Money is a hot button issue in many relationships. It’s common for spouses to have different spending and savings priorities. This often leads to conflict since these financial decisions affect so many aspects of a couple’s lives. Usually, one spouse is more focused on the present and places a higher priority on using money to have fun, buy nice things, be generous, and/or engage in “retail therapy” to escape stress or anxiety. The other spouse may be more focused on the future, feeling that the most important use of money (savings) is to provide security so they will always be financially independent.
Spouses with these different viewpoints often try to convince each other that their priorities are the correct way of looking at things. Needless to say, this doesn’t always go well. Discussions about money often lead to arguments or uncomfortable silences. Furthermore, financial stress is often cited as the #1 cause of divorce. So, instead of avoiding these financial discussions, follow the seven tips below for better outcomes.
My top seven recommendations for better money discussions:
1) Start with Questions. Your first instinct is probably to “tell” your spouse how you feel, what you want/need, and why your priority/viewpoint is important. That is the opposite of how you should start these conversations.
Here are some good questions to start a productive dialogue:
- What do you think has been your/our best financial decision and worst financial decision?
- Which spending decisions have brought you the most joy or best memories?
- When do you want to retire, and what do you want to do in retirement?
- What do you think we are doing well financially, and what aspects of our finances disappoint you or stress you out?
- Where would you like to be in five or ten years?
- What was money like in your household growing up? Spouses may already know the answer to this question, but not always. The answer often tells you a lot about why people think the way they do.
The point of these questions is to better understand your spouse’s financial mindset. Seek first to understand, then to be understood.
2) Don’t focus on what you are going to say. Instead, focus on listening. Good listening is a learned behavior that doesn’t come naturally for most people. It entails more than just waiting for your turn to talk. Good listening means asking clarifying questions, even when you think you know what the other person means. Learn to pause before speaking and repeat back what you have heard.
3) Find goals you both agree on. Each of you should make a list of the goals you’d like to reach. Then, find the common goals and agree to work toward them. Each of you needs to be willing to make sacrifices to reach the goals, and if you’re initiating this conversation, you should be the first one to offer up something. Do you need to cut down on the Starbucks visits, Botox treatments, dog grooming, poker nights?
4) Do not be judgmental. You may find yourself thinking, Wow, it is really stupid to spend so much on XYZ. It is completely normal to have different spending priorities, but if you’re judgmental, you’re going to poison the well and kill any chance of progress.
5) Admit your own mistakes and regrets. The best way to prepare for this discussion is not by gathering evidence of what your spouse has done wrong. Instead, evaluate your own spending and figure out which of your own spending decisions you regret and what changes you can make. Then, you might ask if your spouse has any spending habits or decisions they would be willing to change.
6) Be appreciative. If/when your spouse admits to overspending, don’t pounce. Instead, ask more questions such as: What do you think would be reasonable? Then be appreciative of their answer, their honesty, and their willingness to work together.
7) Agree to revisit periodically. Ideally, you and your spouse meet to discuss your household budget each week. This is an ideal time to reaffirm financial priorities and talk about financial goals.
It is always easier to avoid these conversations, but as I like to say: “A lazy man works twice as hard.” In other words, a little discipline prevents a lot of future heartache. Good luck with your money conversations, and please email me to let me know how they go: firstname.lastname@example.org