COMMENTARY

Managing Money in a Physician's Marriage

Gregory A. Hood, MD

Disclosures

April 23, 2019

In This Article

Communication Can Foster Greater Understanding

As the old saying goes, those who assert that they understand in turn should be able to explain the problem/scenario to others in ways that they also can understand. When it comes to family finances, that means that the one who has the interest in managing the finances should be able to then explain the methods and proposals.

It is then most important, in return, that the financial decisions be made together. Partners should agree on or delegate the job of the day-to-day execution of financial matters, paying bills, organizing files, and preparing for tax returns.

No matter how often couples meet to discuss finances, and no matter how harmonious the balance of personal financial traits may be, there will still, inevitably, be friction. Most of all, this will show itself when it comes to spending. Whether the spending is on items intended for each other or for investments, differences of opinion will arise.

Even when there have been preapproved discretionary/indulgence funds, nothing invokes disharmony like the perception of thoughtless, frivolous purchases. Unfortunately, frivolous purchases are the top cause of money fights, and both men and women think their partner is the one with the bad spending habits.

However, even in the face of seemingly frivolous purchases, there may be important context clues and means of de-escalation to promote greater understanding.

"If you're a worrier and saver, you may find it hard to understand why your free-spending spouse craves a pricey vacation — and she, in turn, may be frustrated by your claims that you can't afford to take one. Remove the emotion from the discussion by looking at hard numbers to figure out whether your spouse's spending is actually interfering with your ability to, say, build an adequate emergency fund or save for retirement. If so, discuss it, framing the conversation about the goal (a positive), not your partner's errant ways. Yet you may well find that, while you don't see the value in what your spouse is buying, there's no actual financial harm to your family in the purchases." [4]

Use Outside Help if Needed

Setting the stage for long-term unity requires prioritization and planning. Spouses taking time to prepare for the first couple's fiscal retreat can be arranged by simply pulling together the family's financial statements; putting each spouse's goals, priorities, and worries on paper; and sharing them openly. If such an inaugural meeting creates unanimity of goals, such as emergency savings and paying off debt, then one should count oneself particularly blessed and in rare company.

More often, help is needed. This can take many forms, although having one parent (and hence, one in-law) come in to lecture and arbitrate should be assiduously avoided. There are many excellent resources, as well as nationally syndicated experts and even local resources, such as financial advisers and seminars.

Most of all, come clean, be honest, and be the marital partner you were meant to be. There is no way, ultimately, to avoid a fight over money. There will either be a series of minor disagreements that get worked through constructively via collaboration, or prolonged pressure-cooker issues that intermittently culminate in explosive results and, perhaps, even the most explosive and destructive result of all: divorce, one of life's most expensive lessons.

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