A Money Matters Conversattion With Your Spouse
Usually it’s a crisis that gets a couple to enter the money talk: You open up a credit card bill and notice that the card is maxed out. You get an overdraft notice from the bank. A debt collector calls. And then instead of a discussion you get what? An explosion? Nuclear war?
The fact is that when bad news hits it might be too late to have the money talk with her -- because at that point, talking can lead to screaming. Screaming leads to accusations. Accusations lead to name-calling and name-calling leads to the door. So make it a point to talk about finances now, when there’s no crisis on the table.
When you’re ready to tackle this highly important but sensitive subject, follow the tips below to know how to have the money talk with her.
Money talk: Start with your mistakes
Did you ever try to open up a discussion with a list of things the other person is doing wrong? If you have, then you probably didn’t get very far. Nobody, not even you, likes it when other people point out bad habits -- even when they’re true. If there are some critical comments you’d like to make about her saving or spending habits, the best approach is to put her at ease first.
That approach focuses on the “why not.” Your new approach should focus on the “why.” It might feel stingy or boring to live within your means or take the right steps to pay off your credit card debt, but debt and uncontrolled spending leads to less freedom, not more. A bad credit score can keep you from buying a car or owning a house or even getting the job you want.
Make sure you make that point in your money talk with her. You take strong steps to get your finances in order so that you’ll have more long-term freedom and the ability to do more fun things together down the road.
Money talk: Don’t let other topics creep in
Our financial habits often come from our families. How we were raised has a lasting impact on everything we do, including how we manage our finances. And sometimes the bulk of our spending takes place when we are with our friends. So when it comes to assessing our habits, our families and friends might get brought in. Blame might even be placed on them during the money talk.
Do yourself a favor and stay on topic. A casual mention of the late car payment might unmask some deep resentment of your or her parents. Comments about your lavish nights out on the town might reveal hatred for one particular friend.
Those feelings should be put aside and dealt with later. When you want to tackle the issue of your financial lives, you need to remember the message delivered by slugger Mark Maguire when asked about his steroid use: “Let’s not talk about the past right now. Let’s try to focus on the future.”
Money talk: Acknowledge her limitations
Let’s say she’s having trouble understanding some of the basic principles of personal finance. For example:
- She doesn’t understand why a high interest rate on a credit card is bad.
- She doesn’t understand why matching contributions in a 401(k) are good.
- She doesn’t understand that getting cash from and ATM with your credit card is worse than borrowing it from a mobster.
It may be that you are dealing with someone who has a financial blind spot. She may be perfectly intelligent in other areas of her life, but she just doesn't get the principles of good money management.
If this is the case, it’s important that you not get frustrated. You may try to teach her but she may not be teachable, especially if she doesn’t want to learn. In fact, it may be best for both of you if you just took control of her finances.
the money pits
Understand this: Even though you try to be calm and non-threatening, money is a very sensitive topic. It can still lead to a fight no matter when you bring it up. But don’t let that deter you. Some things in life have to be dealt with. And if your relationship can’t survive a mature discussion on dollars and cents, then it’s better to learn so as soon as possible.
How to do that? Make sure she understands that you are not perfect. Do this by telling her about the problems you’ve had in the past or are having now. If, when having the money talk with her, you can take your fair share of the blame and ask her to help you work on your weaknesses, you’ll have a much easier time pointing out the things she needs to do better.
If there’s one specific area you two think you should tackle (like putting more in savings or setting up a budget), give her credit for coming up with the idea. It’s much easier to get somebody to “buy in” to an idea when they think it’s their idea.
Money talk: Focus on the “why,” not the “why not”
Too often, money talks get framed in the most negative light possible. We all obsess with what we’re doing wrong and how we got in this mess. Then we sit down and make a laundry list of the things we are not going to do.
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