How to Have Productive Money Talks with Your Partner
By Colleen Kane
- PUBLISHED April 02
- 7 MINUTE READ
When Josh Hastings was about to get married, he traded in his paid-off car for a new $37,000 truck, a story he shares on his blog Money. Life. Wax. Needless to say, his soon-to-be wife was not pleased.
For Hastings, it was an important lesson in how money can influence a relationship. The blowback ultimately led him to change his attitude toward talking about money with his partner. “My wife and I have this philosophy: Couples that do money together, stay together,” says Hastings. “Trust, honesty and accountability are all words that we use in our marriage and when we factor our finances together.”
Maybe you talk about money every day or fight about money every day. Maybe you’re the primary breadwinner in the relationship, or you brought in the biggest load of debt—or both. But chances are that, whatever your financial situation, you and your partner could have healthier conversations about your finances.
After all, financial challenges are tough on marriages—one study of 1,000 adults with consumer debt found that 41% argued about money, and that it was the subject of their most common argument.
“I worked with a couple who had entirely different ideas on what it meant to be financially successful together,” says Erika Rasure, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the online MBA in financial services program at Maryville University. “So much resentment and contempt for money choices, which is essentially poison to a relationship. Marriage takes work, yet the influence of money hang-ups is underestimated.”
So if you’re ready to broach the subject of money with your partner, follow these pointers for making an often tense topic less stressful.
- Take a Look Back. You already know if your partner grew up rich, poor or somewhere on the scale in between, but how was money handled in their household? What financial lessons were given? What about for your background? You can gain insight into your partner’s financial behavior and beliefs—and your own—when you understand how money was earned, spent, saved and discussed as you were both growing up.
- Put Judgments Aside. Aim to create a safe space where you and your partner can both be heard and valued, Rasure says. Acknowledge the emotions that crop up around paying the bills, spending and saving. Focus on the fact that you’re a team working toward the same goals—so it’s time to work like a team.
- Tell the Truth. Confess that you do have a little bit of a shopping addiction. Or maybe your partner has more debt than he let on. Be honest about money mistakes you’ve made in the past, so you can continue moving forward together.
- Seek Help if Necessary. If you get stuck and can’t seem to resolve your financial issues on your own, involve a financial counselor. A counselor can help you establish your goals, keep the conversations productive and provide a third opinion.
- Look Ahead. Discuss your financial goals. Do you both know what you’re saving for? Do you agree? Prioritize your goals and how you’ll tackle debt. Plan ways to fulfill your dreams, whether you want a vacation fund, a house fund or a baby fund.
- Keep at It. Your shared finances should be an ongoing dialogue. Set up designated, regular times to check in about spending, saving and how your goals may be evolving. Make sure you have access to all your financial statements or balances on your money dates, as well as a place to talk that is free of distractions and gives you privacy.
Talk about how you create your household budget, how you track spending, and how you’ll save toward your goals. If day-to-day considerations are in good shape, move on to bigger goals, such as saving for your kid’s college education and retirement. What does retirement look like for each of you, and do your visions match up?
“I highly recommend an annual report, where there is an actual document entirely produced by both spouses that highlights key financial info: net worth, retirement account balances, future short-term and long-term goals,” Rasure says. “Make it light—have a glass of wine and lay it all out. It can be a huge source of conflict, but it doesn’t have to be.”
Once you’re talking openly and honestly and your goals are aligned, it may feel less like you and your spouse are fixing your money problems and more like you’re working toward solutions.
Colleen Kane is a freelance writer who has written for CNBC, Fortune, Money and many other publications.