Have an income that’s too low.
The surest way to fight over money is not have any. When the major source of stress in your life is not being able to pay your bills, it’s a guarantee that you will fight over how the money you do have is spent. I remember when we were both in college and there were many times that we didn’t have enough to cover our bills. We were forced to make choices like, “Do we pay rent, buy groceries, or make a car payment? We can’t do all three.”
Solution: Get a better job. Seriously. That’s what did it for us. I graduated from college, got a job, and we don’t struggle for basic needs any more.
Spend more than you earn.
This is an insidious habit that many people struggle with. It was easy, up until about 9 months ago, to take on more house, more car, and more credit card debt than you could afford. Now that loan requirements have tightened up it’s more difficult to get a mortgage or car loan, but it’s still relatively easy to rack up credit card debt. Steve Martin & Amy Poehler know all about not buying stuff you can’t afford.
Solution: Use credit cards only in an emergency, pay cash for most things, and make a budget.
This one applies especially to couples. Often one person in the relationship has made a purchase that they know the other would not be okay with, so they endeavor to cover it up. The pay for it in cash, or they tell their partner it was something else when the credit card statement comes. The problem becomes critical when the spending begins to interfere with the ability to pay the bills and put food on the table. If there’s no easy way to figure out where the money is going, then the problem just gets worse. This problem is often associated with drug, gambling, infidelity, and alcohol problems.
Solution: Allow each other open access to bank account and credit card info. Discuss finances often and make goals together. Hold each other accountable on a regular basis, and it becomes harder to keep secrets.
Ignore your budget.
It doesn’t do any good to make a budget each month if you don’t actually stick to it. This was a problem that I had early in my marriage. It takes discipline and that’s something that I lacked when it came to money. It has to be learned. Just because you want something in the moment doesn’t mean you should throw out your plans. Decide you are going to save for it and then purchase it after you have the money.
Solution: My wife and I started paying for everything in cash. We took all our money out of the bank each month and put it into envelopes marked Rent, Groceries, Car Payment, etc. It worked. We only carried around money that we had allotted as spending money, and when that was gone, there was nothing to spend.
Ignore your bills.
Something I still struggle with, even though I’m much more financially solvent. There’s a certain element of growing up that is required here. My wife would get upset at me in past because there would be a stack of unopened mail on my desk because I knew that they were bills and I didn’t want to pay them.
Solution: When a bill comes, pay it. If you can’t pay it, call them and make arrangements. Then continue paying them. Most creditors are pretty reasonable and are willing to work with you to make the payments.