Keeping score makes a lot of sense in many circumstances. You need to know who's winning if you play a card gam,e and in sports the score is needed to determine a winner. In most competitive activities, a score is needed to determine a winner.

However, keeping score in a relationship makes for a very poor practice. You’ve probably heard the type of couple where one partner "allows" the other partner to spend money to purchase something or to encounter some experience with the expectation of reciprocity. The “allowing” partner believes they have scored a point that they can cash in later for their own purposes.

Very few interactions between couples could have a more devastating financial impact than "keeping score." Instead of creating a financial partnership, the couple views their finances as a competitive event.

Competition pits one participant against another. There will be a winner and a loser. A competitive event is not collaborative nor is it a partnership. Competitors can be friends and be cordial, but they are adversaries.

I believe that an adversarial relationship has no place between couples. Money issues are difficult enough with the different economic upbringings and beliefs around money. Introducing the score only magnifies these challenges exponentially.

Couplehood is a partnership. The financial piece should be a joint venture. If you struggle as a couple to make smaller financial decisions together, consider maintaining separate accounts for each of your own minor expenses. But work on your finances as a team.

A competitive financial relationship will cost you money. But more importantly, the larger cost may be your relationship.

Life Without the Score

Consider for a moment what your relationship might look like if you did not keep score; what would it feel like if you didn’t mentally account for the times you sacrificed so your partner can have what they wanted? What if you simply made financial choices in the best interest of your partnership? You owe it to your relationship and the person you have chosen to spend your life with to treat your finances as a fiduciary.

Respectful and open discussions might lead to fewer arguments about money and may reduce arguments throughout your relationship. Making big financial decisions together may even lead to discussions beyond the immediate question. While discussing how much money to spend on a vacation, you might find yourself talking about places you would love to spend extensive time or even live at some point.

By letting the score go, you might discover a new sense of intimacy in your partnership. By respectfully sharing your financial beliefs and values, you will learn a tremendous amount about your partner.

Letting the Score Go

  1. First take stock to determine if you are keeping score. You may not even realize that you are doing so, and might be shocked to discover how often your decisions are colored by the score. Awareness alone won’t stop you from keeping score, but it is the most important step to take.
  2. Second, and most challenging, talk to your partner about the score. Honestly discuss that you have been making the assumption that you both keep score of who has earned the right to make a financial decision. Maybe your partner agrees that they have been doing this, as well, and you begin to hold a more open financial dialog.

You might also be confronted by the fact that your partner has not been keeping score! You’ve been living under a false assumption, and one that could have led to very negative consequences in your relationship. You’ve now opened a dialog to move forward on a very different and healthier financial path.

Keeping score is great for sports and other competitive events. As couples and a partnership, there is no place for it. Forget the score, make open financial decisions, and you will improve your financial well-being and strengthen your relationship.

FPA member Nathan Gehring, CFP®, provides financial planning services to young individuals and couples at My First Financial Planner, a service of Conceptual Investment Advisors, Inc.

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