Money & Marriage: Troublesome Mix

Holding top spot on the chart tracking Things-That-Couples-Fight-About? Money.

No matter how much you have or don’t have, money triggers disagreement between couples. Why? Well, let’s introduce this issue by saying that everyone has their our own approach to spending, saving and investing money. And it’s rare for two people to consistently be on the same page with their money thoughts and feelings.

But here’s the thing: it’s never just about money. It’s deeper than that. It’s complicated and thorny and knotty and tricky and just plain tough.

Below the surface, sowing the seeds for argument, is the issue we all have to face one day (no, not the one where you question why and how you morphed into your parent): what does money mean to you?

  • Does money represent Safety? Power? Love? Control? Success? Freedom? Prestige? Generosity?
  • What did you learn from your parents (our typical role models for managing money), how do you emulate their saving and spending patterns, and have you questioned why you emulate them at all?
  • Do you share money decisions with your partner? If yes, do both of you have a fair and equal say regarding money decisions? If not, you absolutely have to look into this because, unless your partner sports wings (hint: heavenly angel), resentment is growing.
  • As for the person earning less money, is their self-esteem taking a hit; feeling as though they don’t measure up because they’re not contributing enough dough to the relationship? And maybe not receiving enough respect for other contributions and accomplishments?

Potentially, it’s a minefield, this whole money and relationships business! But do not fret, for all is not lost for those who read on.

Communication and Flexibility

Okay, so you love each other, maybe you’re even nuts about each other (good for you!) but when it comes to finances, there is close to zero compatibility. What do you do?

Talk to each other. Open up. Reveal your hopes and dreams and fears and debts and assets. In a relaxed, peaceful way because, hey, this is your partner and you love her/him, and there’s no place for anxiety where two healthy adults are discussing what is the best way forward for both of them.

When you’re talking, expect to compromise, to take one or two or three for the team because that’s what teammates do for each other. They understand that money management is a joint responsibility, recognize the pressure that their partner is under, empathize with the particular emotional money-related baggage carried by their partner, and help out where possible. The bonus of working together? Disagreements are kept to a minimum, and you’ll respect each other that much more.

No Two Ways About It: Budgets Are Not Sexy

Sexy, shmexy. So it’s not your idea of fun. Okay, got it. Opinion noted. Now, forget about judging the process and acknowledge that drafting a family budget is The Most Effective Way To Track Your Money.

And when you track your money, you are soooooo much more likely to reduce frivolous spending, contribute to savings, achieve your financial goals and … (drum roll please) minimize money related disagreements thereby making for a more loving and peaceful relationship and life.

I mean, if you both want to retire at, say, age 55, and move to Peru because you do not want to live another day without sipping their unbelievably delicious, delectable coffee then, budget-wise, what do you have to do to make this happen?

If you want to buy a home, top up your investment accounts, save for the kids education costs, pay off the mortgage … again, figure out what needs to be done and structure the budget to make goals a reality.

As the architect of your life, you are much more likely to build according to plan when you actually have a plan, i.e, a budget. And you review the plan once or twice each year, adjusting as necessary to account for life changes. The alternative, which rarely works out well, is something called ‘a hope and prayer’. I don’t recommend this.

For those who get a headache just thinking about the task of drafting a budget, well, technology to the rescue! There are a whole bunch of money management programs that smooth the process. For starters, take a look at Mint and Learnvest.

Whether you rely on this kind of program or not, the point is for you to do whatever you need to get that budget in place, to ensure your plans turn into reality according to your schedule.

Two Becomes One

In a healthy relationship, there is no more ‘yours’ or ‘mine’ when it comes to money matters. When you hitch your wagon to another, you sign up for the assets and the debts.

As a team, you’re building together for a common future. And if you don’t accept this line of thinking, um, well, money issues will definitely be an ongoing source of stress. Because by not accepting the team concept, you’re going at it alone and, last time I checked, marriage was exclusively a team game. The go-it-alone approach? That’s just a sign of deeper issues, starting with lack of respect and trust that will ultimately corrode your relationship.

Shhhh! It’s Secret

Referring back to the ‘Marriage Is A Team Game’ line of thinking, don’t hide money issues from your partner. Don’t keep a secret credit card or make large purchases without telling your partner. In the wider world, that kind of behavior is called deception and it’s not looked upon kindly. Because if you intentionally deceive your partner, then it’s not about money, it’s about trust, and lack of trust is not healthy for any relationship.

That said, no one cares to be micro-managed. In this regard, you may want to agree upon a dollar amount that would activate the I-should-tell-my-partner-about-this purchase-because-I-love-my-partner. For example, both of you agree to make a point of telling the other when making a purchase costing more than $100, or whatever dollar amount suits you. And this sort of behavior has the added bonus of reinforcing trust and respect, and making life peaceful and loving for the long haul.

Thrifty Couples Are Happier

It’s not about the money or being a miser. Rather, it’s about what you value. If you value relationships, friends, giving effort, and purpose, then you walk hand in hand with happiness. And if you value loading up your existence with material stuff, then the worse off you’ll be as far as happiness goes.

Of course, this notion of value I’m spouting is from a bygone era. It doesn’t have to be but that seems to be the general direction of things.

Fact is, we live in a society that elevates a corporate culture promoting product cycles lasting maybe six months, one where we consumers are encouraged to buy the latest model, the biggest home, the most luxurious car, and spare no expense because (hello banks and lending companies!) you have the option of borrowing money and going further into debt.

Stuff. It’s a powerful draw for most of us. The mere wanting of stuff is enough to turn some of us into bobbleheads; bouncing around excitedly, our mind shut off from any other thoughts, like the inevitable weight we’ll feel under the burden of credit card debt or home line of credit debt, and the gloomy pessimism we experience when our financial hole gets deeper and deeper. Most importantly, the damage that excessive consumption and resulting debt does to meaningful relationships.

The thing is, the so-called Disney created ‘American Dream’, it’s not about having everything you want. Nope. It’s about achieving self-sufficiency, knowing that you do not have to rely on someone else for your livelihood. And the more you spend, the more you consume, the less likely you will ever know this kind of freedom or happiness, the kind that thrifty couples know really well.

Manufacturing Trouble

Sure, potentially, money and relationships present a minefield of trouble. But it doesn’t have to be this way. And it won’t be this way if you’re willing to put in the effort to understand the source of your own feelings about money, and to respect, trust and engage in an ongoing, open dialogue with your partner. Do this and eventually money will lose the top spot on the Things-That-Couples-Fight-About chart.


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Enter Buddha

Love one another, but make not a bond of love.
Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.
Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup.
Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf
Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone,
Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.

 

 

Powerful Women Pay A Price

Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook Inc. (NASDAQ:FB) Chief Operating Officer, wrote a book titled, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. The crux of the book’s message is that equal treatment of genders remains a far way off. To remedy this problem, argues Sandberg, more women need to be in powerful positions.

It isn’t that all women need to be political, financial or business leaders. Rather, the message is that women, in general, would benefit from more women in leadership positions; leaders who would give voice to women’s needs and concerns thereby resulting in more equitable regard for all women.

But hey, I’m a guy. Best to get some back up here from an extraordinary woman, Christine Lagarde, Managing Director, International Monetary Fund, who said:

When it comes to thinking about women in powerful positions, we are too often blinded by the daggers of the mind, infected by the malignant mind bugs that mire us in the prejudices of the past.

We need a 21st century mentality for women’s economic participation. We need to flush away the flotsam of ingrained gender inequality.”

Courage and Smarts

Certainly, many women today have taken hold the reins and then some. A few random examples include: Ginni Rometty, IBM Chief Executive Officer (NYSE:IBM); Indra Nooyi, Pepsi Chief Executive Officer (NYSE:PEP); Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany; Janet Yellen, USA Federal Reserve Chair; Jody Wilson-Raybould, Attorney General of Canada; and Abigail Johnson, Fidelity Investments USA Chief Executive Officer.

These women are to be admired for a host of reasons, not the least of which is overcoming bias inherent in a societal system built by, and favoring, men.

As importantly, they may be looked upon as positive role models, as people contributing to refashioning a society blinking less and less when a woman rises to the top, be it in business, politics, finance, law, media, medicine or any other industry.

And owing to the courage and smarts of this sort of exceptional woman, my teenage daughter is growing up in a society where arbitrary, destructive, gender barriers continue to be pushed aside by determined, forward thinking, progressive, not-stuck-in-the-Pleistocene-era women and men. For this I am grateful. For a kinder, gentler world, we will all benefit.

Cost Of Breaking Glass Ceiling

Yet, is there a downside cost to women climbing a stairway to the corner office?

While shattering of the metaphorical glass ceiling becomes more commonplace, and some women achieve wealth and/or power during their ascent, career success may come at the expense of marriage.

According to results of a study undertaken by psychology researchers Dr. Brian Lewis (University of California in Los Angeles) and Stephanie L. Brown (University of Michigan), published in the journal Evolution and Human Behaviour, many men tolerate, accept, even embrace women participating in the economy on a more equal basis. However, when it comes to wading into the marriage market, men of all stripes show a marked preference for less accomplished women.

The theory goes like this: men’s preference for less dominant women is “rooted in the evolutionary drive to pass on genes to the next generation.”

Meaning, a long time ago, thy creature known as knuckle dragging man possessed limited resources. Not wanting to dedicate sparse means to another man’s child, he sought a submissive woman, one whose behaviour he could “exert some kind of influence” over in order to reduce the threat of paternal uncertainty. Um … to restate that in street lingo, a woman whom HE could control, who would not be seduced by some other hairy, grunting dude.

And as a result of man’s historical preference for obedient women, successive generations of males inherited genes encoding attraction to compliant women.

Evolution Interruptus

So, the more women achieve, the less desirable they become?

If the study’s findings are accurate then, not unlike fruit flies, man is biologically programmed to behave a certain way, including seeking control of his mate. If so, then vanity and insecurity may no longer be held responsible for man’s general avoidance of more accomplished women since, at least in a romantic context, evolution may have passed him by.

 

Money Rules For Women

My fifteen-year young daughter (‘SmartyPants’) is brainy, enterprising, kind and compassionate. She cares for her family, friends, thirty-seven chickens, eight goats, four cats, two dogs, and one parakeet. Elected president of the poultry chapter of her local 4-H club (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/4-H) for the past two years, SmartyPants knows her calling is to be a Veterinarian, her love for animals is so deep.

 

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Like many girls / women, SmartyPants is a Giver, a Nurturer, often putting the concerns of others ahead of her own. All of which is wonderful and amazing and beautiful and I’m super proud of her. Still, with a nod to one of the 4-H mottos, To Make The Best Better, I’m supporting her to become better in the sense of Balance.

In other words, I’m encouraging SmartyPants to take care of her self, to cherish her self, to give time to her self, as much as she does for others. And part of taking care of her self includes learning to take care of money.


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Enter Buddha

Self-care is not the same as being selfish. Rather, caring for your self is positive, constructive, makes you stronger, and gives you more energy that you may share with others. If your energy is depleted because you have given it away, what use are you to others, and to your self?


Venus Is Her Name

Okay, I’m definitely not going to wade too deep into the arena of gender differences; I’ll leave the heavy psychological lifting to the folks who think women are from Venus, men from Mars. My planetary domain, as you know by now, is money. So, I’ll stick to what I know and talk about the unique financial concerns facing women.

  1. Permission To Look Out For Your Self

In the event of an emergency, airline flight attendants give instructions to place the oxygen mask on our self before helping the child sitting next to us. Upon hearing this announcement, the frightened parent responds, ‘No! I have to take care of my child first!’

Sure, I get the selflessness that comes from love. But what happens if the parent passes out before they are able to assist the child?

I know, I’m repeating what I said to SmartyPants, about taking care of your self first, but it bears repeating. In the context of finances, if you’re faced with the dilemma of paying for your child’s non-essential items or retirement, choose retirement. Same with paying for your children’s education or saving for retirement, choose retirement if you don’t have enough money to contribute to both.

Your children can work, they may apply for scholarships or other financial aid. No such aid is available for retirees with inadequate savings. And if that doesn’t persuade you, think about this: guess who becomes financially responsible for your retirement years if you haven’t saved enough? Right, your kids.

  1. Longer Life

Women typically live longer than men. So … women need more money. The challenge is complicated by the fact that women generally earn less than men (the usual statistics show women earning about 75-80% of what men earn for doing the same or comparable work. Why? Gender bias, plain and simple – and irrational and harmful and hurtful and foolish and backward and …).

Still, take up the challenge by making saving a numero uno priority. Because your future self will thank you for wisely funding your retirement, and providing your self with financial security.

  1. Be The Change

The more money you have, the more you may give to others. Consider that at most income levels, woman championed homes (i.e., women who earn more than their husband and enjoy fairness and respect in their relationship, and women who are single, divorced and widowed) make more charitable donations than homes where men make the financial decisions. Meaning? Meaning that more women earning more money and taking responsibility for making financial decisions results in more sharing of wealth and, ideally, a more just and equitable world.

  1. Take The Reins

You love your spouse, your partner. Excellent! But this is no reason to stick your head in the sand and charge him/her with exclusive money management responsibilities.

Here’s the thing: a whole lot of women are comfortable with paying bills and making decisions about household expenditures. Good! Everyone (that includes you too, guys) should have at least basic knowledge (although more is better in this instance) of budgeting and saving.

But then along comes this, this, this … way of thinking that says, when it comes to investments, that’s a guy thing or … what do I know about investing or … I don’t have time for managing investments. Effectively (and unfortunately), this type of thinking strips women of control over their financial destiny.

This way of thinking has got to go. Take off the blinders and, if not manage your investments then, at a minimum, learn and educate your self about investing so you may know what’s going on and may take a seat at the table when it comes to planning your financial future.

Yes, yes, I know, investing can be intimidating, it can be boring, it can be this and that. Alright, now, get over it. Because the earlier you start investing, the more likely you will be walking the path to financial freedom. The earlier you adopt a laser focus on building wealth for the long run, and recognize that it is not your patriotic obligation to spend money needlessly, the more your savings will grow and the wealthier you will become.

  1. Set Goals

Let’s say you want to buy a new home but can’t afford to do so today. Okay, how long will it take you to save enough for a down payment, and what changes will you make to your saving, spending and investing to help your self reach this goal?

Goals help to motivate us. Goals help us to not buy that new pair of pants because even though you look amazing in them, you have lots of pants and really don’t need another pair. AND, it’s better that you forgo the expense and put the money towards saving for your goal. Because your goal, buying a home, is your priority.

  1. Ask And You Shall Receive

My wife and I were walking through Carmel Market, a Tel Aviv bazaar jam packed with merchants selling everything from jewelry to linens to spices, clothing, electronics, flowers, appliances, fruit … you name it, the market sells it. And there were a million different scents in the air, and so many people, and it was loud and festive and incredible fun. For the kids, I was on a mission to buy t-shirts emblazoned with the Coca Cola logo in Hebrew script. Because they asked for it and thought it looked cool. So who am I to argue about taste?

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I approach the merchant and ask the price for 3 shirts.

“100 shekels,” he says.

This works out to about $26 USD, which seemed like a decent price for three shirts. Still, this is the Middle East. They negotiate here. For everything. It’s just the way it is. And they expect you to negotiate too.

“75,” I counter (about $20 USD).

After more posturing and gamesmanship, we agree to 90 shekels. Was it worth it, to bargain for a price reduction of less than $3? Yes! Because it’s a game, and it’s a marketplace with buyers and seller, each vying for the best possible price, and why should I pay more than necessary? The merchant knows his cost, he knows his lowest price where he will still make a profit. And he knows the game better than most buyers. So it’s up to me to ask for a price lower than advertised. If I don’t ask, I won’t get.

In North America too, we are better off if we learn to negotiate, especially when we don’t like the price of what’s being offered. Of course, we don’t have bazaars, and retail stores place a bland price tag on merchandise and we robotically pay the list price. But we can negotiate matters in life; because it’s a matter of advocating for your self. And advocating for your self is akin to taking care of your self.

Want a lower price on that new car, expensive shoes, luxury handbag? Ask for it. Demand it (in a kind, respectful, BuddhaMoney sort of way).

More importantly, advocate for your self when it comes to your personal value. In this regard, employers or clients, should ALWAYS pay full price for your goods/services. If you’re an underpaid employee, if the guy working next to you, doing the same job as you, is making 10% more, then you deserve a raise. But you’re employer may not even think about giving you a raise if you don’t ask for it. I mean, if you don’t fairly value your self, is it realistic to expect others to do so?

And if your goal is a financially secure life, then you have to ask for what’s fair to you. You can’t settle for less to please other people because you’ll be harming your self. It’s about putting your self first because you matter.

  1. Vulnerability Is A Strength

There are soooo many resources available to assist with any and every aspect of money management. If you prefer to learn on your own, well, of course BuddhaMoney is here to assist! That said, do an online search for whatever it is you’re looking for and a slew of websites will pop up. For human guidance, consider consulting with an experienced and competent CPA or certified financial planner who is able to review your financial situation and provide direction. However you go about your learning process, know that educating your self is self-empowerment. Self-empowerment leads to more knowledge that leads to more effective decision-making, and greater wealth.

SmartyPants Rules

SmartyPants is an amazing girl. And I have no doubt she will grow into an amazing woman, as will so many more girls of her generation. These are girls who will continue to be true to their inner nature, to compassionately care for others, and also know when it’s important to place them self first, and be comfortable doing so.

 

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