Money Fights Are Normal—Here’s How to Keep Them From Getting Ugly
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"When your values are clear, your financial decisions become easy."

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It’s been 17 years since David Bach, co-founder of AE Wealth Management and nine-time bestselling author, published “Smart Couples Finish Rich.” But very little has changed when it comes to money and couples, he says.

While technology has evolved to help simplify our finances—and our ideas about who should earn more have, too—we’re still reenacting many of the same money fights our parents had. And money’s still cited as the number one cause of splits.

Bach, who’s released a newly updated version of his book just in time for Valentine’s Day, explains why that is and how to keep battles over money from breaking up your relationship.

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Why do couples fight so much over money?

Because we almost always marry our financial opposite. You’re either born to save or you’re born to spend, and financial opposites attract. That can lead to enormous power struggles and trust issues and regular fights.

Are we still fighting over the same things couples did 17 years ago?

Yes. And the challenge with money is that if you’re not in the boat together, rowing in the same direction, it’s not a once-a-year fight, it’s constant. There’s an ongoing battle when the bills come in around how the money is being spent. Even if they’re little battles, or little jabs ... it comes down to a breakdown of trust.

If you have a goal to go in one direction, and your partner is doing something that takes you away from that, that’s financial infidelity. If money is pulling you apart and you don’t fix what you’re fighting about, everything else in your relationship will erode.

How do you fix it?

First, look at your values. Determine the true purpose of money in your life...When your values are clear, your financial decisions become easy. What holds people back from making the right decisions is that they are just not clear.  A lot of people don’t realize that they are spending money in conflict with their values. When you align the way you spend and save with your values, you’ll have a purposeful life.

What’s the biggest mistake you see couples make when it comes to managing their money?

The first mistake is that when many couples decide to work on their finances together, they attempt to do a budget first. That is a guaranteed recipe for fighting. What I recommend instead...is to automate your financial life. Agree on how much to save automatically as a couple, how much to put into your 401(k) and other saving and investment accounts. Then automatically put it there.

How much do you think couples should save and invest?

I say at least 10 percent of gross income should go automatically into a retirement account. Then 5 percent into a security account [a savings account for emergencies or unexpected expenses] and 5 percent into a "dream" account [like an investment account, for mid-term goals].

Do that and you’ll have the money to do what you want in your life. If you can’t start there, start with a smaller percent and just keep increasing it.

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