Sometimes the biggest arguments occur over the smallest issues - a $4 latte or whether store coupons are worth the effort. Bickering over the details can be virtually eliminated by agreeing on some budgeting guidelines and responsibilities in advance. The challenge to establishing such a framework is that the conversation about setting the rules is likely to trigger argument about fundamental attitudes toward money. This is not all bad, however, in that the sooner underlying beliefs are revealed and discussed, the sooner real progress can be made toward understanding and acceptance.
To eliminate arguing over details:
1. Set up a monthly discretionary budget for each spouse which includes all personal expenses including individual meals and snacks, clothes, personal grooming, hobbies, and gifts. Agree that the other partner will have no cause to question purchases made with this money.
2. Choose one spouse to be responsible for each area of purchasing. For example, have one person do all the grocery shopping. Try reversing roles occasionally. Usually, it reduces friction to assign a duty to the spouse with the stronger beliefs about that area of finances. If someone is committed to coupon clipping, let them do the grocery shopping.
3. Whenever you find yourself having an argument about money, write down the specific issue, seek to understand the underlying disagreement in overall beliefs about money, and schedule a conversation to discuss that broad area. For example, if you find that you are arguing over whether to take out a home equity line of credit to remodel your kitchen, the fundamental beliefs at stake might include each spouse's attitude toward debt, beliefs about the home as an investment, levels of confidence in future income generation, degrees of risk aversion, and the fraction of available resources each spouse is willing to direct toward the home. While a discussion of whether to remodel the kitchen might become contentious and never reach resolution, each of the fundamental belief areas, taken separately, could be the subject of its own focused and less contentious conversation that is much more likely to reach mutual understanding and agreement or compromise.
To control arguing over fundamental attitudes toward money:
1. Establish a budget. For some couples, a very detailed and strict budget with many categories works best. For others, general guidelines with frequent special circumstances work better. Begin your discussion of creating a budget by agreeing on how flexible you choose for your budget to be. Then work on the categories and the monthly amounts.
2. Seek to understand your key beliefs about money, especially in those areas in which you hold differing beliefs. In such a discussion, attempt to focus on stating your own beliefs clearly and on understanding your partner's beliefs. Avoid saying anything negative about your partner's beliefs until you have written down a statement of both spouses' points of view. Then continue to refrain from being negative or argumentative.
3. Seek ways to honor your partner's beliefs without abandoning your own. If one of you believes, "If we've got the money, we should spend it," and the other cautions, "We need to put aside a large fund for a rainy day," it is going to take considerable restraint to avoid frequent conflict. In a situation such as that, your only hope for success lies in reaching a compromise at the fundamental level, and then considering each detail decision only in the light of the overall compromise agreement. For example, you believe you should save 10% of your income, your spouse believes in credit card debt, and you have reached a compromise agreement to neither save nor borrow. Now the question arises whether you can afford a vacation. To be true to your high-level compromise and to avoid argument, you must both consider the vacation question only in the context of the compromise budget, and not allow your feelings toward that budget to weigh in.
Especially if you have fundamentally differing views toward money, focus on your love for each other and on your desire to honor your partner whenever you feel your temper begin to rise. Look at the big picture, and ask whether this issue is simply a detail of a larger difference in attitude toward money, and whether that larger difference is amenable to compromise.