Having Successful Money Conversations as a Couple
March 15, 2022 Author: Tess Downing, MBA, CFP®, Complete View Financial
Money is personal to each of us and deeply related to our histories, childhoods, fears, and dreams of success. For most couples, sharing finances at some point becomes necessary and desirable. So how do you successfully combine finances in a way that protects each person and lets you move ahead together? It starts with good communication.
Money taps into so many emotions that have the potential to be negative, such as fear, shame, and stress. It can also be a core part of our relationships with our parents growing up and navigating maturity and adult life. These can all be minefields when setting out to discuss finances constructively. It's a good idea to have a framework that allows for the space, respect, and kindness you strive for in other aspects of your relationship.
Be Curious, But Not Judgmental
A study from the Financial Therapy Association found that 79% of people surveyed hadn’t talked to friends or family members about money in over a year.1 No matter how far you are into your relationship, it’s never too late to start talking about money. But it’s always a priority to approach the topic with curiosity and care and not from a judgmental point of view.
Every person has their own beliefs and biases around money, starting from a very young age. So, to begin getting on the same page financially, you have to practice empathy. Ask questions, listen carefully, and don’t immediately start looking for solutions. A few questions to get the wheels turning:
“What did you observe about money growing up? How did your family view/feel 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 we received $10 million tomorrow, what would be the first thing you’d do with the money? What would life look like a year from now?”
This allows you to begin thinking big-picture and can help get to the root of your desires and goals with money.
“What’s one thing you would change about the way we manage our money?
This helps set a baseline for where you’re at and gives you both a chance to share concerns, allowing you to begin working towards a common solution.
“What would you like money to do for us that we haven’t done yet?”
A step down from the first question, which helps create more tangible action items that you may be able to start immediately acting on.
Set Collaborative Goals
It's essential to set financial goals, to put your money to work towards your life goals. The critical part is doing it together. These don't necessarily have to be milestone goals; it could be as simple as setting a goal to review your spending once a month.
If you've created trust and comfort, it may be possible to tackle goals that are difficult together. These could be prioritizing paying down student loan debt or personal debt or improving a bad credit score. If your individual finances are in good shape, you can tackle life goals such as saving for kids' college education, buying your dream home, or figuring out a retirement plan.
When you set goals together, you get buy-in from both sides. Each person gets to express their thoughts and opinions, and ultimately, you find common ground and can begin working towards your goals together.
It’s important not to neglect individual financial goals. You may have a joint checking account for standard household spending, and then you each have separate accounts for your spending. Having conversations around what you each value creates transparency, which helps ease potential concerns around what money is being used for.
Make a Plan
After setting goals, you then need a plan to reach 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. Don't let your progress go to waste by not following through on previously discussed goals and action items. While the plan isn't going to be perfect and adjustments will need to be made over time, it serves as a starting point to get going in the right direction.
Aside from the big 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. This may already be established in your family, but it's worth checking together to make sure everyone's comfortable with their current "chores."
Having conversations about money is challenging. Having a healthy mindset around money is essential for your relationship. Hidden fears and concerns can slowly take their toll, and conversations can shine a light on them so you can resolve them together. Communication is vital in all relationships, and it should extend into the financial side of the relationship.
1 McCoy, Megan. Exploring How One Exploring How One’s Primary Financial Conversations Varies by Marital Status. Financial Therapy Association. 2019.