How to have the money talk with your partner

2017-07-27
Learning to talk more about money is a skill we all need to learn. Learning to talk more about money is a skill we all need to learn.

Matters of the wallet can be just as important as matters of the heart

Disagreements about money in relationships are more a question of 'when' rather than 'if'.

Arguments about budgeting and money are the number one reported stressor by couples.  Since these stressors are predictable, it would be wise to get proactive and learn some money talk skills to help you both become more comfortable talking about money with your significant other.

Couples who have found a way to talk about money, can achieve anything together. In fact, your ability to talk about money is one of the best known predictors of a long and happy relationship.

So let's talk about money

The reality is when you talk about money you begin to see that it's not really just a conversation about dollars and cents at all - it's actually much more involved than that. It often reveals many of our personal values and beliefs we express through how we see and manage money.

If you don't believe me, ask this question at the next BBQ with your mates, stand back and watch the sparks fly.

Q: Should children get the advantage of a private school education?'

Couples will debate the pros and cons of this statement for hours and usually bring up memories about their own educational opportunities and those of their parents.

You'll hear statements such as,

'If public school was good enough for me and my parents it will be good enough for my - - - -  ' (insert the word and continue the argument).

It won't be long until the conversation shifts and you'll hear words like

'Private schools are for parents who - - - -  ' (insert the word and continue the argument).

The point is, money conversations reveal many deep seated feelings about how you see money opportunity in the future, so it makes sense to improve your skills about how to better talk about money with your significant other.

Let's get practical

Talking about money is an important matter but it doesn't have to be difficult.

When talking money with your partner, think 'team'. It's not about equal contribution but more about equal sacrifice and effort.

Just do it

It's your life so you get to make the rules. Nobody has to be wrong or right and remember that everything you know you've had to learn at some time. There is no shame on anyone in a relationship who is just yet to learn the things they want to. We all have to start somewhere sometime; so just do it.

Where to do it?

Many people now go on 'money dates' with their spouse to have a time out over a coffee to discuss how they're tracking together financially, what they'd like to think about for the future and what their hopes and plans are for the next few years together.

The aim of the money date is to begin to build a regular habit where talking about money is not only a regular and pleasant part of life, it's also a great excuse to get away for a bit and enjoy the opportunity to build something together.

As you become better at listening to each other, you'll get to know each other's money style and can start to play to your individual strengths.

If this sounds like you, great - just leave the mobile phone at home or lock it in the boot of the car because the best decisions in life are made when you're fully emotionally present. This is a time when FaceBook updates and an Instagram post of your coffee can wait.

Are you financially single?

If you're not in a shared money relationship, don't miss out on getting better talking about money.

Why not have your own regular catch-up with a buddy and make a point of regularly checking in with each other about how you're feeling this month about work, commitments, money and the next few years.

Getting good at explaining to another person what's going on in your money life, will help you get better at that skill, and you both might learn some new ways to better manage to talk about money too.

How to do it

The point is not to brag, bullsh*t or seek to punish the listener but simply to get better at being honest with yourself in conversations and talking about what matters most. Your future partner will thank you for it too.

When talking about money with your partner think 'we' not 'I'.  Remember a relationship is a partnership, not a dictatorship, so your job is not to make your partner feel anything other than part of the team.

Get to know your own money style

We all relate differently to money usually because of the way our parents did.

So at some point, you'll need to ask yourself the question 'are your feelings around money actually your feelings, or have they been inherited from others from another time?'

Either way, it's never too late to freshen up your feelings about money.

Get to know your partners' money style

Seek to understand why your partner feels the way they do about their money matters. The only way a team can win is to understand each other's current strengths and weaknesses and how to work together. After all, your ability to find a way through the money maze is usually a strong indicator of how your life together will work out.

How to start a conversation about money when your spouse it doesn't seem interested

Talking about money is just one of the many things we have to find a way to work with and while maybe difficult at times, it doesn't have to be impossible.

If money talk is new to your situation (or seems to be akin to poking a sleeping bear with a sharp stick), take a deep breath and consider a three step approach to learning to talk about money with another.

Later on, we'll give you 35 Money Related Conversation Starters to help you out.

Follow this three step process with your next discussion.

  • 'Remember back when ... '
  • Share a feeling today
  • Share a hope and plan for the near future

I remember when

When you or your partner feel really awkward about talking about money, take a tip from the pros and admit that it feels a little uncomfortable talking about money stuff. Then make your first move and share a memory about money from your childhood. This will begin a foundation that we all have money memories from childhood.

Then make your first move and share a memory about money from your childhood. This will begin a foundation that we all have money memories from childhood.

Here's one of mine;

"When I was a teenager I remember that my aunt was really frugal with her money. If I was a really good boy, I'd get half a Mars bar. If I was still good next month, I might get the other half". To this day, I feel bad about eating an entire Mars bar, so I just avoid buying them today.

Share a feeling today

When you have a foundation of a past money memory, it's a natural bridge to discussing something you may be feeling today. A lot of couples are wanting to talk more about money matters, but don't want to be the first to say it. So after sharing a past money experience, nows the time to share a feeling from today.

Here's one of mine.

"The older I get the more uncomfortable I feel about what might happen if I get really sick or involved in a car accident and I can't work. I see a lot of older people on second marriages who still have a mountain of debt and financial responsibility to work on, and less time to do it. Sometimes I find myself living a smaller life today, because I don't know what will happen tomorrow, and that really annoys me.

Share a hope for the future

The future will happen to all of us. It depends if you want to just wait and see what might happen and take a passive more fatalistic approach, or if you want to take a chance at making part of that future happen yourself, and make a plan and strategy.  When I'm talking with couples about money, future plans are usually near future so let's say four to seven years.

Share a hope you have for your future together or a plan you have as a financially single person. When you have an opportunity to get on the same page with your partner, you can put a plan into bite sized pieces and work on it one piece at a time.

Our 31 Good Financial Habits eGuide will be a great resource for you to make a solid start on these types of plans. So share with your partner one goal, plan, hope, wish for your near financial future.

Here's one of mine.

"I have a few close mates at different stages in their lives and I wonder how they and their young families are going to afford to save a deposit for their first home. I'd really like to be in a financial position to be able to help out or maybe just be part of their backup plan. So I'm using that as part of my motivation to work better, invest smarter and to get ahead myself. I even have a life insurance policy in place so that if I'm not here, my hopes for their lives and their families will still happen. This makes me feel better as a person and as a mate, and somehow makes my hard work, more meaningful for me".

The secret of the money talk

Talking about money is not really just talking about money, is it?

When you're ready to get better at this conversation, following the steps of remembering when, today I feel and tomorrow I think about, can be a simple and effective way to grow that skill in your life.

36 Simple money conversation starters to give you a head start.

Here is a list of 36 Money Related Questions to help you begin your money conversation with someone you trust.

  1. What was your first job and can you remember getting your very first pay packet?
  2. How much was it and how long did you have to work to get it?
  3. Did you get pocket money as a kid?
  4. When did this start and did you have to buy your own clothes from it or was it more luxury money?
  5. What was it like in your family growing up and did they talk about money?
  6. How many parents were in your household?
  7. Were the bills paid by one person or shared equally among others?
  8. Did you live in a small house a big house or something else?
  9. If your parents disagreed about money, what did that look like?
  10. What was considered a luxury food or treat for you when you were growing up?
  11. If you have siblings, how does your money style seem to match or differ from them?
  12. Do you have an education HECS debt it from your time at university?
  13. Do you know how much it is?
  14. Do you know how much income you need to earn before the government starts to force you to repay it?
  15. What are some of the fun things you've done in the past that were made possible by money?
  16. Have you ever had to save and go on a major holiday to Europe?
  17. What have you done in the past that was fun but didn't cost you a cent?
  18. In the future how do you see you spending money for entertainment and recreation?
  19. What might be your top three fears about money and can you share them at the moment or not really?
  20. How would you describe your past history with money if you had to describe that to a new friend?
  21. Have you ever had to declare bankruptcy?
  22. What's been your relationship with credit?
  23. What was the most expensive thing you had to save for before you purchased it?
  24. What would you like to make possible for your relationship?
  25. How does money make you feel?
  26. How do you feel about giving to charities and financially helping friends?
  27. How much would you be comfortable giving to charity each month?
  28. What’s the dollar amount your employer deducts from your wage and contributes to your super fund?
  29. Do you know the balance of your superannuation fund?
  30. How would you like to manage your money as a couple?
  31. Do you want to have a single bank account or follow the 'mine, yours and ours' approach?
  32. What financial obligations do you each currently have?
  33. Do you split all expenses 50-50?
  34. What if one person is not working - will they have their own pocket money?
  35. How much will you spend without talking to your partner about it first?
  36. Should you insure your ability to earn money?

Hopefully, now you've seen that many of these questions have little to do with numbers.

They're much more about communicating how you feel about the numbers in those life experiences, and the personal values that we all bring with us to a relationship. Learning to be better at talking about money, really is the key indicator of how successful you can become, relationally and financially.

Just do it.

Drew Browne

Drew specialises in helping people protect and provide for what matters most in their lives. He's an award-winning writer, speaker, financial adviser and charity ambassador for Opportunity International Australia.  His company Sapience Financial and Investment Services is a Certified B Corp committed to using business solutions for good in the community. Drew writes for successful Small Business Owners and Entrepreneurs at Smallville and in 2017 was recognised in the Australian national Westpac Businesses of Tomorrow Awards.

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