FINANCES: How to Talk to Your Spouse About Money (Without Fighting)
Talking about money with your spouse can be intimidating for many of us, especially when your views about it are so different.
However, agreeing about money; from earning to spending to saving and investing with your spouse is critical to having the healthy, happy, and fulfilling marriage you desire.
To be honest, marriage and money go hand in hand!
You’re joining your lives together and money is going to be a huge part of that because it’s connected to almost everything you will do as a couple.
So in this article, we are going to show you how to talk to your spouse about money in 9 simple steps. And without fighting.
How to Talk to Your Spouse About Money
According to the American Psychological Association, money is the number one source of stress for many people.
Furthermore, money talks in marriage are not always easy. But you can do it!
Just follow the 9 steps below to have a successful conversation with your husband or wife.
Step 1: Plan for your conversation.
The most important thing you can do is to let your spouse know you want to have a conversation about money with them.
Also, inform them about the specific money topic you have in mind. E.g. Maybe it’s your first money talk, credit card issues you are facing, changing careers to earn more, student loan debt, buying a new car, house, saving for retirement, etc.
So your wife or husband can also be ready for this money talk. This way they can come prepared, have an open mind and give you their full attention.
Pick a date, time, and place that works for both of you, then schedule it in your calendar.
Note: Choose a less stressful time for your meeting.
If you have kids, make plans for them to either be occupied or watched by someone, so they don’t interrupt your conversation. Another thing you can do is to have the conversation after your kids go to bed.
Step 2: Prepare yourself.
Make sure you’re going into this conversation with the right attitude.
Be patient with your spouse, open-minded, and ready to admit to your own money failures.
In other words, be ready to evaluate your part in the mess of your finances, and be accountable for changing them. Have you been overspending? Do you have secret accounts?
Step 3: Connect.
Eye contact and physical touch can help keep you grounded when dealing with emotional topics like money.
During your conversation, hold your spouse’s hand because it’s a great reminder that you’re on the same team.
Step 4: Show respect.
When one person is talking, the other must listen attentively; his or her turn will arrive soon.
Interrupting derails the conversation and tells your spouse you don’t care about what they have to say, so why should they listen to you? Childish as it seems, that’s how most of us will respond subconsciously.
Communicate to your spouse with love and respect.
Step 5: Ease into the conversation.
Start by discussing where you want to go with your finances. Below are simple questions you can use to get your conversation started.
⇒ Babe, I’m really interested in how you view money?
⇒ What would your ideal financial situation for us be like?
⇒ Where do you think I could improve on my spending?
⇒ What is your dream salary?
⇒ What do you want us to be able to do in the future with our finances? E.g. Buy a home? Travel? Leave money behind for your children? Retire early?
As you can see, none of the questions above should cause your spouse to be defensive, because you’re asking them to share their opinion.
In addition, make your money talk fun by incorporating laughter into your conversation.
Be honest with your spouse. In other words, never lie about money as it will result in financial infidelity.
Note: If this is not your first time talking about money with your spouse, go to Step 7.
Step 6: Go deeper.
Ask questions that will give you an insight into your partner’s motivations when it comes to talking about money. And vice versa.
Sometimes, one or both of you might get triggered due to the values you have about money, your past experiences with money, or personal finance education.
If you feel your conversations are getting heated, take a break or reschedule to continue from where you left off. And if all fails get a third party you both trust to help.
Use these money questions to have deeper conversations.
⇒ How was money handled in your house growing up?
⇒ What are some of the conversations your parents/guardians had about money?
⇒ Did your parents/guardian ever fight about money? How often did they argue about money?
⇒ What is your biggest fear when it comes to money?
⇒ How do you feel about giving money to others?
⇒ What marriage expectations do you have when it comes to money, finances, income, paying bills, loans, debt, etc.?
⇒ Is money a tool, or is it only for a select few people, etc.?
⇒ How would you describe your feelings about money?
⇒ How does having a lot of money make you feel?
⇒ How does having little to no money make you feel?
⇒ Which one do you like the most: Earning or Saving or Spending or Giving or Investing?
⇒ What are your ultimate financial goals? How can we get there?
⇒ What beliefs do you have about money?
⇒ What expectations do you have for me when it comes to money?
⇒ Why is agreeing on finances or budgeting important to you, your spouse, family and/or marriage?
⇒ How much do you each want to save each month, and why?
Step 7: Come up with a financial plan you both agree on.
A goal without a plan or action will never be attainable. Have a discussion about the topic of your meeting to see how you can achieve your goal(s) together.
Be ready to embrace your spouse’s views objectively, and without judgment. Keep your strengths and end goal in mind as you come up with your plan together.
Afterward, create a record of your plan for future reference and accountability.
A budgeting example of needs vs wants:
You might both have very different views when it comes to “needs” and “wants” or how much money you should allot for each line item in your budget. The trick is finding ways to compromise and agree on a budget that’s right for your family’s financial goals.
How do you both come to an agreement for each item in your budget?
It’s best to start with a question. Why is item X needed? Why is it important to your spouse? Understanding the root of WHY helps you to be more empathetic and understanding.
“Why do you feel we need a thousand dollars a month for food?”
“Because that’s what it costs.”
“Can we coupon, or meal plan, and come up with a way to shave a few hundred dollars off?”
Coming up with solutions that move toward a compromise is going to be more beneficial in the long run. Maybe the reason for the grocery budget is because of health or dietary reasons, and that is what it will cost to remain your healthiest.
The key is to be fair. Don’t blow up on your spouse. Ask them why that amount seems reasonable to them.
You could also do the meal planning and grocery shopping together so you can both understand the process more and be on the same page.
You’re a team and you have to work together to reach your goals.
“Well, I know you want that extra wiggle room in the budget for eating out (or whatever item) but if we only do it once a month, we can save the rest and take that trip next year you’ve always wanted to go on.”
Step 8: End on a high note.
When your conversation is over, make sure to include gratitude and grace. Tell your spouse how grateful you are to them for talking about money with you.
Here are two examples of prompts you can use:
One thing I’m grateful about you when it comes to our finances is…
When I make a mistake with our budget, I appreciate it when you…
If this meeting is your first time talking about money, your next meeting should focus on sharing more details about your income, credit score, accounts with their up to date balances, expenses, investments, retirements, debt, and long term money goals.
Step 9: Schedule your next money talk date.
Commit to meeting and talking to each other about your finances at least once a month.
Because having a monthly financial meeting will help you to review your finances, and make any changes if needed.
For us, we talk about our finances twice a month to make sure we are on track to hit our financial goals.
Common reasons why couples fight over money
Whenever you talk to your spouse about money, watch out for these causes of money fights in many marriages.
a. Stress from living paycheck to paycheck.
This one usually happens when couples don’t have enough money to pay all their bills.
From our experience, the best solution is to find ways to earn more money, so you can have more wiggle room.
If you don’t know where to start, click here to discover how you can make extra money on the side.
Alternatively, you can read Side Hustle: From Idea to Income in 27 Days by Chris Guillebeau or listen to his podcast, Side Hustle School.
b. Different values and views about what to spend, how much to save, when to invest or retire.
For example, one spouse wants to save money for the future (saver), while the other wants to spend their money today (spender). The saver in most cases likes saving because it makes them feel secure knowing they have savings to fall back to if there is an emergency.
The spender likes to spend money because it makes them feel good, and it usually comes with good intentions. So they see using their hard-earned income to buy new clothes, get a massage, go out to eat, get nails done at the salon, buy you or family members gifts, or reward themselves for their hard work.
As you can see, both have different and valid money values.
Instead of just criticizing your spouse, try to find the reason WHY they view money the way they do.
Then have a discussion to see how you can both achieve your goals in the long and short term. (There is more about money views after this section.)
c. Overspending without agreeing together.
When this happens in marriage, it’s very likely to cause money fights for the couple.
Because when you overspend on one thing, you will end up having less money for other things, which could make your spouse feel disrespected, betrayed, and unimportant.
To remedy this situation, make sure your spouse is on board with any overspending that happens, especially for big purchases.
d. Huge amounts of debts.
Another common thing that brings up a lot of money fights and stress is debt. E.g. Car loans, credit card debt, student loans, mortgage, etc.
So work on getting rid of your debts, because when you eliminate them you will have more financial freedom to do the things you love doing with money.
e. Forgetting to pay bills on time.
This used to happen to us during the first year of our marriage.
However, we solved it by setting up automatic payments for our bills. Try doing the same if you have this issue too because it’s an efficient way to pay your bills on time.
Alternatively, you can schedule due dates with reminders in your calendar to pay your bills two business days before the due dates.
An essential step to ending your money fights
Discovering what money means to you, and your spouse is the first step to solving most, if not all of your arguments about money.
What does money symbolize to each of you? What kind of personal relationship and history do you both have with money?
Does money mean freedom, safety, peace of mind, security, stability, flexibility, survival, convenience, etc.?
Does it symbolize love, being important, status, luxury, power, self-worth, giving back, connection, influence, success, or well being? Does it mean more fun like traveling, eating out, or having breathtaking experiences?
Figure it out, share what it means, then tell each other your personal experiences (good and bad) with money together.
Because this discussion will help you and your spouse to understand why you both view and use money the way you do, have fewer money fights, and improve your marriage.
Keep in mind:
Whatever emotions money topics conjure up inside each of you is valid, so respect each other’s different points of view and the feelings attached to it.
From our experience, most of the money arguments couples have has to deal with what money really means to a person, rather than the amount or dollar figure.
2 Practical ways to talk about money with your spouse
1. Doing something fun.
Short-term goals keep us motivated.
For the first year, we recommend having realistic and attainable financial goals. If you save “X” by sticking to the budget, you go on “Y” trip or buy that new car, or whatever you decide.
Having a discussion about your financial goals such as savings, investments, retirement, big purchases like the family car, your home and even future travel on a regular basis (once a month-around budget time) can help give you both something to look forward to and help you delay the instant gratification for the better ending payoff.
We are humans and therefore egotistical in nature. We want to know how this sacrifice now, will benefit us later?
If we sacrifice some grocery money here, we can eat out there. If we sacrifice not doing these events, we can take a vacation here. Dangle the carrot in front of the horse —metaphorically speaking of course.
2. Keeping a budget.
Creating a monthly budget together is one of the best ways for couples to talk about money. Because this process sets up the foundation of you both working together to accomplish a goal.
Plus, it involves having to communicate effectively through difficult topics, and without fighting.
Of course, it also helps you both to grow closer towards your financial goals while strengthening intimacy in your marriage.
Our experience with budgeting
Budgeting for the first time will not be easy for many couples like ourselves. But, you will eventually get a monthly budget that works for your relationship if that’s your goal.
It took us about 6 months to get it right and the better part of the year for the spender in our marriage (*ahem—Ash) to be able to stick to that budget.
To help us talk, agree on finances, and budget correctly, we follow a mixture of the Dave Ramsey principles and personal finance advice given by Ramit Sethi. In our case, having a mix of their principles is common sense for our financial situation.
Is it okay to have separate finances in marriage?
After marriage, you become one with your spouse, so even if keeping your finances separate works for you, (you pay this bill and I’ll cover this one) you should still be budgeting together and planning your finances as one unit.
When your finances remain separate, it can be more challenging to keep that open and honest communication channel about balances and expenses.
But it’s vital that you do because it will help you and your spouse to be united, grow together, improve communication, and reach your financial goals faster.
Being united over money is an essential building block for a strong foundation for your marriage!
Living in unity in our marriage finances has been an integral part of our marriage. It has ensured we are always on the same page about money.
We are able to make quicker decisions when making big purchases like buying our family car, furniture for our home, etc. because we agree on our finances.
Should you live in debt, or be debt-free?
The thought of living debt-free was a hard concept for me (Ash). I was taught that everyone borrows student loans in college; everyone has credit cards for emergencies.
I realized that my view of how money works were very limited. – Ash
In Ghana, living with debt is not a common lifestyle. Therefore discovering that many people in the US have debt in one form or the other was shocking to me when I first arrived here.
But I soon realized it’s due to how easy and simple debt can be accumulated for various reasons. I personally don’t want to live in debt because it hinders me from many opportunities and plays a big role in making financial decisions.
We do however utilize credit cards the way Ramit Sethi explains, without racking up a bunch of debt by paying the balance off in full every month.
My quest for personal finance advice led me to Dave and Ramit’s books and blogs. – Marcus
Are we perfect? Hell no!
Sometimes we mess up, have to rearrange our monthly budget for the next month and promise to do better. In fact, it’s been a learning process for us.
Due to one of us being a saver and the other being a spender, we had to learn our differences and how to work together before finally agreeing on our finances.
By agreeing on how to spend our money early on in our marriage, we were able to survive the first year of marriage.
Also, we’ve been able to improve our financial situation, communication, and strengthened the foundation we built for our marriage.
Personal finance books we recommend for couples
Below are 2 books you and your spouse can read to further your personal finance education.
⇒ The Total Money Makeover: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness by Dave Ramsey.
⇒ I Will Teach You to Be Rich. No Guilt. No Excuses. No BS. Just a 6-Week Program That Works by Ramit Sethi.
If either you or your spouse has not read them, we highly recommend you do.
Then discuss what you learn because both will provide you with financial strategies that will make it easier to talk about money with each other.
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