One of the most important things you can do as a couple is to talk about money. And not just once, when you’re having the “money talk” before moving in together or getting married.
As a couple, you need to sit down and talk about money frequently. Even if you keep your finances separate for the most part, it’s important to have money discussions.
Unfortunately, talking about money with your partner can be stressful. The good news is that there are some steps you can take to make it a better experience for all involved.
1. Set a Regular Time
The first step is to set a regular time for talking about money with your partner. When you make it part of the routine, it is easier to keep things calm. Additionally, if you have a regular money talk time, you’re not just talking about finances when things are bad.
Many couples don’t think to connect and talk about money until there’s a crisis breaking over their heads. Setting a regular time not only gets you into a familiar and comfortable routine around discussing your finances, but it also helps you head off problems before they become too big.
When choosing a day and time to talk about money, make sure you set aside enough time for a good discussion. Also, try to find a time when you’re both likely to be relaxed and well-rested. Maybe once a month you fix a delicious Saturday brunch and talk over your finances. Perhaps you block out two Friday evenings a month for a “money date” and make sure you plan ahead to have an easy dinner and put the kids to bed.
However you do it, make sure you’re not hangry or overly tired. And try to do it in a space where you can focus on each other and the finances.
2. Be Honest About Your Priorities
Honesty with money is important. Take a step back and be honest about your priorities. Discuss them with your partner in a way that is non-threatening. When talking about money with your partner, you might have some different ideas and priorities. That’s ok.
Make sure you use “I” language and talk about why your priorities are what they are. Be open to listening to your partner as well. Encourage them to talk about their own priorities and be understanding.
When you’re both honest about your priorities, it’s easier to figure out where you coincide, as well as create a plan that makes sense in terms of compromises. Find shared priorities, like saving for retirement or buying a home, and earmark money toward those things first. Other items can be discretionary for the other person, based on personal spending preferences and their own money.
3. Make Check-Ins Regular
Your regular check-ins, even if they aren’t monthly discussions about where you are, what you’ve spent money on, and whether you’re on track for the future, can be quick little updates.
“Oh, we need to pay this bill, can you schedule it, or do you need me to?”
“It looks like the toilet needs to be repaired, we may need to shift some items in our budget.”
“I have an idea for a vacation, can we talk about saving up for it at our next money date?”
These are small check-ins that can get you talking about money — and used to talking about money. It also provides a way for you to remain in contact about money and flag issues before the big meeting so that one person isn’t blind-sided. Getting more comfortable with these small conversations can make a big difference later.
4. Use a Third-Party if Needed
If talking about money with your partner is especially difficult, consider bringing in a third party. Choose someone who is likely to be neutral, and who has an outside perspective. This can help you stay calm, and also provide a mediator when things get tough. There are financial counselors who specialize in working with couples, and this can be a good way to start having healthier conversations about money.
It’s also worth noting that sometimes it makes sense to get help from a third party even if you aren’t struggling to communicate. Sometimes a third-party, like a financial planner, can help you create a road map when you aren’t sure what the next step is.
Maybe, what you really need, is a monthly money date with your partner, along with an annual financial checkup with a third party.
No matter how you go about it, talking about money with your partner is essential. Take steps to make it regular and pleasant, and you might be surprised at how much more you can accomplish.