Hopefully the positive side of the recession will be that couples learn to talk about money. iStock_000005627040XSmallThis year alone, I had three wives taken completely by surprise when a sheriff foreclosure sign was put on their front door. Over the years I’ve had several couples who found out after their marriage the extent of their partner’s debt. Honesty about money is sorely lacking in our culture.

Urging couples and individuals to sit down with their bills, discover the interest rates on their credit card debt and consider a budget is just as difficult as asking them to talk about sex. It’s like eating in secret with the slow climb towards obesity. Unspoken problems with money will kill off a marriage. Asking anyone to keep track of their spending, without it becoming a control issue, can be a tricky balance. Spending creates debt. Disrespect about how that money is spent will shut down honest conversation. It’s also important to have both partners agree on an emergency fund to cover the refrigerator or transmission dying.

It’s my experience that saying No to using credit cards needs to be a team effort to be successful. You don’t want to wait until you’re in financial trouble to stop living a lifestyle you can’t afford. One of the reasons I like foreign films is because there is a more honest representation of poverty, working class and middle class lives. The contrast on the screen with the life that you live makes you feel very lucky and even decadent.

What makes you mentally healthy is to be choiceful. If you never say No to yourself you are not being choiceful. Set financial priorities as a couple and include what’s important to each of you as individuals. One financial priority I would highly encourage is no credit card debt. If you do have credit card debt figure out the interest rate in dollars that you are adding to the cost of every purchase. Then ask yourself is it worth it?

Teach your children to think about money and not to take it for granted. No matter how wealthy you are never give a teen a credit card to use without a clear limit on the amount or you are asking for trouble. If the limit is not respected there should be consequences; the bare minimum would be to decide what goes back. We asked our teens to save 1/2 of every paycheck which would be their fun money for college. My son left with $7,000. Thinking about money and what’s important are good things to learn. If one of my kids wanted something I would often offer to pay 50% to make them think about how important was it really?

Thinking and talking about money are crucial to relationship survival. If you both decieve yourselves you’ll end up with maximum stress and panic attacks. Money problems extract harsh penance that few can afford to pay. You can’t spend more than you earn even when surrounded by neighbors, films and friends all of whom appear to have more. Reality Matters. I have a lot of young people in their 30’s who regret going to a private college for their B.A’s because their student loans haunt them. Graduate degrees may be worth it but you must think long term.

If two people are aligned about financial priorities, then talk about a budget that allows some discretionary spending and agree on a plan to attack credit card debt then it can bring them closer together. Even if one person does the actual bill paying it’s important that both people know what’s going on. Information is power and clarity about what there is and what there isn’t is crucial for couples to survive. Talking to each other can sort out the truth; do you need it and can afford it or do you just want to indulge yourself one more time and keep the lies going?

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About the Rhoda Mills Sommer

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