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Dual Incomes Can Mean Dueling Partners

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Dr. Michelle Golland: Let's face it: For most families, it is a necessity for both parents to be working -- just to make ends meet! I see many couples in my practice who are struggling to cope with limited time and limited resources. For some of these couples, the biggest challenge is dealing with issues of power and influence when it comes to money.

couple holding money
In most families, money is a limited resource which requires the couple to negotiate a myriad of things, from where to buy groceries (and whether to spring for organic vs. non-organic), to what school to send the kids to, to whether or not to go on vacation -- or even have a date night.

The goal of a dual-income household is economic stability and protection against financial disaster, and it creates the opportunity for both adults and children to experience a close-knit, cooperative family style wherein Mom and Dad work as a unit for the well-being of all. The best-case scenario is one wherein the parents are a team -- both financially and emotionally -- and collaborate on household tasks, including cleaning, shopping and childcare.

One of the most emotionally damaging issues that comes out in dual-income couples occurs when the amount of money one person makes is held over the other person's head as a reason for the former to have more influence in regard to family choices. The fact that one person brings in less should not allow the other to use their income to bully their partner. This is not a male vs. female issue, either; I often see women who earn higher wages than their spouses perpetrating negative behavior upon their husbands that they would not tolerate themselves.

The key to a healthy financial relationship is for couples to have a team approach when it comes to dealing with finances, and to see the amount you both earn as the family pot of money that will pay for both essentials and nonessentials. The decisions about how to spend that money should be discussed in a respectful and calm manner.

Here are some tips to help you keep the dueling down when discussing finances with your significant other:
  • Every other month, set a date and meet with your spouse to discuss family finances. We schedule all sorts of things as couples, and this needs to be on our to-do list. Mark calendars and choose a comfortable setting with no distractions. (That means television off and no iPhones allowed!)
  • Set financial rules as a couple. For example, one should be, "We are dealing with finances as a team." Another should be, "Our individual income is put into one big pot for the family necessities." And one more good one: "Negotiating discretionary income should only be done after all bills are paid."
  • Don't play the blame game. No fair bringing up past financial indiscretions, or how your parents have always mismanaged money so you are not to blame for your own financial ineptness! You must focus on the here and now -- and your stable financial future.
  • Create a wish list. Each of you needs to bring your financial priorities to the table, whether they involve reducing debt, saving up to buy a house or putting money away for the kids' college. These issues need to be discussed, and a "family financial plan" should be written down and put into place.
A good way to start this conversation is to answer these three questions separately on paper, and than discuss your answers:
1) My biggest daily financial concern is ....
2) The most important five-year financial issues include ....
3) What I hope for our financial future in ten years is ....

Moms, how do you and your spouse talk about money? Let me know what works -- and what doesn't.


next: Bartering for a Baby
1 comments so far | Post a comment now
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