Dollars and cents may be black and white, but discussing finances can be a sensitive topic for many people. In fact, money arguments are the second leading cause of divorce, behind infidelity. Financial firm TD Ameritrade released data sharing that 41% of divorced Gen Xers and 29% of Boomers say they ended their marriage due to disagreements about money.
Finding ways to navigate conversations around spending habits, budget needs, financial goals and debt can literally make or break your relationship. So, where do you start? How do you create a safe space to talk about money without it escalating to an argument? Whether your relationship is newer or you’ve celebrated handfuls of milestone anniversaries, here are some important steps to take and consider.
Plan it Out in Advance
One of the common issues when discussing money and finances really comes down to timing. One of you will see a current issue or realize there’s a need to talk about something financial and, even if it starts out calm and collected, it can easily escalate when it comes out of the blue. Instead of bringing up the subject and digging in on the fly, plan a time to meet that works for both of you. When you bring up money casually, even with the best intentions, your partner may not be in the best mindset for that particular discussion, causing an argument. Choose to put something on your calendar for later in the week or month if that suits both of you, so you have a “budget meeting” in which you can feel prepared.
In order to keep the momentum going for your financial goals and decreasing the likelihood for an argument, professionals recommend keeping a monthly or bi-monthly meeting on the calendar for you to check in with one another on progress and keep open communication.
Be Realistic About Goals
It can be easy to see the areas of your finances that need to be improved and immediately jump into all the changes you need to see, but take caution. It’s healthy to create goals for both of your spending and saving habits, but don’t give them unrealistic expectations. It’s ok for improvements to take time and to map out a plan together that feels achievable. Even when you’re on the same team, one party may feel more of a sense of urgency behind the changes or plans for your money. Make decisions together that feel timely and realistic, so nobody is feeling faced with an unattainable goal.
It’s important to be careful not to assign blame on anyone specifically during these conversations and really embrace the “we” and “us” in your money statements. For example, “we could do better at paying our credit card statements on time, let’s set up an autopay together now.”
Create Space to Dream Big and Share
Depending on how you each grew up around the conversation of money, there really are a lot of emotions and things that may cause you both to look at finances from a different lens. When it comes to creating goals, encourage each other to really think about what you want life to look like in the present and the future. Explore what future goals look like for yourself, each other and your family. Is there debt you want to pay off? Investments you want to make? Vacations or material things you want to eventually be able to purchase? Even if these aren’t immediate goals, it’s good to dream and share those things with each other.You can then ask each other, “what can we do to get closer to these goals?”
Lean Into Each Other’s Strengths
The same way one of you may love cooking dinner while the other is the one to keep the kitchen clean after, your financial strengths will be different. If one of you is more disciplined when it comes to saving, have that person in charge of setting up the savings, retirement accounts, etc. Maybe one of you is “Mr. or Mrs. Organization” and never misses adding something to the calendar or creating reminders for the family? This person may be perfect to take on paying the bills and scheduling out any routine financial needs. It’s important to be on the same page and have conversations about these roles; just make sure you’re focusing on who’s strengths can serve your money goals best.
You and your partner are a team, and when it comes to the financial wellness of your present and future, it’s ok if there are big feelings there. Take time to establish open communication and create consistency about when you have your conversations and how you react to one another during them. Remember, the more you talk about money, the easier it will become.