Whether you’re in a new relationship or you’ve been committed for years, talking about “money feelings” with your partner is a healthy way to get closer. With that said, it’s not always the easiest, or most pleasant, conversation to bring up. So we’re here to help you simplify that process.
Money plays a role in our everyday lives. The more serious our relationship becomes, the less likely that big money talk can be left out of the ongoing dialogue. So why not open up early on? Most times, our apprehension about money discussions is rooted in a concern about how something might negatively reflect on us. But that has more to do with our own opinions than our partners. And frankly, it’s time to stop treating money as a taboo topic. The reality is, it’s a helpful, practical, and imperative topic, especially for couples merging their lives.
So let’s start normalizing money conversations, shall we? The sooner you bring it up to your partner, the more naturally it can come up and the less pressure you’ll feel moving forward. First things first, you have to start somewhere. Start with something small. Maybe ask them how they feel about discussing money in general rather than launching right into it.
Before you bring it up, here are some other things that will help make the money conversation less taxing.
To make it count, have a clear idea of what you want to discuss going in. To avoid confusion on your end or theirs, it’s not a bad idea to make notes beforehand. This will help keep all conversation points clear and on track. It can also minimize conflict. Not to mention, being prepared may also calm your nerves significantly.
Talking about money is rarely easy or comfortable at first, but the better prepared you are going in, the easier it will be to navigate the discussion, not leaving anything important out, and ultimately find common ground.
From your mortgage to loans, to credit card debt, and pay stubs, bring all necessary financial documents. Go over them in advance as well. And when in major doubt, practice. It might sound silly, but you’re creating a financial life together. Feeling more confident and less anxious will set a positive tone for the big money talk.
Remember to write down your important discussion points. If you’re nervous, those will be the ones worth practicing. And consider turning to someone you trust with money matters for support. Your goal is to be as helpful to you both as possible. A confidante may be able to help you sharpen what you need to say for clarity’s sake and provide constructive opinions.
Also, be sure to give your spouse a heads up. And no, I don’t mean “warn” them. They’ll also need time to prepare and round up their own documents. So make sure you give them a reasonable amount of time to do so rather than springing it on them before they’ve located something they’ll undoubtedly need.
Bring in a Third Party
While it’s certainly a private matter, there’s nothing wrong with asking the right third party for help. Some couples opt to bring in another person to avoid letting emotions take over. Whether it’s someone in your circle you both trust or a financial advisor, having someone else mediate can keep the conversation where it needs to be: on getting to a better financial situation together.
With that said, you may be more comfortable discussing matters one on one. A third party isn’t always necessary, but do some soul searching before you rule out having a neutral party involved. Perhaps when you give them a heads up, suggest that if the two of you can’t come to an agreement on something, you stay open to the idea of consulting someone you both trust. That way, all of your resources and options will be out on the table before any topic is broached.
Don’t Hide The Mess
When it comes to hard financial discussions, transparency will work in your favor. One of the key reasons for having the conversation is to openly share information about your finances. Leaving something pertinent out because you’re afraid of their reaction would be counterproductive. Remember, if you continuously sweep a mess under the rug, it’s only going to become a bigger mess. And you still have to clean it up.
With a brighter financial future in mind, there’s no sense in letting something like a debt you once attempted to hide cause an unnecessary problem that prevents, interrupts, or damages the sense of trust this conversation should build.
Transparency doesn’t mean you have to share every detail of your spending habits. You shouldn’t open a joint bank account unless you both want one and you don’t have to show them your credit card receipts. Yes, you’re merging your worlds, but you’re still entitled to your privacy, autonomy, and personal checking account. However, you should be clear about that too.
Come to agreements about how much money you’ll share, what goes into the joint account, how to best tackle joint expenses, and how much of your shared money can become “disposable income.” No matter what you decide, you should decide as a team. This is only possible if you’re both equipped with enough information to come to financially sound decisions.
Discuss Money Values
One of the primary goals is to walk away from the talk on the same page. So you’ll need to discuss your money values. You’ll need to be equals in important financial decisions, so first figure out where you both stand.
One major reason couples seek therapy comes down to a relationship imbalance. And money often plays a big role. For instance, when one partner believes that making more money means they have more of a say in financial decisions, a toxic cycle often forms. Some partners believe that because they’re more financially responsible and tend to be more frugal, they should get the final say because they’re the voice of reason. But the reality is, both partners’ values and stances are equally valid and they should be treated as such.
If one person lays down the law or believes their money values matter more, it creates a type of inequality that will likely breed unwanted dependence, feelings of inadequacy, and lasting resentment. So aim to become equals.
Giving each other the floor and approaching the money conversation as equals can help you grow closer emotionally, both immediately and in the long term. We shouldn’t have to ask our partners for financial permission. We shouldn’t be punished for making financial mistakes. Money mistakes are inevitable for all of us at some time or another. The more comfortable you are discussing money, the better you’ll be able to overcome it together.
If you’re not sure what to do about something, ask your spouse for their opinion. Then listen to what they have to say. The conversation should not veer into territory that doesn’t pertain to your family’s financial situation. But asking the right questions and being open to their answers will help you both stay focused.
Above all else, be supportive. If your spouse is opening up to you about being in deep debt, suggest ways they can work towards getting to a better place or getting the right financial help. Being overly critical won’t be helpful to anyone.
Prepare For Surprise
You may think you’re the one bringing some bad news to the table. For all you know, they’re just as nervous and have twice as much debt. Prepare for it. For both your sakes, hopefully, there won’t be that many unwanted financial surprises. But the better you prepare for them, the better you’ll likely handle any information you didn’t see coming.
If they’re the bearer of bad news, they’re probably already stressed out, hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst reaction. But no good can come of giving them that. Remember that you are here to figure out financial matters, solve problems, and grow closer. You don’t have to come to the table with all the answers. In fact, you can’t because it’s something you’re figuring out together.
So come to your money talk with an open mind.
Discuss Managing Costs and Create a Budget
Hear what your spouse has to say about how to manage costs and then contribute your own ideas. It’ll be the start of your financial plan and agreed-upon budget. Whatever you decide together, it needs to be something you both can manage long-term.
If you need a little assistance, there are tons of tools out there for building budgets, tracking spending, etc. Do a little research to get an idea of what tools might best help you both better manage your money. Online resources like these can help you both stay more financially organized and aware.
Regardless of the tools you use, if you’re going to come up with a truly sustainable plan, you’ll both have to compromise and sacrifice. And so, you should remain open to change.
Be Open to Change
Life changes in a flash, and so do our financial situations. Maybe you both have agreed on a money-saving strategy and it’s not really working. Maybe one of you just lost your job and it put a major dent in the budget. It’s okay to reassess and revamp the initial plan you made.
Sometimes, couples agree to keep their finances mostly separate, and then suddenly, it’s no longer sustainable. The two of you are a family now, and perhaps even a growing family. How you financially set up your life will not look exactly how it did when you weren’t a couple. And you should both aim to accommodate your shared growth, not avoid it.
Recap The Agreed Upon Plan
Once you’ve discussed everything and reached an agreement, go over it once more. Be sure that you’re both totally clear about where you’re at and what you plan to do. Perhaps once a month, sit down and talk about spending, saving, retirement goals, dream vacations, financial fears, and current money issues.
Fully aware of each other’s money priorities, wants, and needs, you’ll be able to rely on each other if and when financially sticky situations occur. Fueled by a mutual willingness to be vulnerable, supportive, and figure things out together, you’ll cultivate financial intimacy. And only good can come from that.