How do you talk to your spouse about money? Money can be a tense and sensitive subject. It brings out the best and worst in people. That can put a lot of pressure on any marriage. No two individuals are exactly alike, so it's not realistic to think that all spouses are going to share the same values and goals when it comes to money. The way you were raised, the environment you grew up in, and the personal experiences you've had with money have all had a hand in shaping your reality of personal finance. So when conflict arises, how can you best handle that? Should you be proactive and broach sensitive subjects about money before they even becomes an issue? And finally, how accommodating should you be with your spouse when it comes to your joint financial situation? In this blog, we will explore how you can best use the power of conversation and communication to keep you and your spouse better aligned when it comes to your money.
- Understanding why having realistic expectations of your partner is important
- Using facts in your communication and not just emotion will help advance it forward
- Why there should never be a "winner" at the end of a money conversation
- The importance of the Pillow Factor before finalizing a money decision
- Never make assumptions and never give up on communicating about money
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Have Realistic Expectations
Do you wish you and your spouse were better with money? Are you open to making changes that will improve your financial wellbeing but you find that your spouse has no interest in doing the same? In order to move the needle, you first need to have realistic expectations of the situation you are finding yourself in. Sometimes it doesn't matter how much you want yourself and your spouse to be 100% aligned on all financial matters. It's not realistic to have that as an expectation.
No two people are the same when it comes to money. The way an adult handles and manages their finances was shaped and crafted long ago. Most adults have instilled values, habits, and beliefs about money going all the way back to their childhood. It's why teaching your kids about healthy and positive money habits is so important. These stay with kids into adulthood and become a big forcing mechanism for a lot of the personal financial decisions they make.
Understanding that is important because it will help you manage your expectation of the pace of change. When you have a realistic view of how long it can take and how hard it can be to alter these money habits that have been instilled within us for many decades, a lot less pressure will mount as time goes by. Without proper expectation, you will assume more from your spouse than is possible within the timeframe you've set. And that will only promote stress, resentment, and more friction. So to start, have realistic expectations of the outcomes you are pursuing by having these money conversations with your spouse to begin with.
Use Facts, Not Feelings
Money is emotional. It can make people do crazy things. Using emotion to offset emotion is not a recipe for success. It can make your spouse feel like you are putting your own personal wellbeing above theirs. In reality, we know this isn't true, but rationalization gets boxed out quickly when emotion (especially around money) sets in. So when you are communicating your financial concerns to your significant other, use real data. No one ever gets mad at the scale for showing them they are overweight.
Facts and data are like a referee within the tug-of-war that is personal finance. It's an unbiased and clear picture of the current reality of the situation. If you and your spouse are having a hard time coordinating your family spending, having a semi detailed rundown of where and how much of your money was spent within a given timeframe is a great buoy to start a conversation on. Instead of approaching your spouse with your personal concerns of "I think you spend too much money on X" and allowing for him/her to refute, you can better prove your point with exact numbers based on real spending data.
It's also important to note that if this is the route you take, you can't cherry pick your facts and figures. Distorting the reality of the situation by distorting the integrity of the data is a great way to lose all credibility. So, whatever personal financial situation you want to discuss with your spouse, come prepared with a few good pieces of hard data that can back-up the concerns you have. A bonus of using facts and not feelings is that you can accurately measure facts and data. This will allow you to show progress and success in small increments. It will give you a way to use a little more carrot than stick in future conversations.
There Should Never Be A "Winner"
Lets be honest, most of the time when we engage our spouse in a conversation about money, it's usually in hopes of achieving a desired outcome. And most of the time, that desired outcome isn't mutually beneficial. Instead, we need to start approaching conversations as not trying to produce a desired outcome but instead producing a dual buy-in.
You can't communicate about money effectively when your only focus is winning the conversation. Even if you believe in your heart of hearts that you are correct, if you force your opinion on your spouse without he or she buying in, it won't produce the long-term outcomes you desire. Dual buy-in is different. When both of you agree on something and have a commitment to see it through, you exponentially increase your changes of achieving whatever it is you set out too. Approach each conversation seeking buy-in from your significant other instead of trying to win the conversation.
The Pillow Factor
Conversations can get heated and it isn't uncommon for a spouse to create a conclusion about something and instinctively act on that conclusion. As we talked about before, rational decisions are not usually the outcome of emotional responses. So before any final decisions are made about money, you should allow each of you to sleep on it.
This will give each of you the chance to come to grips with the consequences of the decisions you want to make.
Ex: Paul wants to draw on the line of credit he has that is backed by the family home. He needs this extra money right away to invest in a hot new stock recommendation he found on Reddit. Barb doesn't think it's such a great idea. She encourages Paul to sleep on the decision before making that commitment. Paul wakes up the next day with a refreshed mind a new perspective. He decides he doesn't want to go through with it after all.
Giving yourself the proper amount of time to think about and rationalize big money decisions can save you from irrationally acting on conversational emotion. Most of the time you'll be very glad you did.
Assumptions Are Like Armpits...(you know the rest)
Did I mention earlier that money is a delicate and confusing topic to talk about? It can become even worse when preconceived assumptions are made. It doesn't matter if you're a newly wed or have been married for 50 years, you should never assume you understand where your spouse stands on certain money issues. Feelings about money change all of the time. You need to continuously engage your spouse on what their feelings are in this regard.
Making assumptions can lead you to say something that may be insulting to your spouse without having that intention to begin with. Even worse, it can lead your significant other to not want to share what their true feelings are. So don't assume you know what your spouse thinks on a certain money topic. Actually confer with them. It takes but a few seconds to do, but could end up saving you a lot of time and headache down the road.
Iterate your point with your spouse and ask for their feedback. Never not give them the opportunity to say their peace even if you think you are certain what it is.
Don't Give Up
I think the biggest mistake that couples make when it comes to discussing money is giving up on the subject all together. If you don't talk about it, it doesn't matter right? This is the worst possible scenario. Going quite and giving up on the conversation will only lead to an implosion of some sort in the future. It will build and build and eventually explode.
Some money topics will be very unpleasant to talk about. Some will even expose your more sensitive feelings that you would rather not show. But all of this is normal. No couple can easily and freely talk about money without some consternation.
The big problems, the ones that sometimes can't be fixed, happen when conversations stop. When you decide it's not worth the hassle anymore is when you officially throw in the white flag on financial progress. Unfortunately the burden of not giving up and pressing on is usually left to one spouse. And if you are reading this, you're probably the one.
Do it for yourself, do it for your spouse, and do it for your family. Keep having tough conversations about money and never give up!
Talking about money is hard. Even if you're talking to your spouse. It's never a bad thing to disagree on money issues as long as you remain civil in your pursuit to work it out. Keep these 6 tips in mind next time you find yourself trying to figure out the best way to have money conversations with your spouse in the future.