Picture this: You’re standing in the kitchen with your partner or spouse, avoiding eye contact while a silent and slow tension builds in the air. The mail sits opened on the kitchen table between you. It’s staring at you both, testing you, but neither one of you wants to be the first to acknowledge it. Passively, one of you succumbs to the discomfort and picks up the credit card bill that is sitting on the top of the pile. And it begins…
“How is our credit card bill so high again?”
“Why didn’t you tell me you were going to charge that?”
“You promised you were going to cut back going out to lunch this month.”
What comes next is a series of defensive maneuvers and blame-shifting that eventually leads to some pretty impressive shouting or, for those of you who didn’t grow up in a loud Italian family like me, piercing angry eye stare-downs that basically conveys the same message: I’m really mad about our money and I’m taking it out on you right now.
It Doesn’t Have to Be This Way
What if I told you that money conversations didn’t have to go this way? What if there was a way to stop having the same money arguments over and over again? The truth is, money is a passion-driven subject.
But we don’t have to always jump straight to being angry or frustrated when the money conversations in our relationship aren’t going the way we want them to. Before getting angry with your spouse or partner about money, let’s take a step back, breathe, and try a new approach.
Share Your Money Stories with Your Spouse
Chances are you’ve developed a view about money long before you met your current partner. This general financial approach that you adhere to comes from countless “money stories” that you’ve heard, seen, or told yourself over the years. Sharing your money stories with your partner can help to break down some of those walls that are blocking healthy communication about your finances. Here are a few you should consider talking about:
How was money handled in your house growing up?
What was your first job, and how did you spend your first paycheck?
What’s your favorite purchase that you’ve made?
What’s the best money advice you’ve ever received?
What is your biggest money mistake?
What’s the smartest thing you’ve ever done with your money?
Sharing your biggest money wins could renew your confidence in your spouse, teach you something and create a sense of togetherness. This will help you to approach future money disagreements with a sense of respect for where each other are coming from.
Plus, what your spouse shares could inspire you. Maybe they bought an old car and drove it for years, learning how to fix basic problems. Now you know that you have a handyman living at home so there’s no need to buy a brand new sedan. Or perhaps they started their Roth IRA at 18 and have been slowing saving away each year.
Get On the Same Page with Your Spouse
Schedule time for both of you to talk uninterrupted about the household finances. I recommend creating an agenda together on what you want to cover and accomplish during your planned talk. This will help you keep your conversation focused and productive.
Review the state of the finances so both of you know exactly what your money situation is. Is debt an issue? Not enough savings? Don’t feel like you’re on track to meet your goals? Having both of you aware and involved will help keep you aligned.
Speaking of goals, you should have specific ones for your money. How much are you trying to save and for what purpose? Are you buying a new home, starting a business, growing your family or simply trying to build your rainy day fund? Target specific amounts you’d like to stash away and assign a time period for building up the savings for each goal.
Discuss roles and responsibilities for managing the finances, such as paying bills, saving, monitoring, etc.
Share what you think is working and what could be working better (or really isn’t working at all).
Agree how you’ll communicate and work together going forward (perhaps preparing ahead of time before coming to meetings / money talks.
You may have this particular conversation a few times before you’re finally on the same page. The real point of this conversation is to lay it all out on the table, explore the finances together and hash out anything that needs to be addressed so that it doesn’t continue to cause arguments in the future.
Stop the Blame Game
Finger pointing won’t get you anywhere when it comes to actually making progress with your money. In my experience, it may be better to avoid “you” comments altogether and opt for the “we,” because your money story includes both of you after all. So rather than saying, “You always spend too much going out to eat during the week.”
A better way to address this particular issue (during your scheduled regular money talks) is to say, “We continue to spend more than we allocated on going out to eat. Are there any ways we can limit or better track these expenses? Or should we cut back on another area instead so it balances out?” Remember, it’s about resolving the finances together, not attacking one another.
Kind, positive affirmations go a long way, especially after a history of arguments and criticisms. Be supportive of each other and give praise when praise is do. Acknowledge the other person for their contributions to household finances. Thank your wife for paying the bills. Praise your husband when he opts to pay more towards the car payment instead of using the discretionary money on himself.
Help make each other feel good and appreciated when it comes to money. It’s not easy and you both deserve affirmations for the effort, intention and commitment you’re putting in to make it a more positive experience for both of you. When you make a choice as a couple to start communicating about money, you’re really choosing to work through and resolve the issues that activated your arguments in the first place.
From here, keep communication open with your spouse by continuing to schedule time to talk about money. Scheduling is key, because it isn’t a reaction to someone or something. Instead, it’s a commitment you’re both making to stay present with the finances. Maintaining a monthly budget together is a great way to keep each other accountable and engaged in the process.
Proactively planning on how much you’ll save, what you need to cover your regular expenses, and allocating a certain amount of funds for undefined discretionary purchases helps to prevent any surprises on your credit card statement and anyone from being caught off guard.
Need help communicating in a safe space? When you start trying to talk about money as a couple, it can be a challenge. Having a neutral third-party to facilitate the conversation can help. As a financial planner, I help my clients talk about their money all the time.
Although I can’t promise everyone will always agree, I can say that we usually are able to move through conversations together without blaming, finger-pointing, yelling, or even giving each other the stink eye. Having someone there who can help you see both sides of the story and remind you that you’re on the same team is a huge benefit! Want to learn more? Set up a consultation today!