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How comfortable are you when the time comes to talk about money with your spouse? Not very, in all likelihood. According to a recent article from the Institute for Divorce Financial Analysts (IDFA), the three leading causes of divorce are “basic incompatibility” (43%), “infidelity” (28%), and “money issues” (22%).
In fact, one survey respondent said, “Many couples lack the communication skills necessary to navigate financial disagreements in their marriage. The emotional connection of money with safety and security in many people makes the financial disagreements more salient than other disagreements.” Another said, “I have long believed financial disagreements to be the most common cause of marital conflict. . . Now we have empirical evidence. . .”
Most of us don’t require empirical evidence to prove that it can be stressful to talk about money with your spouse; we experience it for ourselves often enough to know the truth. My wife and I agree on most things when it comes to managing our finances, but even that hasn’t stopped us from having some heated conversations from time to time.
How to Talk About Money With Your Spouse and Get on the Same Page
However, the truth is that my wife and I rarely have fights or disagreements about money because we have a system that helps us stay on the same page. It works for us because it has helped us define our vision, values, and financial goals as a couple. Finding this common ground didn’t happen overnight; in fact, it took a long time! But it was worth the effort and patience spent to reach the level of teamwork and support we now enjoy.
I hope that the following guidelines and principles will help you to talk about money with your spouse without unnecessary drama, arguments, and fights. I can’t promise that it will lead to conflict-free conversation – in fact, that would probably be a bad thing. But I am confident that our system can help you and your spouse improve your communication and help you reach agreements when discussing financial matters.
Basic Ground Rules
When you talk about money with your spouse, it is important to realize that the entire conversation is similar to taking a walk on thin ice. Over the years, my wife and I have learned to embrace the following principles to keep our financial conversations on track.
1. Avoid using the word “you”
Think about the last time you went on the defensive during a conversation or argument. Did your spouse make an observation about your words, actions, or character?
The truth is that “you” based statements can quickly derail any positive momentum and feelings of good will in a conversation with your spouse. Worse, it can turn minor disagreements into a full-blown shouting match.
Instead of using phrases like “You spend too much money on clothes,” or “I hate when you act like a cheapskate in front of my life,” search for a way to share your own feelings without labeling them as a response to the words or actions of your spouse.
2. Do not place blame on your spouse
Part of the reason why the word “you” is so divisive in conversation is because it places blame on your spouse. However, placing blame, even when it is deserved, will rarely lead to any kind of meaningful resolution to ongoing financial disagreements.
Consider, for example, the phrase “You spent $125 on shoes last weekend, and now our checking account is almost overdrawn.” We can break it down clearly into the following components:
Action/Cause: You spent $125 on shoes last weekend
Result/Problem: Our checking account is almost overdrawn
More broadly, a disconnect surrounding spending on shoes within the budget clearly exists. Rather than placing blame, discussing the matter factually and unemotionally is an approach which is more likely to lead to change.
Consider these subtle changes to the original statement:
“I noticed a $125 charge on our statement a few days ago. Can we talk about our budget line item for shoes?”
This statement is emotionally neutral, and it is followed by a question intended to invite a response and keep the conversation moving forward. Best of all, it articulates the problem without placing blame and invites a teamwork approach to solve it.
Use a Talking Piece
In my experience as a school administrator and teacher, my training in the basic principles of Restorative Justice have influenced my thoughts on conflict resolution. Without a doubt, a single person’s domination of the conversation is one of the biggest problems impacting couples locked in money disagreements.
The solution to helping you talk to your spouse about money without one of you dominating the conversation is simple: use a talking piece.
You can select any object to be your talking piece. The main point is simple: you may speak only when you are holding the talking piece, and you must pass the talking piece to your spouse at an agreed upon time interval. (It is not necessary to use a timer, but you may if you wish.)
What Should You Do If You and Your Spouse Have Big Money Disagreements?
The general advice above will help most couples have financial conversations without becoming quickly derailed, but digging deeper into the details of money problems will require more nuanced conversation and planning.
In particular, some basic preparation is necessary before you talk about money with your spouse in order for the conversation to be focused and fruitful. I recommend that you and you your spouse spend time individually recording your responses to the following simple questions.
- What do you think is working with regard to how we are handling money?
- What isn’t working?
- How does our current budget (or normal spending, if you don’t have a budget) reflect how you would to spend, save, and give money?
- How does our current budget (or normal spending) fail to align with our family values (i.e. what we care most about in this world)?
Your individual answers to these questions should reveal your individual and collective financial strengths and weaknesses. Based upon your individual answers, you will easily find areas of agreement and opportunities for getting on the same page with money.
Eliminate Conflict Before It Starts
Inevitably, you and your spouse will have areas in which your values overlap and areas in which they do not. Creating a budget is one of the quickest and easiest ways to eliminate conflict over your differences and how they lead to spending.
Over the years, I have heard a number of excuses and complaints about budgets.
- Budgets are too restrictive.
- Budgets are for people who have money problems.
- Budgeting doesn’t work for us.
If you identify with these complaints, consider these counterpoints.
- Many people report feeling like they have received a pay raise when they go on a budget for the first time.
- If billionaire Warren Buffett uses coupons when he takes Bill Gates out for lunch at McDonald’s, creating a budget is not beneath you; swallow your pride.
- Call it whatever you wish – a budget, a spending plan, an agreement – but financial success simply does not happen by accident. If you do not have a plan for managing your money, you will continue to struggle and experience money fights.
If you do not yet have a budget, follow the link below in a new tab. I will show you how to create a budget that works in an easy-to-follow, step by step manner.
Allow Some Free Spending
Many people wrongly assume that living on a budget means you must discuss every single financial transaction with your spouse. A basic spending allowance, or blow money, is one of the best ways to ensure that you are not embroiled in constant money fights with your spouse.
The process is simple: set an amount that you and your spouse may spend individually each month – no questions asked – and withdraw that amount in cash at the beginning of each month. If you agree to never spend more than this amount without discussing it first, you will eliminate many money fights before they even begin.
Try an All-Cash Month
In a world full of credit and debit cards, cash is often an afterthought for most couples. However, the truth is that for most people, spending cash is much more emotionally-impactful than swiping your card. Research has proven that spending cash actually activates the pain center in the human brain.
Try a one month fast from your credit card and debit card and see how it impacts your spending habits. No, you don’t have to cut up your credit and debit card and never use them again. However, you and your spouse may learn a lot about your tendencies during a cash-only month.
For most people, the above advice will be sufficient to help you talk about money with your spouse and solve your financial disagreements. If you still find that you and your spouse are having frequent disagreements after implementing them, I have one more recommendation.
My friend Adam Hagerman, a certified financial planner (CFP) and accredited financial counselor, created the only online personal finance course I endorse: Budgeting for Budget Haters.
I’ve personally reviewed Budgeting for Budget Haters and feel it is one of the best step-by-step resources on creating a budget available today. If you want access to a top professional who will walk you through every step of the way, Budgeting for Budget Haters is for you! You can try the course out 100% risk free for 60 days. If you’re not satisfied after completing all of the forms and related course steps, Adam offers a 60-Day Money Back Guarantee.
Adam’s course is one of a kind, and when you sign-up he will personally help you:
- Gather the right information needed to create your budget
- Set smart financial goals and use them to avoid the debt/savings roller coaster
- Create an annual budget and plan like you’ve never planned before
- Budget for periodic expenses
- Budget for the fun stuff and incorporate guilt-free spending
- Budget with a variable income
- Prioritize debt repayment
- Use budgeting software (with on screen instructions!)
- Talk about money with your spouse without fighting
- Set up your budget so it requires low maintenance
- And much more!
As a member of Adam’s course, you get a LIFETIME membership to access four hours of video guides with step-by-step instructions to build a budget that will work for you, access to downloadable forms, worksheets, and spreadsheets, and access to your own personal financial coach who is able to answer specific questions. This last benefit alone is worth HUNDREDS! And as the course is updated over time, you receive all updates at absolutely no cost.
If you’re serious about Taking Back Control of Your Life and Money, sign-up for Budgeting for Budget Haters today using our link for FinanceSuperhero readers and secure your spot in the course for only $97 (or two monthly payments of $57).
Again, Adam could charge $500+ for this course, but he has the heart of a teacher and wants to help you gain financial freedom.
You have literally nothing to lose and Control of Life and Money to gain, so sign-up for Budgeting for Budget Haters today!
Money is a stressful subject, and it can be difficult to talk about money with your spouse, especially if you regularly disagree with each other. With the right mindset and a process in place, you can start having fruitful conversations and get on the same page with your spouse.