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How to (hopefully) resolve a financial family fight

Written by Helen Burnett-Nichols

Friday, July 15th, 2016

It may start with a simple tiff over your spouse's spending habits, or a disagreement over helping a relative with a few bills. But left unchecked, these small disputes over money can quickly escalate into a more serious blame game. (One academic survey even points to fighting about money as a main predictor of divorce.)

While it may seem like a family member's day-to-day spending decisions are fuelling your money fights, what actually causes disputes are "deep down" differences in the way people think about money, says Stacy Yanchuk Oleksy, director of education & community awareness with the Credit Counselling Society.

“Money might mean safety and security to me, but to my spouse, it might mean living for today. You can appreciate how that translates into behaviour that will look very, very different," she says.

Whether it's duking it out with your partner or your parents over spending habits, similar steps apply when it comes to achieving family financial harmony.

Talk it out

Opening the lines of communication is an essential step in resolving a family financial conflict.

Although it may be terrifying to reveal your financial information, for couples who see their relationship going long-term, the full disclosure conversation about finances needs to happen early on, says Toronto-based Jessica Moorhouse, who runs a financial podcast and blog.

“Find out what kind of money personality they are. Are they a spender? Are they a saver? Because it's going to impact you in a positive or negative way," she says.

For Toronto-based Christine Nguyen — who blogs about personal finance at thewalletdiet.com — and her fiancé, differences in spending styles and money personalities were at the heart of recent disagreements.

“I just paid off a big student loan and I think all those years of having that debt with me, I learned how to be mindful of my spending."

Her fiancé, on the other hand, “wanted to go out to nice restaurants on Friday or Saturday night, or he wanted to replace some items that we had around the house."

It was a deeper conversation over why they felt the way they did about each other's spending habits that ultimately helped them appreciate each point of view.

“I obviously had just spent $35,000 on debt payments and now I have a lot of catching up to do in terms of savings and investing," says Nguyen, whereas from her fiancé's perspective, “he wanted to go out often and do things that involved spending money."

As Moorhouse suggests, regular money meetings are key to preventing issues from building up.

Compromise

Collaborating to find a system that makes everyone feel heard, respected and able to achieve goals will also go a long way to calming financial fights, says Yanchuk Oleksy.

In Nguyen's case, the key was finding the middle ground, rather than trying to change each other.

Parent-child money disputes often focus on control issues and changing dynamics, says Yanchuk Oleksy. When roles are changing, she suggests that a calm conversation to redefine the rules around finances is helpful in solving disagreements.

When Moorhouse was planning her recent wedding, a conflict arose with her mother-in-law over her decision to purchase stamps for the invitations without the couple's approval. The parents wanted to be involved in the wedding — financially and as part of the decision-making process — so by letting them in, they were able to come to an understanding and resolve the dispute.

Seek advice

Having the same money fight with a spouse or family member over and over can be exhausting, says Yanchuk Oleksy. For those running in circles, she suggests enrolling in a money course together, or asking for help from a therapist or credit counsellor.

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