If you and your significant other argue about money, you’re not alone. A 2018 survey by TD Bank showed that one-third of married couples said they fought over finances at least once per month, while 44% of divorced couples said they argued about money during their marriage.
Perhaps the reason arguments over money are so common is that nearly two-thirds of all marriages start off with one or both people in debt, according to a 2017 study by Ramsey Solutions. Clearly, it’s important to talk about money, but many couples don’t know where to start the conversation.
Whether you’re married, living together or just starting to get serious in your relationship, you and your significant other likely will be happier if you can learn how to talk about finances. Find out the ways happy couples talk about money.
Practice Good Financial Hygiene
Just as you need to brush your teeth regularly to avoid cavities, it’s important to discuss your financial outlook often to avoid major relationship problems. According to that 2017 Ramsey Solutions study, 54% of respondents who described their marriage as “great” make a habit of discussing money with their spouse. Compare that with only 29% of respondents who categorized their marriage as “OK” or “in crisis.” Moreover, 87% of those couples who claimed their marriage was “great” also described setting long-term financial goals together.
“The best way to talk about money is a little bit every day,” said Money Under 30 founding editor David Weliver. “Money is a part of life; it’s not a big deal until it becomes a big deal. And it becomes a big deal when you don’t talk about it and/or hide stuff.”
The more you talk about money, the sooner you’ll learn to do so effectively. Moreover, regular money talks keep resentment in check and prevent small problems from turning into big ones.
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Schedule Your Talk
Since money can be a hot-button topic for a lot of couples, if you wait for your partner to bring it up, it might never happen. Instead, experts recommend you schedule a time to sit down with your partner for an honest and open discussion about finances. It could save your relationship or help to prevent a divorce.
Each half of the couple should put the scheduled time on their calendars as if it were a work meeting or other appointment, and come prepared with questions, bank statements or whatever is needed to help guide the conversation.
Don’t Jump In With Both Feet
To ensure a positive outcome, you should plan what you want to talk about, write down your desired outcome and resolve to respond positively to your partner’s questions and objections.
Understanding the differences in your backgrounds also can help you and your partner respect each other’s financial goals. Perhaps you grew up with Depression-era grandparents who saved every penny and shared their experiences with you. If your partner was raised in a home with plenty of cash for vacations and luxuries, there’s a good chance the two of you will have very different attitudes about finances.
Set Financial Goals …
Many couples don’t know where to start when it comes to setting financial goals as a unit. If you and your partner are at a loss, make that part of your conversation and sit down together to tackle the big stuff.
Start thinking and talking about your financial values and goals, debt issues and retirement plans. Additionally, decide which partner should pay routine bills, file taxes and perform other money-related tasks.
… And Work Together To Achieve Them
By working in tandem, you likely will achieve your goals faster. When you both want the same thing — to save for a down payment for a house or pay off student loans, for example — you’ll be more efficient in doing so if you’re on the same page.
Making financial decisions as a team actually can strengthen your relationship, too. Motivational speaker and coach Tony Robbins said that each decision a couple makes together can provide them with a deeper connection and an increased trust level.
Make Money Vows
Wedding vows often include taking your partner for richer or for poorer. However, you don’t have to stand in front of a minister to make money vows that will increase trust and communication in your relationship. Being financially faithful to the agreements you’ve made about money helps ensure your partner will listen to your views and do the same.
One money vow that can help head off future arguments is for partners to consult each other about purchases over a certain dollar amount, such as $100. Or, base your threshold off a percentage of your salary.
You and your partner also can vow to prioritize debt payment, setting aside money for hobbies and still saving for retirement.
Don’t Lie About Money
Just like sexual infidelity, financial infidelity can ruin a relationship.
“Financial infidelity hurts regardless of its scale,” said Ted Beck, former president and CEO of the National Endowment for Financial Education. “Hiding or lying about small amounts of money can damage a relationship just as effectively as a high-dollar deceit. In fact, in all cases of this deception, people affected say it impacted their relationship in some way — almost always negatively. It causes arguments, erosion of trust, separation or even divorce.”
A 2018 poll done for the organization showed that 41% of married participants who shared finances with their partners confessed to financial deception, and 75% said that this action had a negative impact on their relationships.
For best results, couples should strive to be upfront about monetary goals and spending. When both partners have equal knowledge, the level of trust in the relationship increases. You might want to consider opening a joint bank account.
Stick to the Issues
It’s easy for couples to get distracted in the middle of money discussions or even change the subject deliberately to avoid fights. If you want to keep your eye on the prize, consider using a whiteboard during your financial conversations.
Start by writing down the topics you need to talk about — keep it to a maximum of three points per discussion — and leave room below each issue for the solutions you and your partner brainstorm. Not only will doing this help you remember important points from your conversation, but it also will give you the satisfaction that comes with crossing off topics as they’re resolved.
Additionally, couples should avoid criticizing and name-calling during money discussions. Agree to abide by certain guidelines during your discussions so you’re less likely to argue.
Keep a Cool Head
It’s only natural to get mad if you discover your partner is hiding credit card bills or running up excessive bar tabs. However, confronting your partner with enraged accusations rarely results in productive conversations.
Instead, wait to talk about the money dispute until you’re feeling calmer. When you do sit down to talk, vow to listen while your partner speaks. You might even want to set a timer for five or 10 minutes and strive to remain totally silent while your partner explains his viewpoint. The goal is to figure out why your significant other made the choices he did so you can take steps to correct the situation together.
Get Professional Help
If you and your partner or spouse have tried and failed to discuss money matters, it might be time to seek professional help.
You should head to couples counseling if your money problems include financial infidelity. Lying about money signals an underlying lack of trust. A counselor also can help if one partner is spending money on gambling, substance abuse or a shopping addiction.
If your problems involve sticking to your budget, planning for retirement or overwhelming debt, opt to see a financial counselor. Find an accredited counselor near you by going to the Association for Financial Counseling & Planning Education website. Some counselors even work for nonprofit agencies with sliding-scale fees based on income.
If you think you and your partner have issues with both budgeting and financial infidelity, you might want to see a financial therapist. Financial therapists focus on how emotions affect clients’ financial habits and what aspects of their lives created their attitudes around money.
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Jordan Rosenfeld contributed to the reporting for this article.