How to Tackle These 3 Tough Money Conversations with Your Significant Other


Whether you make six figures or just wish you did, the number on your paycheck doesn’t matter as much as what you choose to do with that money once it hits your bank account.

If you can create that mindset for yourself and then focus on what you can control, you’re well on your way to creating wealth.

Of course, that can get complicated when you’re not the only person involved with that financial decision-making.

When you’re making your way through life and toward your goals with a significant other, another big key to financial success is communication. You’ve got to work together to work your wealth.

But it’s not always easy to get through tough money conversations, especially if you struggle to get on the same page with decisions, goals, or financial habits.

Don’t use that as an excuse to stick your head in the sand! You can get through those tough convos. Here are 3 common ones I see my clients face — and how I suggest dealing with them.

Dealing with Big or Scary Life Transitions

Anytime you and your significant other face a major life change, you may face increased stress and anxiety ahead of time.

Whether it’s a new baby, a new job, or a big purchase, a lot of transitions don’t come with guidebooks to tell you what to do… which can be pretty scary on its own. Throw in the fact that this change might stress your finances, too, and you’ve got a recipe for some tough convos ahead.

But again, don’t avoid talking about it. Be open and vulnerable, and express your concerns or fears. It may be difficult, but try to do this calmly and objectively — which means you might need to be proactive and have the conversation before you have a meltdown from trying to bury your emotions.

You may need to explain to your partner your intentions in communicating how you feel, too. Explain that you want to find a way to work through something that’s stressing or scaring you together, and you’d like that support.

Providing that context upfront will help them understand where you’re coming from — and could help avoid them feeling like you’re just unloading on them and your outburst is coming out of nowhere.

Once you express how you feel, give them the space to do the same. From there, it’s all out on the table, and it’s time to move on from fear or worry to focusing on what you can control together.

What can you do to plan ahead for this change or transition? What can you do now to prevent financial stress in the future?

Write out all the actions you can take immediately — and then divvy up the list between you and your significant other. Commit to handling your action items by a set date, then plan for a second meeting to come back together once you’ve both taken care of your to-dos to check in.

Setting a New Budget

Budget can be a very bad word if you and your partner have different perspectives on your personal finances (and different money habits around spending and saving).

This might be a tough money conversation but it doesn’t have to become an all-out war.

Again, schedule a time to come together and look at things objectively. When you do sit down to look at your accounts, bills, and existing budget or transactions, avoid pointing fingers or laying blame on the other person.

You can’t change anything that happened in the past. The point is to find a way to create a budget that works for you both and move forward toward your financial goals together.

Make sure you understand the basics, like your net income and your fixed expenses (like your rent or mortgage). Understand what you pay on average for other bills that vary from month to month, like groceries. And don’t forget to bring your savings goals to the table.

In fact, you might want to start building your budget around those goals. What do you need to save each month to create the life you want together? Those should be the priority line items in your budget.

Next, create line items for those fixed and flexible expenses. (Your monthly payments to debts and balances count as expenses!) Take a moment to subtract your savings contributions and all your expenses from your net income.

Whatever’s left is what you could use for discretionary spending — or things like entertainment, shopping, and travel. From here, you can identify what you might want to spend on together. But you’ll both likely have things you want to buy that the other person doesn’t care about.

Instead of trying to compromise or convincing the other person to change, you could create a small space in your budget so you each get an “allowance” each month, or what I like to call “freedom money”.

Maybe you can each get $100 of fun money. You can do whatever you’d like with yours, but when it’s gone, it’s gone.

Facing Financial Problems

Of course, maybe you’ve worked through the tough money conversation around budgets… but your partner just won’t stick to it and keeps overspending.

It’s really hard not to blame them or get angry, but you have to address the problem for the sake of your family finances.

Follow the same steps as outlined above:

  • Request a time to chat about your household finances.
  • Share how you’re feeling and explain the impact your partner’s actions have on you. For example, you might say, “When you spend on things we don’t need and it adds to our existing credit card debt, it stresses me out because it means we can’t save for our dream to retire early and travel the world.”
  • Avoid pointing fingers, making assumptions, or telling the other person why they’re doing what they’re doing. Try to ask questions and seek to hear why from them.

From there, you can work together to find the best solution to the problem. That will largely depend on the details of your situation.

For some couples, simply addressing the problem and confronting it might be enough to get your partner to realize their actions have a negative impact on you and your household finances.

Or starting the conversation might help you both realize that there are deeper problems that need the help of an expert to solve. Your significant other could be dealing with their own internal conflicts and overspending is just how their struggles manifest.

Other Steps to Take in Tough Money Conversations

Every relationship is different and each of you will bring some kind of financial baggage to the table. Don’t make each other wrong for that!

We all have our own unique experiences that impact how we think about and use money. Keeping that in mind, along with these other “best practices” for tough money convos, can help make your communication more effective:

  • Be patient and give each other the benefit of the doubt. You both likely want what is best for each other and your family — you might just have different ideas of how to best accomplish that.
  • Be honest. Admit mistakes and don’t be afraid to ask for help.
  • Avoid assumptions — whether positive or negative. Again, don’t assume the worst of your partner… but don’t just assume things will magically get better, either. It might take some hard work to make the necessary changes for your financial situation.

Finally, you’ll want to know when it’s time to do more than talk. It can be really helpful to get an objective third-party involved in your tough money conversations.

Whether that’s a therapist, a fee-only financial planner, or another type of professional who can coach you and provide guidance and accountability, getting someone who can provide an outside, unbiased perspective can make it much easier for you to navigate the hardest topics to tackle with your significant other.

Mary Beth Storjohann, CFP® is an author, speaker, and financial coach who takes a fun, no-nonsense approach in working with individuals and couples across the country, helping them make smart choices with their money.

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