Christmas can herald relationship problems for a whole host of reasons. Family, friends and work, however, all come second to money as the main cause of marital discord. When under pressure to splash the cash, it’s no surprise that sparks can fly over the festive season. With over a decade’s experience as a top divorce lawyer, I have seen first-hand that divorce enquiries come thick and fast in the first weeks of January with warring couples often citing money as the cause of conflict. So, how can you avoid Christmas striking a fatal blow to your purse and your relationship?
1. Be totally honest about your money
Communication and trust are vital to good relationships. Money can be a sensitive subject but committed couples must be able to discuss their finances warts and all. To plan for Christmas you have to know how much you’ve got to play with. It’s no use trying to avoid disappointment early on by hiding your money troubles since this will only guarantee bigger, badder problems down the line. Whether it’s a smaller than expected Christmas bonus or a ballooning credit card balance, financial secrets only get worse the longer they are kept. Relationships where one partner controls the finances also spell disaster – it doesn’t matter who the money-maker is, if you share responsibility you are much more likely to weather those winter storms.
2. Budget until you can budget no more
Once you’ve had a serious chat about how much is in the pot, now it’s time to budget. Be realistic and leave some wriggle room so your spouse doesn’t self-combust when you bring home another singing Santa. You may both enjoy different Christmas traditions but some expenses can’t be overlooked: food, drink and good will to all men. If you can’t face a turkey with all the trimmings, save money by trying something new for Christmas lunch. Consider a fake tree if you can’t bear pulling pine needles out of your socks for another year and, if you don’t have any garish decorations in the attic, cut costs by getting the kids to make their own. A myriad of websites and apps can help you manage your yuletide budget if maths is not your forte. But above all, ease the shock to your bank account by starting early and continue budgeting well into the New Year.
3. Dispel the myth of the perfect present
Everyone knows that you can’t rock around a Christmas tree with no presents. Christmas is the time for giving and receiving but there are better ways to wow your spouse than with outrageously expensive jewellery or a bizarre new gadget. Before you even touch the shelves, discuss who you are buying for and how much you will spend with your partner. Buying your other half something they love is important but your sanity is paramount. An overly-extravagant present isn’t the way to make up for too many late nights at the office. Remember it’s not a competition and, after all, it’s the thought that counts. If you’ve got teenage kids, they’ll understand why you didn’t quite manage to get the iPhone 7 they’d been dreaming of. Do not cave to the cries of “but all my friends have one!” because I can guarantee they don’t.
4. Don’t be afraid to ask for help
No one wants to admit that things aren’t going as planned. In the UK, where people are notoriously tight-lipped about money, looking for help can be even harder. My words of wisdom to you are swallow your pride and go and get some professional guidance. There are plenty of ways to get good advice – whether it’s your bank, an IFA or one of the many free resources for people with financial queries. They can help you organise some short term and long term goals to support you in managing your finances without resorting to costly credit. Saving together will also give your relationship some stability as you can plan for your future (an invaluable pick-me-up during your festive finance hangover).
Some people are spenders, some are savers and both have their advantages. The way we manage our finances is often influenced by how our parents managed theirs, which makes blame that little bit more personal. Accusing each other of being a Scrooge or a spendthrift will only end in tears. Time and time again relationship gurus spout ‘forgive and forget’ and I apologise for not delivering anything new: when the stakes are high and the pressure cooker is on over Christmas, there is nothing more important than accepting differences and moving on. By the time you start keeping score, your relationship has already lost. Instead, factor in some alone time together- it’s more valuable than entertaining Great Aunt Doris and doesn’t cost a penny.
So have yourself a merry little Christmas by planning ahead and setting yourself realistic expectations. This may not sound very glamorous, but being sensible with your money over the festive period could save you your marriage (and a whole lot of cash).