You’ve probably heard the statistic thrown around that nearly 50% of marriages end in divorce. What is one of the leading causes? Money.
We live in a society where talking about money is considered taboo. You never tell someone how much money you make, how much you spend or how much money you have. Which means… we don’t know how to talk about it!
Yet, money represents your hard work, values and most deeply held beliefs. Combine this emotional, heavy topic with the fact that we don’t know how to talk about it and no wonder why it’s such a point of tension for most relationships!
This blog will give you 6 steps to start having better conversations about money with your partner. Many of the suggestions are my learnings from Carl Richard’s talking about money training, combined with my personal experience talking about money with my wife and facilitating money conversations with my clients.
Step 1: Learn about each of your money history
The first step in the process is to learn about each of your money history up to this point. Think of it like buying a used car – you need to know its service history, mileage and any prior accidents before you start driving it. The same concept applies to talking about money.
It’s important to agree that each of you will come to the table with baggage. What we learned from our parents, our childhood experiences, our successes and failures – all of these shape how you behave around money now. This is why I use a tool called Financial DNA to help couples understand how they are hardwired to act around money.
Having the conversation about your money history allows you to better understand and empathize with how your partner may act around money.
Here are some questions to get you started –
- What was money like growing up?
- What was your first experience with money?
- What did your parents teach you about money?
- What is the best and worst financial decision you’ve ever made?
Step 2: Create a shared vision
The ultimate goal is for you and your partner to be on the same team, working towards the same goals by using your shared resources.
Without this shared motivation, it’s very difficult to build up the energy and willpower to consistently make talking about money a priority.
One of the most common mistakes I see people make is not having an inspiring and detailed why for their money. Why is money important to you? What are you hoping to accomplish by budgeting, saving and investing?
Popular answers to these questions include statements like “I need to save up enough for retirement” or “I want to feel financially secure”. But what does that mean to you?
A very valuable aspect of working with a financial planner is helping you and your partner paint the picture of what you want your money to accomplish for you.
Think of the difference in motivation between these two statements –
“We are budgeting, saving and investing so we have enough money for retirement”
“We are budgeting, saving and investing so we can live our dream lifestyle as soon as possible. We can do work we love so we are excited to get up every day and feel the impact of our work. We want to control our time so we can be present and involved in our children’s lives. We want to live in our dream home by the ocean with a big yard where we can host family and friends. We want to travel the world and show our children different cultures and ways of life”.
Which makes you more motivated to get control of your finances?
Creating this money vision is your north star – the brighter it shines, the more likely you are to follow. This motivation is key when things get tough. Without it, you are likely to ignore your finances or make the wrong financial decisions.
Step 3: Create structure for your finances
The easier it is to talk about money, the more likely you will do it. Creating the appropriate financial structure means your finances are well organized – you know where all of your accounts are, you know what you are spending and you know how much cash flow you’re bringing in.
If you aren’t working with a financial planner who will do this for you, I recommend using a tool like Mint. Mint is not perfect, but you can link all of your accounts and use the spending tool.
After linking all of your accounts to one central location, I recommend starting to track your spending. Tracking your spending is not a punishment, but rather it creates awareness. It allows you and your partner to understand how much it costs to live your lifestyle and reflect upon how your spending is aligned with your values.
The next thing to do is to calculate your net worth. Your net worth is all of your assets (bank accounts, investment accounts, real estate, etc.) minus all of your liabilities (student loans, mortgage, credit card debt, etc.). This is the most important number for you to track. The greater your net worth, the closer you are to achieving your dream lifestyle.
In order to have meaningful money conversations with your partner, you need to know what to talk about in the first place. This is why having the appropriate financial structure is so important. The more work you need to put in to retrieve the data, the less likely you are to do it.
This type of structure makes it easier to constantly talk with your partner about your spending, savings and net worth so you know your progress towards your shared vision.
Step 4: Agree to the rules of engagement
This may seem silly, but I recommend having written rules that you and your partner agree to in advance. Money is extremely emotional – it’s a pure reflection of your behavior, values and hard work. It’s not a question of if, but when things will get emotional when you talk about money.
Having agreed upon rules allows you to make sure conversations don’t go too off track. These include guidelines recommended by Carl Richards such as:
- No shame, no blame rule. When things are difficult, it’s so important not to shame or blame the other person. Shame doesn’t do anything positive – it just makes the other person feel bad. When you make a poor financial decision, you always want to learn from that experience without making the other person feel bad.
- Timeout rule. If the conversation starts going south – it gets personal or you start feeling defensive, each person has the ability to call timeout and table the conversation. The timeout will allow you to get in the right mindset so you can later continue the conversation in a productive way.
- Have an agenda for each meeting. Similar to the importance of having the proper financial structure, it’s best practice to have an agreed upon agenda for every meeting so you can have productive conversations. This should be a living, breathing document that you can add to in between meetings. Did something come up that you want to talk about with your partner? Add it to the agenda for the next meeting.
- Pay attention to energy levels. You don’t want to have intense, emotional conversations at 9 pm after working a full day and putting the kids to bed. You need to feel mentally prepared and fresh to properly have these conversations. Which leads me to the next step…
Step 5: Have a dedicated time and space to talk about money
Your life is always busy, especially if you have kids. If you aren’t working with a financial planner, I recommend agreeing to a reoccurring, monthly meeting for you to talk about finances. If it’s not on the calendar, it won’t happen. Trust me.
Having this monthly reoccurring meeting allows you to constantly reflect upon your spending, track your net worth and talk about your shared vision. Your finances are not a set-it-and-forget-it strategy, they requires constant monitoring and adjusting to reflect your ever-changing life
You also should have a dedicated space to talk about money – somewhere in your home or somewhere you can drive to. Try making this meeting fun! Order in brunch. Have a drink. Make a cheese board. Positive associations go a long, long way.
Talking about money shouldn’t feel like a punishment, but rather opportunistic check points to get you and your partner closer to the lifestyle you’ve always dreamed of.
Step 6: Just start
Talking about money will feel like training a new muscle. It’s going to be painful at first and it’s going to take a while to build up. However, the key is to just start.
You probably won’t be great at it initially, but you both need to be committed to trying. You will get better and start to slowly improve your relationship with money. Money will no longer be a dark cloud in your relationship, but rather a shining light that if managed properly, can lead you closer to your dream lifestyle.
- Each step builds upon each other. If you start at step 6 without going through step 1-5, you’re fighting an uphill battle. Put yourself and your partner in the best possible position to make money conversations successful.
- Don’t throw in the white flag when it’s difficult. The fact that you are trying already puts you in a better spot than most people. Try it, adjust, try it again, adjust, try it again. It will never be perfect and it will constantly be changing. However, having constant, reoccurring conversations about money is beneficial not only for your financial future, but for the health of your partnership.
- Don’t wait until marriage to start these conversations. I purposely used the term “partner” instead of spouse. If you are seriously considering a future with your partner, it’s inevitable that money conversations will come up. Following these steps will help you start your marriage on the right foot.
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