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Money and Marriage Navigating Different Financial Styles

Are you and your spouse financially incompatible? Dollar drama doesn't have to cause family strife. Here's advice and tips on how to balance things out.

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Jane steps into Meijer armed with a detailed grocery list. Her family is on a tight budget now that her husband John's work hours have been cut back and her own part-time gig have disappeared. A year ago, she wouldn't hesitate to buy whatever she wanted at the grocery store; now she keeps track of every purchase. After buying meat and produce for her family's meals for the week, she spies a sale on toys. Lately, she and John hadn't been buying any extras for the kids.

They'd both agreed to keep their spending to a minimum and focus on essentials like food to avoid splurge buying, but that was always easier for John. The holidays are only a few weeks away; she figured she could save now by buying her two children gifts. I won't beat 50 percent off, reasoned Jane. At the checkout counter, Jane's bill comes to twice what she'd expected – and budgeted. Instead of returning the toys, or even planning on talking to her husband about her purchases, Jane drives home hoping that maybe she'd pick up a few hours of work soon – or that John would – before her credit card bill appears in a month or so.

Jane and John could be anyone. And their family's circumstances could be that of many Michigan families. Often couples may have been together for years without really talking about or understanding each other's financial styles. When budgets are loose and jobs are plentiful, the discussion about spending sometimes slides. Yet as families are cutting back their budgets, the discussion – and sometimes arguments – about spending follows.

"Money is a volatile topic full of misunderstanding and mismatched values," explains Sally Palaian, a psychologist in Bingham Farms who often counsels couples on spending. Even if couples have not had problems discussing finances in the past, Palaian says, "with the economic downturn, many people are reverting to old patterns. They've lost their sense of security. And when people are fearful, all of their coping mechanisms come into play."

If you've found you and your spouse's discussions about money have become more heated recently, maybe it's time to take a step back and figure out your financial styles and work toward becoming more compatible.

Following in your parents' financial footsteps

"Everyone comes into a (marriage) with financial baggage whether they realize it or not," explains Gail Cunningham, a spokesperson for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. "Most people either follow the financial patterns of their parents or they do a 180 and act completely differently. I hardly ever see something in between."

The consensus among financial experts is that how you were raised determines to a great degree how you spend later. "Often you see people who were raised by savers, they felt very secure and comfortable, so they went on to be savers, too," says Cunningham.

The reverse is true, as well. You could have children raised by savers who go on to max out credit cards – and children who react to their parents' spendthrift ways by becoming budget conscious.

Complicating the money lessons for children: "For most people a generation ago, they were not accustomed to having conversations about money," notes Cunningham.

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