4 Tips to Maintaining Financial Harmony in Your Family

January 6, 2016
Bill Schu

Money can be a blessing or a curse in your relationships. These four action items will help you ensure your finances are a positive force in your family.

Over the past year, I have written many columns on the important of working with your spouse, partner, and other family members in establishing your budget, your savings plan, and your retirement goals. As you begin your 2016 financial planning, have you engaged those family members? If not, your financial plans are at greater risk, and frustration or feelings of resentment can creep in. This can be true whether you’re the primary breadwinner, the sole provider, or even if you’re a secondary contributor yourself.

Here are a few ways to communicate better with those who will impact, be impacted by, and share in your decision-making.

Don’t Be Afraid

Money can be a difficult issue for people to talk about with others, even within their own family. No matter how long you’ve been in a partnership with someone, you can still have some reluctance to talk about financial matters. Address the issue head-on by committing to communicating with your partner and family members.

Is their understanding of your financial situation different from yours? Do they have more information about it or less? Are their goals the same as yours, or at least complementary to yours? Not all family members or partners have to be in complete agreement on every line item in a budget or every financial decision, but having any potential issues out in the open will help you avoid conflicts, festering wounds that linger under the surface, and overall uncertainty about your financial past. Such discussions can not only be productive, but they can also get you thinking about your own spending habits and goals.

Schedule Some Regular Time

This may sound hackneyed or unnecessary, but it really works: Schedule some time each week or month to get together with your partner to discuss financial issues, including the budget versus the actual spend for the previous month, any “unanticipated” items that impacted the budget, and any new situations arising that could affect the budget and savings goals in the future. Once or twice a year, schedule a longer session to go over larger goals and review life priorities.

Celebrate Wins Regularly, Even If They’re Small

Short-term, sticking to a financial plan is rarely as rewarding as the immediate gratification of an impulse buy. One way to avoid this instant gratification trap is to

give yourself and your partner a little reward now and then for taking the harder, long-term road. Make it a brief getaway on a small budget, or a special meal you cook for one another, or another low-cost but satisfying reward you will both enjoy. Giving yourself a little positive feedback is often as important as any you get from outside.

Be Prepared to Compromise

As a physician, you may be the primary earner in any relationship, but that doesn’t necessarily give you the full authority over every financial decision. Hold your ground on the issues of greatest importance to you, but allow your partner to do the same. Sometimes, the best aspect of a good compromise is simply sending the message that the other person’s input is important, too. That can often lead to better communication, and better retirement planning, down the road.