The idea of talking to your spouse about money is daunting, but it’s important. Whether you’re struggling with debt or just want to pursue a better financial future together, these tips will help you tackle the conversation head-on.
In order for both spouses to be happy in the marriage financially, they have to agree on spending habits as well as saving goals. Discussing money can feel awkward and uncomfortable at first because we don’t know what our partner might say (and may not even like hearing). But if you come prepared and with an open mind, things should go more smoothly.
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How does money affect relationships?
Studies have shown that at least 41% of Gen X divorces and 29% of Boomer divorces are related to money disagreements.
“Financial disagreements did predict divorce more strongly than other common problem areas like disagreements over household tasks or spending time together,”the authors of the study
It’s common for one spouse to be more responsible with money than the other. This could lead to resentment or create an imbalance in power within the relationship, which is unhealthy and can damage your marriage from the inside out.
“Money talk has a history of being taboo because it was expected that men were going to be breadwinners and women would handle everything else,”Rachel Cruze, author of “Smart Couples Finish Rich
She also points out that oftentimes people are afraid they’ll find out their partner is terrible with money–when really there may just be disagreements about how much should go into savings versus spending on fun stuff together.
The good news is that you don’t have to talk about all this complicated financial stuff at once! Once you break the seal on the money talk, you can bring it up in everyday conversations or while on road trips.
Making money a regular part of your relationship conversations takes away the pressure and the stigma. It shouldn’t be any more stressful than discussing your weekend plans, especially if you already have a financial plan and a budget.
1. Talk to your spouse about your current money situation
When I had this conversation with my husband, I did some homework first. I gathered all the information needed to calculate our net worth. That showed us all of our assets and debts, so we both had a good idea of where we were right then.
Adding up those numbers, especially the debts, made me nervous as heck to even start the conversation.
Numbers to discuss:
- total debt & type of debt
- interest rates on your debt
- monthly minimum payments
- monthly take-home pay
- are you making enough to pay your bills and buy food?
- cash savings
- retirement and other investment accounts
- how much you’re wasting on interest payments each month or each year
You could gather the information together, sharing the work, and talking as you go. Or you can prepare the numbers ahead of time to present to your spouse. Choose whichever method you think will be received better.
I wanted to be able to talk clearly & coherently about our situation, so I did all the legwork ahead of time.
2. Talk to your spouse about your current money feelings
Tell your spouse how your financial situation is making you feel right now.
If you talk about your feelings first, it might make the conversation go more smoothly.
Your spouse will know how the situation is affecting you in non-monetary ways, which might hit home more than saying “we shouldn’t spend $50 on coffee each month.” Re-phrasing that as “$50 a month on coffee means we don’t have quite enough for groceries, and that stresses me out” is more effective.
The hardest part of talking to my husband was admitting that I felt scared for our future financially and didn’t know where we would end up when all this debt is paid off. It’s hard not to worry every day: how will things be after he retires? Will we have enough saved in order to live the life we want? Can we support our daughter into her adulthood?
If they have any questions or need clarification on anything, now’s the time to address those concerns. Be prepared for them asking why you’re feeling those emotions. Talk about what has made you feel that way so far (like getting an unexpected medical bill) and talk through a plan together with both of your goals in mind.
Make a serious effort to not blame your spouse for the situation. When mentally planning to talk to your spouse about money, reframe everything in terms of your feelings rather than your spouse’s actions.
Say “I feel” or “I do” instead of “you make me feel” or “you do.” “I” statements are less accusatory than “you” statements.
You don’t want to alienate your spouse or make them feel ashamed of their past spending. Both of you got into this situation, and it will take effort from both of you to improve your finances. Focus on creating a sense of “us against the debt.” Tackling a huge goal as a team increases your chances of success.
3. Talk to your spouse about how to change your money
This is where you come up with a game plan.
You can talk about new ways you want to spend less or save more, how much debt burden exists and what the monthly minimum payments are on each account. If there’s a lot of debt, it might be time for some drastic changes in spending habits. When you don’t have debt, talk about creating goals together that will make both of you happy – like setting aside an emergency fund or saving for retirement.
Let your spouse know that this is not a one-sided decision and take their input into consideration. If your spouse doesn’t want to talk about money, you might ask them why not. What are they afraid of?
If they’re still reluctant after talking through the pros and cons on paper or discussing together in person, offer a compromise like no longer buying coffee every day or cutting out one bill that isn’t necessary (like cable TV).
Maybe they’re not interested in working out a plan together or want to talk less frequently (every few months) – that’s OK too. Talk through what both parties need before deciding if it is worth continuing this talk now.
Take baby steps
if you talk about changing your spending habits, start small and work up from there (like saving $200 every month instead of $100). This way, both spouses can see the benefits in action as well as make gradual changes over time.
Ask: where do you see us financially in 5 years? In retirement?
This could include retirement savings now or monthly budgeting plans. Their goals will give you a better idea of their thoughts and feelings about money, and what changes they desire.
Talk to your spouse about their bigger money goals: lifestyle in retirement, future travel plans, home purchases, or home improvements.
When you’re making plans for the future, talk to each other. This could be as simple as deciding where to retire or considering how much money will go into savings every month.
Talk about what you want and need in terms of consumer goods (cars? vacations?). If one person wants a car but the other doesn’t, then it’s best not to buy that car until there is agreement on this topic. It can also just get confusing when two spouses have different opinions about buying something new!
Put everything in writing. Whether it’s looking at an income statement, exploring debt repayment options, budgeting monthly expenses–the important thing is that both parties agree.
Your long-term goals won’t always align exactly, but having this discussion now will help merge the paths later on.
If things have gone well so far…
Talk about the next steps to take:
- Create a budget right now or later? Schedule a budget meeting and put it on your calendars if now doesn’t work, and stick to that plan.
- Talk again in a few months? Plan on regular money/budget check-ins.
- Make changes together right away, like cutting back on cable or switching car insurance providers? Signing up for the Frugal Year Challenge will help you save money in 12 different categories.
- Discuss if you both should talk with someone else (like an accountant or financial advisor) for advice specifically on this topic.
With these 3 simple steps, you can finally feel in control of your finances again. You don’t have to live with the anxiety and fear that comes from not knowing where all your money goes every month. If this sounds like something you want to do, we are here for you! The Bill-Balancing Bootcamp is a great way to start feeling better about your financial situation within weeks instead of months or years.
Another great option is the Easy Budget Builder! Join the waitlist now so you’ll be notified when this new course goes live.