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Survive This Economy: Resolving Disputes Over Money

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Marcus and Sinora Wright shop for Christmas presents for their four children. (Credit: Home Video)

Marcus and Sinora Wright shop for Christmas presents for their four children. (Credit: Home Video)

Dorothy Tucker Dorothy Tucker
Dorothy Tucker has served as a reporter for CBS 2 Chicago since 1984....
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CHICAGO (CBS) – It’s one of the most common things couples fight about: money. Remember the Wrights? The suburban couple, with four kids, is on a financial diet; so they know how stressful it can be to save money, especially in this economy.

So how do you work through those financial fights? CBS 2′s Dorothy Tucker has advice for the Wrights that can work for you too.

You can’t really hear what Sinora and Marcus are saying in a video taken by their teenage daughter while the family was Christmas shopping, but you can see by the frustration on Marcus’ face that it was not a pleasant conversation.

They were arguing over money. That’s no surprise to marriage counselor Jeff Sieracki, with the Family Institute at Northwestern University.

Why is money the number one problem?

“In some situations, money can be sort of a stand-in for power in a relationship. So, sometimes it can be a really deep-seated, deep-rooted conflict,” Sieracki said. “Other times, certainly, some couples were raised in different traditions; as far as, maybe he comes from a saving family, she comes from a spending family and so, when they merge together, you’ve got some conflict right there. … One person, maybe, is focused on the future and another person is more focused on the present.”

In the Wright’s case, the disagreement was over how much to pay for iPod speakers. Sinora wanted the no-name model for $70. Marcus wanted the Sony brand for $80.

When Sinora questioned the higher cost, Marcus said, “Why would we go and buy something cheaper, when it’s not going to work?”

When Sinora asked what Marcus wanted to do and he said he wanted to get the Sony speakers, Sinora shook her head “no.”

But Marcus ended up winning the fight and they bought the Sony speakers.

Sieracki said, “In a perfect world, what I would advocate for would be to try and have this discussion at home, in a calm rational manner. So that, really, by the time you get to the line … you want to have it decided, you know, whether you’re going to get this item or a different item, long prior to even going to the store.”

Sieracki says couples, like the Wrights, should handle money as if they’re running a business, and keep track of all expenses.

“If you make impulse buys, that could potentially sink a business, and sometimes it could sink a family as well,” he said.

When there’s a need to discuss the family business, make a date when the kids aren’t around. And to avoid arguments, avoid certain language.

“You never want to use blaming language, so you don’t want to say things like ‘You always are reckless with money,’” Sieracki said.

What should you say?

“You want to acknowledge that they’re being helpful, work together and, you know, remind yourself that you love each other,” Sieracki added.

One more tip from the family counselor: if you do end up fighting about money in front of the children, make a point of resolving the conflict in front of them, too.

Sieracki’s advice didn’t save the Wrights any money right away, but hopefully it helped them address some financial issues. So far, through the “Survive This Economy” series focusing on the Wright’s finances, the couple has saved $2,104.

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