Whether you’ve been married 5 years or 50 years, the activities of daily life necessitate that you and your spouse make decisions about money. These decisions are often preceded (or followed, in some cases) by tense and unpleasant discussions.
My husband and I have similar views on money and share common goals (this is one of the reasons we were initially attracted to each other). Despite this, it’s often unpleasant to sit down and discuss our budget and other financial topics.
Fortunately, we’ve discovered a number of strategies that help diffuse the tension so we can have effective discussions about money.
Tips for talking about money with your spouse
- Sit near one another and make eye contact. One of the easiest ways to thwart an effective conversation about money is to use hostile body language. Crossing your arms over your chest, rolling your eyes, or other hostile body language will automatically draw defensiveness from your spouse. Eye contact and an open posture, on the other hand, invite discussion and show interest.
- Be honest about your concerns. If you have a particular concern (affording the mortgage payment, getting out of debt, etc.), be upfront about it. Your concerns will drive your decisions and if you aren’t open about these, your spouse may not understand why you make the decisions you do.
- Set specific goals. Goals give you focus. Simply assigning blame or making accusations (e.g., “you spend too much money on clothes”) is often unproductive because the guilty party may feel bad, but will not necessarily feel motivated to change. It’s much more pleasant and productive to work towards a goal (e.g., staying within budget).
- Take specific steps to achieve your goals. Having goals doesn’t mean you’ll achieve them—you have to plan and take specific steps to get there. How much will you pay towards the loan each month? How much will you put in savings each time you get a paycheck? How much will you budget each month for groceries?
- Make sure both spouses are aware of all income, expenses, and debts. You can’t set useful financial goals if you don’t have accurate information with which to work. It’s not enough for one spouse to know the nitty-gritty details of your finances. You both need to have knowledge of these details.
- Be honest about your mistakes and don’t hold grudges. If you’ve made bad financial choices, be humble and admit these. If your spouse has admitted to making bad financial choices, forgive and move on.
- Don’t wait until a crisis occurs to discuss money. When you’re facing a financial crisis (a missed mortgage payment, a major car repair, an unexpected medical expense, etc.) the stress of the crisis will magnify the tension of talking about money. It’s much better to discuss your finances when you can approach the conversation calmly and have time to think about your decisions. My husband and I like to talk about money while on our annual goal planning retreat. We periodically revisit our goals during the year. Some families have a monthly meeting during which they discuss money. You’ll have to figure out what frequency works for you and your family.
What strategies work in your household? How do you have effective discussions with your spouse about money?