Does talking to your spouse about money give you anxiety? You are not alone! In this article, you will learn how to talk to your spouse about money without fighting.
Wouldn’t it be nice to talk to your spouse about money without fighting? Of course it would! But so often this is a touchy subject that is hard to broach in many relationships. Read on to learn how to make “money talk” work for your relationship.
Valentine’s day is a wrap! That all-important day where you shower your love with chocolate, flowers, and a fancy dinner out to show the depth of your affection. Or in the case of this year, maybe you shared your heated throw blanket and the last girl scout cookie while streaming your latest Netflix binge—Covid has simplified our holidays and some would argue for the better.
However you celebrated, anyone in a long-term relationship knows that coupled life isn’t all romantic gestures. It’s who takes out the trash, a guaranteed date to events, a takeout routine on Saturdays. Being compatible with someone settles into the practical when you combine names and households.
If you and your partner found this merger easy, count yourselves lucky.
Learning to live with another person can be difficult, especially when it comes to money.
Learning to live with another person makes you realize that there is a wrong way to load the dishwasher. You have to change your routine so you can still have quiet time after work if that’s when your partner likes to play their music loud. Maybe you like to eat dinner at different times.
You never realized how many mundane tasks have to be negotiated and defined so that no one feels like they are doing all the work or giving up too much of their privacy/space/routine/time.
More than a third of Americans in a relationship touted money as their main source of anxiety, with 36% of married Americans admitting this is the leading cause of stress in their relationship.
Even couples who meld in every other way frequently have trouble talking to their spouse about money without fighting. Whether you like it or not, spending money indicates what is important to you. And when you spend as part of a couple, you both have a tangible view of what the other is prioritizing.
If you feel like your partner is spending a large portion on something you don’t value or you feel like you are being judged for the way you are spending, it can get personal fast.
So how can you talk about money when you are in a relationship?
To combine or not to combine? When talking to your spouse about money, this is an important up-front question to ask.
I’m not here to tell you that partners have to combine bank accounts or even be completely transparent about every purchase. Some couples very successfully carry two accounts, split bills, and agree to set aside “fun money” that is entirely theirs to spend.
In our home, we have separate bank accounts and use one credit card to pay all the shared household expenses—food, eating out, dog food, cleaning products. We split this bill 50/50 at the end of the month. But when we split the total for “extras” like vacations, furniture, or art, we split these larger items 65/35 based on our individual assets. This works for us, because we each maintain our own autonomy with the money left over in our respective accounts.
If you have an income disparity but want to keep your personal expenses more private, this may work in your home as well. For example, if one of you brings in $100,000 and the other $45,000, you can split each mortgage bill, rent or vacation by 65/35. Each month you will chip in for the repeat expenses, and then you have control over whatever is left in your account.
Some couples do combine accounts, and there are good reasons to do this as well. One of you might not work or have inconsistent income. It may be easier to budget for the month and pay everything out of one pot. This is especially true if one person does most of the shopping. If you have kids, it may simplify shopping for clothes, sports equipment, activities, etc from one account.
Trust is the key to financially healthy relationships.
However you configure your bank accounts, transparency on the big stuff is important. When you share money, the independent decisions you each make can affect the net worth. They can also affect credit score and debt ratio for both of you.
While separate accounts means that you do not have to tell your partner you spent $100 on makeup, it does not mean you are hiding the fact that you got a raise 3 months ago or that you are carrying a high credit card balance. This is financial infidelity, and it is as deadly to a relationship as other forms of broken trust.
If you are a couple with one income or prefer to have a joint account, you both need to be 100% “in.”
When you are part of a couple with only one income, or if you just prefer to have a joint account, both partners have to be 100% in. Delegating all the bills and expecting one person to handle the balancing act on their own can lead to surprises and a world of hurt on both sides. Even if you trust your partner, even if the other person had good intentions, mistrust and fear often rear their heads when one spouse is acting alone and the other is blindsided. In the best case scenario, the one handling the account feels underappreciated and hung out to dry, the other feels taken advantage of.
Why would you think I wanted to invest in your college friend’s business venture? How do we have all this debt and we’re spending like there’s money to burn?
In the worst case, one of you creates self-serving plans or even sets themselves up to leave the relationship with most of the money. Or the partner “in charge” of the money is incapacitated or dies and the other person has no idea what is going on with their funds.
How you spend your income has the power to shape your future. Small financial decisions add up, and even if you feel like you and your spouse have similar spending habits or are working in your combined best interest, how can you be sure if you’ve never discussed where you want to go?
Starting the conversation: Getting started with talking to your spouse about money.
Whether you share a main account or not, it can be awkward to start a conversation about money, especially if you haven’t talked about it in the past. Now is the time to start.
Couples who ignore talking about money are more likely to live paycheck-to-paycheck. What’s the big deal? You always seem to cover your bills at the end of each month. No one is arguing.
But budgeting and discussing long-term saving goals with your spouse is the path to building wealth. Avoiding the subject means you are missing the chance to actively plan for the big things that you dream about as a couple.
Aside from missing the opportunity to plan for your future, you set yourself up to dread money conversations as something negative instead of routine. That having a money talk means you have money problems.
Note: One partner will usually be more excited about having this discussion.
One partner is always going to be more excited about having this discussion. We often marry our opposite. Sometimes one partner shuts down or refuses to talk about money.
If your spouse gets a glazed look when you bring up money, he or she may have felt ambushed in the past.
If you are on the other side and want to have a discussion about money, this refusal can make you feel isolated and hopeless. One person can’t plan a future for two or address spending when money is being spent by two.
Everyone needs to just relax.
The goal is to lead with curiosity and money behaviors, not judgement and blame. Judgement and blame just will not get you what you want, which I hope is closer together working towards a solution. Remember, couples who talk about money build wealth. Those who avoid the discussion live month to month and eventually have to lean on family to bail them out. Neither of you wants that.
Agree that money is an important part of your future. Then set ground rules to start the discussion.
How to plan a “Money Date” with your spouse.
Ideally, you don’t wait until there’s a major decision or money problem before you talk about money with your spouse. If you are married or in a serious, money-sharing relationship with someone else, go ahead and schedule a recurring weekly money date on the calendar. Make it fun and relaxing! Don’t overthink it. Keep it light. The initial conversation may seem awkward, but like everything, the more you practice, the easier it gets.
Don’t start the discussion at the end of a long work day or when you are hangry. I’m a morning person, so this would never work for me. You need to find a time when both of you will feel relaxed, open, and not defensive. Find a time when you won’t be distracted by kid interruptions. I like Sunday afternoons—I’ve had a chance to eat, I have time to focus and energy to engage with new ideas.
What’s my idea of a fun money date?
My idea of a fun money date? Come with one intention—maybe you want to talk about your high monthly food expense. Plan your date around a picnic with all your favorites, but the difference is instead of Uber eats, you have to shop for and make the meal yourselves. It’s a win-win because you are putting into action a solution that might be a little scary and fun while discussing the “problem.” .
This is the first installment of an ongoing money discussion, so you don’t have to tackle every detail of your life plan on your first date. The idea is to make it routine, so it doesn’t feel like a big deal to discuss money.
Above all, no judgement or blame is allowed. If your partner is already antsy, leading with how they need to sell the jet ski so you can afford a new HVAC is missing the point.
Sharing the future vision: goals, dreams, money.
Talking about dreams you both have for the future should be one of your early financial discussions. And dreams don’t have to just be things you spend money on. Include career and lifestyle goals.
You may both be surprised at what the other would consider for your shared future.
You may want to start your own business one day or live in another country. Would you be open to moving if one of you is offered a better job? Will you help your kids pay for college? Do you picture retiring to an island or paying off your home and never leaving?
Of course, you don’t know what the future holds, but this type of discussion can help you understand more about each other and the opportunities you would be excited about and open to.
Keep it light. If your love wants to live in europe, don’t dismiss it as unrealistic or silly. Hear them out.
When you talk to your spouse about money, make sure to share your money story with them. It’s important that they understand it!
If you have been working with me, you know how your money story is for your financial habits. The way you were raised, the family you spent your time with as a child, the experiences you had early on with money—all shape the way you interact with and think about money. With that most important person in your life, you need to share that story.
You have both made observations about how the other one spends. It’s easy to pass judgement on the behavior, but harder to understand the “why.”
We marry or partner with one of our parents! Seriously, there is a recurring theme where couples fall right in line with how their parents handled money. We repeat what we don’t acknowledge or repair.
Talking about reasonable trade-offs for each person will give you a new perspective on your partner. Their money story can give you insight as to the “why”.
If it feels too scary to share your story, if you are having a hard time talking to your spouse because you feel like you won’t be able to speak your piece or explain clearly, it might help to write a letter. Sometimes putting pen to paper helps me organize my thoughts. Going this route doesn’t mean you are exempt from having the talk. But a letter could be a low-risk way to break the ice and help your partner understand your intentions.
It’s important to address emotional vulnerability around your partner’s financial past and present.
Sharing your money story is a vulnerable thing. A loving partnership should be a safe space, even if your beliefs are negatively impacting your spending. The goal is to recognize a connection between the narrative and spending patterns, and better understand how you can help your partner avoid those triggers or reframe their thoughts.
For example, if your spouse came from a family where dad was the primary earner and controlled money in a way that made mom hide her purchases to avoid an argument, your partner may think concealing personal spending is a normal act of self-preservation. And your anger over hidden purchases may reinforce this idea.
Brainstorm ideas to make this partner feel like they can spend without judgment. You might come up with an agreed upon amount that is too much to hide. “For purchases over $250, we should check in with each other.”
Experiences in your past may be the reason for disparities in how you and your partner spend, but it doesn’t mean that you are destined to live out those scenarios over and over.
It’s important throughout the dreaming conversation that you are looking forward to your combined story, not just rehashing the past. Planning for our future, not yours and mine.
Find those shared goals that motivate both of you, and write them down. You can start with something small that you agree on—taking the kids to Disney before the youngest turns 8.
You should each have items on the list that excite you, and a discussion in your back pocket about family and career experiences you would be open to.
It’s not all about money…
More money is not necessarily the goal for everyone (although a healthy cash flow is). Some couples may be happiest working less demanding jobs. This can help them have more time with family, or flexibility if one spouse needs to leave a job.
Others may be happy working full-time and a couple of side hustles to pay off all their debt and retire by the time they are 50.
When you decide what that balance is for your family, you can start talking about practical steps to get there.
…But sometimes it is about money!
Budgeting is going to help you pay off debt and start saving for those dreams.
Come up with an agreed amount you can put aside each month. This amount will go towards debt, retirement savings, and short-term goals. Split the bill for your future plans just as you would any other monthly expense.
Consider joint expenses that you’d be willing to drop (like cable) or consciously trimming your food bill to meet your new goal.
Again, it doesn’t mean you are looking at the other person’s spending and dictating what has to go. Guys night out doesn’t get axed because you think it’s a waste of money. You may decide you can both shrink your pot of money, but each person can still maintain their own discretionary spending each month.
When you talk to your spouse about money, consider reviewing the imbalances in your relationship.
When you first married, one of you may have brought massive student loans or a lower credit score. Maybe one person makes significantly more money than the other. Hopefully this was not a surprise by the time you became serious.
But when you accepted this person as your spouse, that bond connected your financial destinies too. His credit score became part of your buying power. Any large purchase that you make from this point on is shared debt.
It’s hard to work together when you feel like one of you has a stronger vote. If one spouse makes twice as much money, that doesn’t mean their dreams win. One person cannot be at the mercy of the other in a healthy marriage or serious partnership.
You both have an equal vote in spending decisions and building your future.
No one wants to live in a house the other person bought before they had a chance to see it. No one wants their life curated by someone else, no matter how nice. We all want to feel like our opinion matters to the person we love.
Can’t start a conversation about money with your spouse without fighting? Sometimes it’s necessary to bring in a third party. The stakes are high, and the earlier you right the balance, the more options you will have for your future.
The Money Circle is free and you can find others navigating tough money relationships there. Check it out with your partner or by yourself. We can help you start the conversation and see the possibilities for your family.