way to start is to list down your month-to-month expenses to establish your monthly break even target amount vis a vis your income. If the income is not enough, discuss together how you can find ways to increase your monthly income. A simple after-office or weekend side hustle will help in increasing income. Encourage each other to make the most of your God-given talents.

3. Communication rooted in love.

The best way to prevent and resolve any issue in marriage is to have an open communication with each other and seek to understand than to argue and defend. If you make less than your spouse, be open to share how you feel and work together to assure each other. Just like a business partner, your spouse is an equal partner in your married life. Just remember to start any discussion about money in a loving manner, without accusing and shaming. Your partner is your teammate in reaching your goals and you are the same to him or her.

4. Establish clear roles.

In my family, my role is to be the family CEO (chief executive officer), while Jenny is the family COO (chief operations officer). I am the spiritual and financial head of our family. I am responsible for setting the big goals in the Dy family. My wife, in turn, is the family COO, chief operating officer, Jenny is in charge of the day-to-day operations of the household. We set a monthly budget, and the household lives within this budget. We can only buy wants if we have excess after paying for our basic needs.

Kids can also have roles in your family. Our eldest takes care of our meals, our second daughter does the daily laundry, while my third sets the table before meals. Kids who participate in household chores are more likely to succeed in school, careers, and personal relationships. They turn out to be more responsible and able to manage their feelings and experience delayed gratification. Your family is a team, and you are the coach.

5. Establishing boundaries can help with extended family concerns.

There is a saying that when you marry someone, you marry their family. The Filipino culture of having an extended family shows how we are loving and protective of our family. It is a strong support system where we see how Filipinos are naturally loving and caring. Financially stretching your budget to support an extended family can put some stress in your marriage finances, especially if your spouse and kids have desires that are not met due to the funds being stretched thin.

Setting boundaries is not easy in our culture, but this is something that can lessen arguments with your spouse. Aligned with your spouse through constant dialogue on how you want to treat extended family. If you need to extend financial assistance , both of you should agree and you should have an excess surplus from your family’s monthly break even amount. Learn how to say no to extended family requests if it’s not within the set budget.

6. Be forgiving of past mistakes.

Jesus taught us to forgive not seven times but 77 times. Forgiveness is difficult to do, especially if your spouse made a decision that caused a financial loss. Jesus challenges us to forgive our family and friends who have hurt us. We should also be forgiving to our spouse and life partner.

Treat each other as an equal partner. No one should be better than the other. You both share an equal voice in your marriage. If we made a mistake, we should own up to it and say sorry immediately to our life partner. The culture of saying sorry and forgiving each other is a strong value that can help your family reach your goals more effectively.

7. Understand that your money values are different.

Usually arguments stem because one spouse is a saver while the other is a spender. In my family, I am the spender while my wife is the saver. I appreciate the balance that my wife brings to make sure I think twice before buying something. Both of us came from a financially tight childhood but have dissimilar effects in our adult life. Be kind and compassionate to each other and use loving communication, establish a single strategy that you both agree on.

On a personal note, the couple reminds us that marriage is a union of two souls. “You are no longer two separate persons but one entity. You are teammates and partners for life. You plan together, practice together, and win and lose together, so help each other carry the burden. Treat your partner with respect no matter how much income each person brings to the household. Remember that you are equal partners.”

*Carl and Jenny share tips on how they were able to move away from a life of constant arguments, anxiety, and missed expectations to an enjoyable married life through God’s grace where they hurdle through life’s challenges together as a team. It is their advocacy to engage in speaking engagements. For inquiries, e-mail [email protected]