How to Talk Money Issues with Your Spouse

Talking about finances with your significant other is harder for most couples than discussing intimacy, mainly because financial discussions bring up major life decisions like kids’ education, savings, retirement and spending allowances, which people try to avoid until action is needed.

Because major financial discussion do not come around too often, one or both individuals are often surprised, if not shocked, by their partner’s opinion on a topic. So set a date with your spouse to have the “money-talk”, clear the air on both of your financial goals and where you see your financial future. You will be much happier with each other knowing what to expect the next time a major money decision gets made or retirement approaches. Even your short-term goals will reflect positively your long-term relationship.

Discuss finances with spouse

Here are a few things that can make a difference:

1. Set a spending threshold. Often our biggest arguments come from surprises. For instance, one of the easiest ways to start an argument is for one spouse to make a big purchase without telling the other. I’ve found it helpful to set a predetermined limit. You choose what it is. Depending on your budget it may be as little as $50 or as much as $500. The point is that you discuss it with your partner.

2. Talk about education. It may seem odd, but one of the most common disagreements between couples revolves around their children’s education. One parent may say, “I supported myself and paid for my school. It’s better for our kids if they do that, too.” The other wants to pay for the best school the kids can attend, no matter the price. The point isn’t that one is right and the other is wrong. Since it’s a topic that can raise strong feelings, it needs to be discussed, preferably before the first child is a senior in high school and sending out applications.

3. Decide where to live. Some people really want to own a house, others don’t mind renting. Couples need to have this discussion because it can be an emotional decision. There needs to be an honest conversation about expectations on both sides and what’s right for you as a couple and family.

4. Talk about vacations. Because big dollars can be involved, you need to talk through your vacation expectations. You need to be honest with each other about a budget that makes sense for travel and put it in the context of your other financial obligations. The last thing you want to do is go on vacation and then come home only to be shocked by the credit card statement.

5. Review your retirement expectations. Retirement for me is different than retirement for you, and you need to discuss it with your spouse. Your mentality might say, “I’m working for 40 years and then I’m done.” However, what does your spouse want? Maybe they like working and being able to do something that’s less stressful but more fulfilling. Talk it through and be clear about what’s important to you.

Talking Money for GoodAt this point, you may be wondering how to get started. Here’s a few ideas:

Each month set aside a specific time and place to talk. Doing so can help you avoid tricky conversations when they’re least expected or when you may already be irritated by something else. By setting aside time, you can prepare and know what to expect. There may still be disagreements, but because you’re talking about money regularly, it’s less likely to get blown out of proportion.

Have a “no shame, no blame” rule. Many discussions around money can end in heated arguments. Take the heat out by giving both individuals permission to have these discussions without shame or blame. The point is that you’re talking through the problems. Then, take responsibility for your actions. While there shouldn’t be any shame, with every discussion you should commit to learn from your mistakes and move forward.

Write the decisions down so you can track your progress. A benefit of monthly meetings is that you can assess how you’re doing, but it requires keeping track of what you’ve agreed to do. Write things down and revisit them during your meeting. Have you made progress? If not, what needs to happen? The list can be a great way to manage your monthly conversations. Don’t be afraid to use it and hold each other accountable.

Finally, automate your decisions. If you decide it’s important to save $200 for education every month, give this decision a head start. Work with the institution that’s holding your savings to make the payment automatic. It will give you one more thing to check off the list and save you from having to remake the decision monthly.

Talking about money with our spouse or partner doesn’t have to be a scary or stressful affair. In fact, we can dial down the stress significantly when we have a better understanding of what matters to the other person in our relationships. It also doesn’t hurt that we get the added benefit of greater financial success in our lives by talking through these big financial decisions before they become critical.

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