For young couples, nothing beats the pleasure of talking about the future and sharing your goals. But when those dreams come with price tags, be careful. Many couples argue about money – and especially when it comes to big-ticket purchases that one partner considers frivolous.
How do you head off a heated quarrel when your partner can't wait to splurge while you prefer to save? Saying “No!” right away just opens the door to a long night of regrets. Think of this as a negotiation: search for common ground, and look for a resolution that brings you closer together and reduces the chance of future clashes.
When your partner says “everyone” is buying those leather coats, or how badly they “need” the latest smartphone, here are seven objective, non-judgmental questions you can use to turn conflict into consensus.
- “The cost of everything is going up so fast. Do you think we could look at our finances and put together a budget before we commit to any big expenditures?” With luck, you’ll end up with a financial plan that heads off future shocks.
- “I’d like to support this purchase. But can we first go over what the real costs will be?” Many big indulgences, such as vehicles, holidays or renovation projects, spark follow-on costs, such as maintenance and fuel for a car or boat, out-of-home meals for trips, or software for new computers. This question helps you focus on the all-in costs, not some short-term “bargain” price.
- “This purchase would be great. But can we talk about how we would afford to pay for it?”
This conversation can draw you together by turning it into a project for which you both take responsibility.
- “Before we go ahead and buy this, can we sit a moment and think about what else we might we use that money for?” Families have multiple goals. Reviewing them together can be a sobering experience, putting the requested indulgence into perspective. Maybe now is the time to pay down debt, or save for that extra bedroom.
- “I understand your wanting a (insert sports car, timeshare property, or new deck here). I’d love us to have that, too. Maybe we should put together a list of dream purchases that both of us want, so we can figure out the best way to make them happen?” This tack could help you align your longer-term goals. Now you're balancing the immediate purchase against not just your current resources, but all the other dreams you both harbour for the future. Shift the spotlight to the dreams you share.
- “Is there some alternative (or cheaper) way of resolving this need without affecting our financial plan?”
With this question, you open the door to a compromise that indulges your partner without breaking the bank. Get creative. Maybe you can buy a used car instead of new, or snag last year’s hottest phone on clearance.
- “What should our process be for evaluating unbudgeted purchases such as this?”
When in doubt, use a conflict to develop a new process for avoiding future differences. Maybe you’ll agree to an indulgence quota (maximum $50 a month, or one big blowout a year), or maybe you’ll develop a checklist for vetting future purchases. Agreeing on a system can turn a win-lose conversation into shared purpose.
Don't wait too long to have these conversations. If your partner says the neighbour up the street is selling his boat, it could be sitting in your driveway if you don't speak up soon. Figure out what you want to say, then find the right time to have the conversation. (hint: before dinner with a glass of wine may be better than late at night). Seizing the initiative lets you broach the subject your way, rather than getting caught short if your partner suddenly demands a yes-no answer.
Disputes such as these can either sow resentment or make your partnership stronger. These are mostly minor issues in the long run of life, so welcome the chance to practice your conflict-resolution skills together.