I was working with a client the other day who said that he and his spouse argue over spending. He said the arguments usually go like this:

Spouse 1: “we can afford it!”
Spouse 2: “No, we can’t afford it”
Spouse 1: “yes, we can, we have enough in the bank.”
Spouse 2: “no, we can’t we need that money for a car repair…”

These types of arguments are rarely about mathematics. If you want to buy something that costs $100, all the store cares about is whether you have $100. If you think purely in terms of the math, if you have $100 in the bank you can technically, legally and literally “afford it”.

But, from the standpoint of whether you should buy it, whether it fits your priorities, is part of your plan or is within your “fun money” (money you and your partner are free to spend on anything) budget for the month, the word “afford” takes on a whole new meaning.

To decrease marital strife, don’t think about purchases, (an object like a new pair of shoes or an experience like a golf outing), in terms of ‘being affordable’. Think in terms of fitting in with your priorities and plans. Stay away from words like affordable that can have a different meaning for each partner.

Don’t ask yourself if you can “afford” your new shoes, because your answer may have to do with the math of whether there is money in the bank and your partner’s answer may have to do with whether it makes sense for your situation to buy the shoes. Instead, ask, “Does buying the shoes take money away from our priorities (buying a house, paying down a credit card)?” Or, “can I skip a night out this month and buy the shoes instead?” Think in terms of trade-offs and priorities. That’s life!

Changing the way you think about money, including the words you use will help you stay on your plan and reach your financial goals.