Having serious conversations about money is never fun, especially with your significant other. But it’s a necessary topic to broach, whether you have tons of it or are struggling to make ends meet. Bringing up financial matters with a partner or spouse doesn’t have to be as challenging as it may seem at first blush. Here’s how to do it so it goes as smoothly as possible.
Mention the topic
Whenever you and your significant other are already in a good mood and enjoying each other’s company, run the idea of a money chat by him or her. This might be on a Thursday evening when you meet after work for happy hour, or a Saturday afternoon when you’re enjoying some coffee and downtime. Do this in a non-threatening way and make a plan to have a real conversation at some point in the near future, so your partner has time to give it some thought and consideration.
Set aside time
When you’ve settled on a time to chat, make sure you have a good hour or so when you and your partner aren’t stressed out or tired. You don’t want to enter the conversation with a short fuse or when you’re already exhausted. And make sure you have sufficient time to delve into details and cover both of your opinions and perspectives. This will be the first of many conversations and it can set the tone for the rest that is to come. Make it a positive one.
Begin with questions
Instead of jumping in with your own wants, priorities, and perhaps frustrations, ask your partner what money means to him or her and how it plays a role in his or her life. This is a safe and non-aggressive way of bringing up the topic and getting your partner’s viewpoint. Then move on to more specific questions about what your significant other thinks of saving versus investing. Finally, ask for feedback from your partner.
Something to the effect of, “Do you think I spend too much on any specific items?” or “Do you think I could improve my spending habits in any way?” You might be surprised by what he or she has to say, and it will likely open the conversation to getting more specific.
Layout financial goals
Once you’ve chatted a bit about your general thoughts on money, have a little fun with discussing your financial goals, both short-term and long-term objectives. This can be anything from investing 20% of your paycheck every month to saving $30,000 over the course of five years for a bathroom remodel. You may even want to write down these goals so you can refer back to them in future conversations. Give equal weight to both of your desires, no matter how big or small.
Create a budget
Whether you have joint accounts or keep your assets separate, it’s a good idea to create a monthly and yearly budget that will put you two on the right track to meeting your financial goals. Look at your current incomes, living expenses, and any debts. Then ask yourselves, are you both happy with your current standard of living? Are there any areas where you could cut back to save for bigger expenditures in the future? Nailing down these details will help to take away some of the pressure to self-monitor and should prevent either one of you from nagging or becoming defensive should you run slightly off course.
If you agree well ahead of time to how much money you’ll spend in some major categories (housing, utilities, food, entertainment, education, insurance, healthcare, savings, special occasions, charities, and transportation) then there’s little room to argue over future purchases. It either fits in the budget, or it doesn’t.
Plan to do some research together
This is one area where you might want to agree to divide and conquer, and then come together to discuss what you’ve learned. Read some books on saving and investing, so you have a firm grasp of how to diversify your money. Figure out whether it makes more sense for you, as a couple, to use credit cards (to earn points and help keep track of your spending) or cash (no risk of late payment fees). And talk about how much debt you are comfortable having on a yearly basis. Doing this will make you both feel empowered when it comes to your personal finances.
If necessary, cut the conversation short
If the conversation starts turning sour at any point—perhaps one of you is becoming tired or starting to make a personal attack—wrap it up quickly. You don’t want to continue the discussion if one of you is likely to say something you’ll regret. That being said, always make a plan for when you’ll have your next discussion, in 2-3 weeks or so so that you can follow up, talk about goals, and come to an understanding.