Ugh. You know you should talk to your spouse about money, but every time you do, someone gets angry, feelings get hurt and you promise yourself you’ll never bring up the subject again.
Am I right?
OK, I’m sure some of you can talk money like a pro with your spouse, but I’m willing to bet a whole bunch of you dread the thought. I’m a saver who used to be married to a spender. I know.
Even though you may think it’s a lost cause, you still need to try to keep the lines of communication open. Edelman Financial Services found 44 percent of surveyed couples believe money is the root cause of most divorces.
“Financial pressures can lead to the breakdown of the family,” David Bach told me. Bach is the vice chairman of Edelman Financial Services and author of “Smart Couples Finish Rich.”
His research found that being on the same page financially with a spouse not only helps keep you out of divorce court, but it can also fatten your bank account. Of those who discuss finances with their spouse, 36 percent have savings of $100,000-$499,000.
How do you have healthy money conversations with your spouse? Here are five suggestions from the experts:
1. Make it a scheduled event
The problem with most money discussions is that they usually arise when there is a problem. When one person says, “Honey, can we talk about the budget?” the other person may instantly think, “Crap, what’s wrong?” Or they may assume they’re in trouble for spending too much.
Either way, it puts the other person on the defensive or in a foul mood right from the get-go.
Instead, agree on a specific day for a monthly review of the family finances. It could be the first Friday of the month or on each payday. It’s doesn’t have to be long or involved either. It could be as simple as 10 minutes spent going over last month’s cash flow and identifying major or periodic expenses coming down the pipeline.
A regular meeting gets both spouses on the same page financially and ensures they both take ownership of family finances. I asked Anne Malec, a licensed marriage and family therapist and author of “Marriage in Modern Life,” what she thought was the biggest mistake couples make when having money conversations.
“It’s probably the feeling that it’s one partner’s issue to solve [money] problems,” she told me. However, a monthly meeting takes the burden off one spouse to work alone to balance the budget.
2. Pair it with something fun
To sweeten the appeal of a monthly money discussion, pair it with something fun. Bach is a fan of “money dates” and notes that he has clients who always follow up their appointments with him with a movie or dinner out.
“My really happy couples don’t look at their money as drudgery,” he explains. Instead, they use financial meetings as an excuse for a night out.
You don’t have to see a financial planner to make a money date work for you. Simply plan to have your money conversation at your favorite restaurant or if that’s too extravagant for your budget, follow up an at-home money talk with a rented movie and homemade treats.
The point is, make it fun so your spouse doesn’t think of the money talk as work. They might still not love the idea, but they may be willing to endure it with a smile because they know something good is happening afterward.
3. Focus on goals, not bills
Another tip that can make money talks less painful is to focus on shared goals, not everyday bills. Bach suggests couples open a dream account where money can be put aside for a vacation, travel or some other family priority.
“Money is just a tool to design your best life,” Bach says.
Rather than focus on how little you may have, focus on how to make the best use of it. By talking about goals, you’ll naturally bring in a discussion of bills as well. For example, if you and your spouse want to take an anniversary trip, you both may be more likely and willing to cut back in other places.
4. Bring in a third party if needed
Sometimes your bad money habits are so ingrained that bringing in a third party to air out the topic is necessary. You could use a marriage and family therapist like Malec or a financial planner like Bach. Or you could go a different route if that’s not in the budget or if your better half balks at the idea of talking about money problems with a stranger.
Bach suggests working through a financial book or workbook together or attending a financial seminar to jump-start the discussion. In my situation, I told my husband I’d like us to attend Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University program as a Christmas present. Was he happy to go? No. Did it change our family finances and marriage? You bet.
5. Understand your partner’s perspective
Finally, talking about money with your spouse requires a great deal of patience and empathy. Your spouse probably isn’t purposefully being difficult. They simply may have a different understanding of money and different expectations than you.
“Each [spouse] has money beliefs about how it’s all going to work,” Malec says. “These beliefs aren’t articulated but they are acted out.”
So while your spouse’s money habits might get on your last nerve, remember that they are probably only doing what they saw modeled at home growing up. Or at least give them that benefit of the doubt.
“You’re in this together,” Bach says. Once you start playing the blame game, you stop working as a team. And once you stop working as a team, you might find yourself agreeing with the 44 percent of people who say divorce and money disagreements go hand-in-hand.
What are your experiences handling finances with a partner? Share in the comments section below or on our Facebook page.