Being able to talk about money and work through uncomfortable conversations is the mark of a strong partnership. Many of us would agree with that but that doesn’t mean we’re good at it. Most people do not grow up hearing adults modeling healthy financial conversations, which means most of us could use some practice developing this important skill. Money is also deeply personal for everyone. Broaching a conversation about how to manage money as a couple means tapping into each others’ childhood, history, personal values, fears, and dreams. It’s no wonder that, according to a 2019 study from the Financial Therapy Association, nearly 80% of people surveyed hadn’t talked to friends or family members about money in over a year.1
So how do you successfully communicate about this loaded topic? The answer is: with care. It can help to have a framework that fosters the psychological safety, respect, and kindness you strive for in other aspects of your relationship. Ultimately, when you know your partner understands where you’re coming from and cares about your feelings around money, you will be able to discuss finances constructively with confidence – even when you don’t totally agree!
Be Curious and Open
Whether you’re dating, planning your wedding, or have been married for years, it’s never a bad time to start talking more about your finances and how you want to approach them in your relationship. Like any new skill, it’s best to work on mastering the basics first. When it comes to talking about money one of the key basics is to approach the topic first with curiosity and a desire to learn more about your partners’ feelings around various money topics.
Tip: keep the conversation in a healthy mode of curiosity by agreeing up front to take decision making off the table.
Here are a few questions to get your wheels turning:
“How did your family handle money growing up? How did your family view and talk about money?”
This question helps clarify existing beliefs and habits, which is necessary to start moving forward and having more in-depth, constructive conversations.
“If money were no object, what would your ideal life look like? What would it mean for you if you could achieve that?”
This allows you to open up your mind to more possibilities and can help get to the root of your financial desires and goals.
“What’s one thing you would change about the way we manage our money?”
This helps set a baseline and gives you both a chance to share concerns and wishes so you can start aligning on a shared future vision.
“What would you like money to do for us that we haven’t done yet?”
This question may help you develop more tangible action items that can help you on your way to your shared vision.
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Set Collaborative Goals
It’s essential to set financial goals in order to put your money to work towards your life goals. The critical part is doing it together. If you’re new to setting collaborative financial goals, start with one you can control. For example, a great first goal together could be to review your spending together monthly.
If you’ve created trust and comfort in your financial conversations, you can start discussing more difficult money goals. These could be prioritizing paying down debt or building up an emergency savings fund. If your finances are in good shape, you can tackle life goals such as saving for kids’ college education, buying your dream home, or funding a new business venture.
When you set goals together, you get buy-in from both sides. Each person gets to express their thoughts and opinions and, ultimately, finding common ground will give you room to adjust to life’s inevitable surprises while still remaining on the same page.
Lastly, don’t neglect individual financial goals. Let your individual goals help guide how you set up your finances. You may have a joint checking account you each help fund to cover shared expenses while you also save to personal accounts for individual goals. There’s absolutely no right or wrong way to do it as long as you find a way that works for the two of you. Having conversations around what you each value individually will help each of you support each other’s individual goals as part of your big-picture goals as a couple.
Make a Plan
Goals are only as good as the plans made to achieve them. Once you’ve had conversations and highlighted some key goals, get out a pen and paper (or a Google Doc) and write them down along with achievable action items you can take to get there. Committing plans to writing can be powerful. Spelling out your goals and steps also helps you remember them when life gets busy. Don’t worry about making a perfect plan. Real life will always get in the way and require you to make adjustments. Just setting a starting point and moving in the right direction will take you far.
In addition to making plans to achieve your big, long-term goals, your money plan can consist of many different things. It can outline financial responsibilities for the household, such as who pays the bills, who reviews the spending, or who manages the investments. It’s not uncommon for partners to each think the other is handling a task so it’s worth checking together to make sure the lines of responsibility are clear and that you’re both comfortable with them. And if you’re one of the many busy couples that operates by addressing “fires” like past-due notices and tax deadlines as they come up, your schedules and stress levels will benefit greatly if you discuss responsibilities clearly and give yourselves room to divide and conquer financial tasks proactively.
Talking about money is hard but avoiding it is harder in the end. Communicating about money is just as vital to your relationship as any other type of communication but it also takes practice. Start small and build confidence and trust before tackling bigger conversations. If you’re both willing to practice the skill of communicating about money, you’re already off to a fantastic start and you have a lifetime ahead to keep practicing.
1. McCoy, Megan. Exploring How One Exploring How One’s Primary Financial Conversations Varies by Marital Status. Financial Therapy Association. 2019.
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