Should Couples Share Money?

Love and money are sensitive topics by themselves.  Put them together and a therapist has a lot of material on the table.  So let’s begin with the most general of questions: in a committed, long-term monogamous relationship, should you and your partner combine your money?

My answer is a resounding YES. Give me a reason you and your partner don’t completely pool your money and I will show you a relationship issue waiting to be solved.

Many couples today have shared households prior to getting married (including some who don’t marry at all.)  So even before considering pooling their money together, most couples have tackled some important issues about money.  How will we split the rent?  What about the food I buy but you eat?  I earn less money than you, so should I contribute the same amount to our vacation?  For many couples, there is a natural point in their relationship to discuss combined money.  Marriage, moving in together, a large purchase such as a home or car, or a shared responsibility like a pet are all good times.  You and your loved one are taking steps in a committed, long-term monogamous relationship.

It’s not only logistics that are difficult when thinking about combining money, though.  There are a lot of emotional reasons behind couples who are tempted to keep money separate, and it’s these emotions that I like to address in therapy.  For example,I hear arguments like these:

  • I just want my own spending money each month so that he doesn’t judge the way I shop.
  • He came into the relationship with a lot of debt and when we pay that off we will combine money.
  • My mom didn’t work and she always felt like she had to ask permission for money from my dad and I don’t want to have to do that.
  • We can agree to make the big purchases together but for all the rest it is simpler to do our own thing.

I won’t go through each of these point by point, but all of these concerns share one thing in common: they are not really about money.  They are about feelings about each other and ourselves: judgment from a partner, or resentment, or fear.  Insecurity, guilt, lack of compromise. They are the things we talk about in couples counseling anyway — trust, independence and confidence in decision-making.

I believe that every person deserves to feel empowered and capable of living within a budget created with a shared future in mind, and this includes having discretionary income.  Separating money does not necessarily accomplish this.  In fact, it avoids the discussion and potential to resolve the secrecy and division.

This doesn’t mean that all relationship issues behind money arrangements NEED to be solved!  Plenty of couples are perfectly happy with their situation and there is no need to change something that is working.  But, for example, you cannot put a price tag on raising kids or commuting hours every day to work; these are important things partners do that don’t grow the bank account.  And when you begin to quantify time, effort, and value on each partner’s contributions in a nickel-and-diming way, it becomes a chore. When you are in a committed relationship with someone else you are taking all parts of them — not just their good days and charming habits, but their poker games and pedicures too.  A couple is building a shared life together and that should incorporate different values of material items and difficult choices about allocation of time and money.

Couples who find a way to address their concerns and hopes behind taking on a partner’s debt, or spending habits, or family inheritance are a step ahead.

Let us know if we can help you with money squabbles — big or small.  Contact us!

Where Your Energy (and your money) Go

Much like money, personal energy is slippery.  Does your free time ever pass and leave you wondering where it went?  Have you ever sat down at the computer, intending a quick check of your email, only to get up an hour (or more) later?  Have you ever traveled somewhere where you have to pay for Internet use and realized how much you can do without?

If you took a calendar from 7 a.m. until 10 p.m. and marked your time off in 15-minute increments, what would a pie chart of your time look like?

The key with energy is that we don’t have an infinite amount.  That’s right, you’re not made of magic! We are always making choices about what to do with our energy, and when we don’t, outside circumstances decide for us. Let’s see what is possible when you divide your energy among meaningful things.

Here’s a great exercise I read about recently that will help you understand more about where you’re spending your energy. When you’re finished, you’ll have a clear look at how to prioritize some tasks:

  • Take a stack of cards and on each one of them write something that you need to do, hope to do, wish you could do, or feel like you have to do. These cards should include everything from “Learn Italian” to “Clean out my email inbox.”
  • When you are finished, divide the cards into two piles: Important and Not Important.
  • Go through each of those piles to form 2 more piles (when you are finished, you will have four). Decide if those Important and Not Important piles are then Urgent or Not Urgent.
  • Now you can prioritize in a way that makes sense given your limited amount of energy. It looks like this:
  1. Important and Urgent
  2. Important and Not Urgent
  3. Not important and Urgent
  4. Not Important and Not Urgent

It might be a toss up whether to call a friend who’s going through a divorce (#2), or whether to check your new voicemails (#3). But you can also see how quickly your energy drains away when you focus on replying to personal email (often #4) instead of researching plane tickets for your upcoming honeymoon (#1).

Invest Yourself Wisely

Did you know that you are running for office, too? This month I’m asking you to not just take a look at your budget, but at your platform.  Money has come to mean more than just “voting with your dollars.”  Somebody has to be in charge around here. It might as well be you.

Let’s connect a few important ideas relating money and psychology, happiness and energy, and putting your money where your mouth is.  (Hint: your mouth is part of you.)

One reason I think it is important to look at where you’re putting your money is because I equate money with energy.  When we put money into something, we are putting our energy there as well.  We are saying, “This is what I care about and value.  This is where I choose to give a part of myself.”  Of course, how much money you earn and how much cash you carry don’t define your entirety.  But when you turn money into an action, either by purchasing, donating, or saving, it then becomes part of your legacy.

So you say that you must be leaving a legacy at Starbucks? (Yes it’s YOU I’m talking to you out there!) Spend wherever you want – but respect yourself (and your money) enough to take a look at the story you are writing.

Is Therapy (or anything else) Worth My Investment Right Now?

In order for you to decide if something, especially therapy, is worth your money, the object of your energy has to have some sort of leverage.  In other words, therapy has leverage because it invites the belief that things can get better and has the research to back it up.  Your favorite charity has leverage because it has captured your interest, excitement, or sympathy. You really need a caffeine hit and a pumpkin spice latte is going to do the trick. Well, all of those sound important to me! The idea that I can put my money somewhere and get a desired outcome?  That’s leverage, and that’s how you decide if something is worth your investment.

My specialty is solution-focused counseling, and my clients are a diverse group.  But everyone who is a part of my practice has decided that something about therapy is worth his or her money, and I work hard to make it consistently worthwhile. It is not easy to hire someone else to help you talk to your husband, feel better about your job, or teach you how to have a different relationship with food.  You are essentially paying someone to help you shine a light into all the parts of you that you have ignored, abused, or disliked for so long.  You have initiated a process that you hope will bring you more happiness.

Of course, therapy doesn’t always feel like a choice (neither does the latte; for some of us, it’s an act of public service).  Some people are at the end of their rope, and they don’t see counseling as an option. It feels like life has given them an ultimatum: shape up or ship out.

Let’s talk about what is worth your money. Is it worth it to have a few sessions with someone who can help you feel better about something you’ve been struggling with forever?  How much would you pay to be able to wake up and feel happy about your marriage or your job?  If you have a child who broke his leg, wouldn’t you take him to a doctor and treat it?  It’s not any different, then, to treat his depression (or your own).

So, whether therapy worth your money is a question only you can answer, and it depends on its leverage.  So let’s answer that question with another question (how therapist-y!): what IS worth your money?