Talking to your spouse about money doesn't have to be stressful or negative.
For a long time, our biggest stumbling block to financial success was just talking about money with each other. Money was something that I despised talking about and I became an expert at avoiding those discussions. This led to a great imbalance in our relationship as a whole. When I finally overcame my fears and we sat down and had a real discussion, we realized that we had the same fundamental goals, but because we hadn’t been discussing our finances, we were on completely different paths.
Here are ten suggestions for getting over that first hurdle and getting the conversation started – and keeping it from derailing into an emotional conflict.
1. Begin by discussing your priorities.
Inquire about your spouse’s thoughts about retirement – what does he or she plan to do after retirement? Inquire about his or her ambitions – where do they want to be in five or 10 years? The idea is to think positively about money by imagining what you can do with it.
2. Be focused on your goals.
You’re having this conversation in order to accomplish something specific. Perhaps you’re considering starting a family – or thinking about life after the kids have left the nest. Or maybe you’re recognizing that your credit card payments are getting out of hand. Tell your partner what you want to talk about, but don’t frame it as “YOU did something wrong and YOU need to change.” Instead, state a specific goal: “I’d like to pay off these credit cards,” or “We’re about to finish paying off the house, and I’d like to discuss what we should do with the extra money.”
3. Accept responsibility for your own errors.
If you’re having this conversation, you’re probably not blameless. Begin by acknowledging your own shortcomings. Before the discussion, assess your own spending and identify areas where you are overspending. For my part, I confessed to overspending on clothing for myself and the kids which was putting a strain on our funds.
4. Hold your spouse's hand and make eye-contact.
Never, ever show that you are anything other than compassionate and caring, no matter how big your spouse’s transgressions are. For me, this meant sitting on the couch next to my husband, looking right at him, listening intently, and placing my hand on top of his as he shared with me his fears, spending habits, and doubts. It was a small gesture, but it signified to him the love we have for each other.
5. Fairness is important.
Don’t lash out at your spouse if they admit to overspending. We live in a consumerist world that is meant to manipulate our emotions and get us to spend ever increasing sums of money. Even worse, it’s a difficult pattern to overcome because it’s a socially accepted addiction. Rather than erupting, ask them about the spending: is it reasonable? Which is more important: paying off a credit card or what they just purchased? If your spouse responds in a manner that you don’t like, don’t become upset.
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6. Look at the numbers, but don't pass judgment.
When we first started doing this, we sat down together with all of the band and credit card statements spread out before us. I asked my husband to highlight anything that he found questionable. Being open to answering for any of my own mistakes immediately put him at ease. He then found it much easier when I would ask questions about his expenditures. Had I started by demanding answers regarding his spending, there would have been a lot of conflict!
7. Define goals that both of you can agree on.
Make a list of the goals you want to achieve — both short and long term for each of you. Then, once you’ve found the ones that are aligned, commit to making progress toward them. For example, my husband and I both wanted to be able to start traveling full time with our two children, so we made that our primary focus and put the majority of our financial resources into making that a reality. Defining this goal for both of us allowed for very simple financial decisions.
8. Make a plan for achieving your goals.
Sit down with each other and spend some time figuring out how to make it happen. Is it necessary for you to reduce your Starbucks intake? Is your spouse spending too much money on their favorite hobby? (I’ve seen tens of thousands spent on everything from online gaming to girls’ weekends!) To actually accomplish your goal together, each partner must be willing to make some sort of sacrifice, and if you’re the one initiating it, you should be the first to volunteer.
9.Commit to discussing your finances frequently.
Don’t do this just once and think that everything is now magically “fixed”. My husband and I sit down at least once each month and actively look at our expenditures. We take this time to discuss where we did well and where we could improve. It’s an essential component to making discussions about money non-threatening and positive.
Take the time to reconnect on a romantic level with your spouse after you have these discussions. It doesn’t have to be fancy, or expensive, but rewarding yourselves will make you more likely to want to have these discussions in the future. Some “rewards” that my husband and I have done: gone out for an appetizer; shared a quiet walk through the woods; enjoyed a glass of wine together.