The holidays stir up marital fights — and that can do long-term damage to some unions
Tis the season — for fighting with your spouse.
The holidays are stressful for Americans — one in five say they are “often” stressed during this time, according to the American Psychological Association — and for couples the holidays can be particularly trying.
One major reason: The holidays spur a lot of issues over money. Indeed, 61% of consumers say that holiday spending causes marital or family strife, according to data released Tuesday by financial firm Affirm. Even worse, holiday money fights aren’t always harmless. A study published in the journal Family Relationships found that “financial disagreements did predict divorce more strongly than other common problem areas like disagreements over household tasks or spending time together.” And research shows that divorce filings spike right after the holidays in January.
One of the biggest money issues that can cause couples to fight over the holidays is how much to spend on gifts. Just ask Carrie Paetow, a Minneapolis-based media coach, who sometimes disagrees with her husband on gift spending. Paetow says that while her husband “does a great job of picking out things,” she feels “he tends to get carried away,” sometimes spending too much.
So this year, the couple — who have been married since last November — has a fix for the issue: making a budget for each gift. “We wrote down the names of everyone we want to buy for and I allocated an amount.” And while “we got into a little argument about the amounts for each person,” Paetow reminded her husband that they “just bought a house and don’t have a lot to spend.”
The per-gift holiday budget is a strategy that’s worked for other couples to prevent holiday arguments as well. Though money blogger Dave Barr and his husband often disagree on who should go on their to-gift list, once they’ve hashed that out, they set a per gift budget. Then “we start a Google Doc to keep track of what we are buying for each person. If one of us finds a great deal and we buy one of the items, we can mark it off on the Google Doc so the other person does not buy it as well,” he explains.
Experts say there are plenty of other strategies for avoiding holiday spending fights as well. Among them: Start saving as early as possible so you can avoid holiday debt — which can be a huge source of financial stress on couples — and consider sentimental gifts (think photos or handmade items) that don’t cost a ton so you can underspend on your per-gift budget. You should also consider doing a gift exchange with a group rather than giving everyone a gift and buying things in bulk for different groups of people to save money, says Barr.
And don’t forget to create a gift budget for each other, says Kimberly Foss, the president and founder
Of Empyrion Wealth Management. “You might think it would be great to buy them $400 tickets to their favorite show, but they are going to feel upset/embarrassed when you promised to only spend $50 and that is what they spent on you,” says Barr, who writes for Common Cents Millennial.
Finally, don’t think you can just “set it and forget it” when it comes to the holiday budget. “Re-visit the budget the two of you agreed on and determine the consequences of not abiding by it,” says Altair Gobo, a financial planner and partner at U.S. Financial Services and author of “Getting to the Green.” “How will you feel when you get that credit card bill in January and you don’t have the money in your account to pay it?” And don’t forget to add things like holiday travel and decorating into an overall holiday budget so you can avoid overspending.
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