Tips for Talking About Money (Calmly!) With Your Significant Other

Tips for Talking About Money (Calmly!) With Your Significant Other

Shifrah Combiths
May 12, 2014
(Image credit: Alexis Buryk)

Money is one of the top reasons couples fight. In fact, a study by Jeffrey Dew published in The Interdisciplinary Journal of Applied Family Studies found that "financial disagreements are stronger predictors of divorce relative to other common marital disagreements." Yikes. No matter your relationship status, here are some ways to avoid altercations over money.

The Goal-Setting Big Talk
Many scuffles over money are due to fundamental differences in the way individuals look at money. There are spenders and savers; there are those who would rather buy something inexpensive (or not at all) and those who feel it's wiser to invest in quality items that cost more but last longer; there are some who plan ahead meticulously and those who don't think past today.

No matter your money persona, when you're sharing finances with someone, a "big talk" that both examines the current financial situation and makes goals is crucial for setting expectations — and setting them together.

This talk is also a great time for making a plan for how to deal with any money problems (paying off debt), and reaching financial goals (saving for the tenth anniversary vacation).

Making a Mutual Plan
Now that you have expectations and goals, you need to work out the details of your plan. How will you work toward your goals? For this, you need a budget!

The budget topic in and of itself is enough to start a tiff sometimes, but remember to keep everything as neutral as possible, and based on the goals and plans that were set by the two of you together. This keeps the money topic from getting too personal.

Decide on a budgeting tool to use. Since I started using YNAB (brought to my attention by many of you in very helpful comments on Basics of a Household Budget that Works — thank you!!) I recommend it to everybody!

No budget will work without human involvement. To solve your money problems and reach your financial goals, you need to be active and very up-to-date on where you stand. This keeps both of you accurate, motivated, and (depending on your money persona), either in check or free to spend when it's within your means.

When it comes to a budget and keeping track of expenses, everyone who is contributing income and/or spending the income should be an active participant. (Check out 6 Habits of Successful Budgeters.) This keeps everyone accountable to the goals that were set together and keeps "surprises" (insert "fight-starters") from coming up.

While each person should contribute to entering inflow and outflow of funds, delegating bill paying will also stymie many money fights. No one will be expecting the other to pay the bill or finding out it wasn't paid, etc. If you need to fill out reimbursement forms and track them, designate a specific person to do that as well. When expectations are clearly laid out, there's a lot less room for confusion and frustration to cause arguments.

As with so many things in life, timing has a lot to do with whether talks about money get a little heated. Discovering an unexpected checking account balance and getting riled up about it is hardly the time for a productive conversation about finances. Neither is it a great time when the kids are chirping and you're trying to reconcile the account before soccer practice. (Says the voice of experience.)

Set aside time, free of distraction, and preferably regularly, when you and your partner can go over things like looming large expenses, whether or not to start saving for that couch you've both been eyeing, and where you might be able to adjust spending.

Petty Cash
To avoid watching, and possibly resenting, what the other party is spending money on, determine a certain amount of "fun" money for each person. They can spend it on whatever they want, no questions asked. This way each person is responsible for staying within a certain amount but isn't under the radar for every single purchase.

Along these lines, it's also a good idea to decide together on an amount that automatically warrants discussion before a purchase is made. Again, the idea is to avoid surprises that may lead to explosions, defensiveness, and generally non-productive interactions about money.

While taking these tips into account may not prevent every kerfuffle, they will definitely help you and your significant other be on the same page about your finances. Rather than fighting each other, you can fight together toward your financial goals — and that's a pretty big boon in your financial journey.

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