Talking about money is one of the hardest things most couples will ever do. But don’t live in dread. Just follow these tips to make it a positive and constructive discussion.
1. Schedule a time to talk.
The discussion will go better if you make an appointment with your SO. Buttonholing them without warning is an excellent way to turn it into a fight unnecessarily.
Instead of doing that, let them know you would like to do some financial planning within the next week or so and ask what would be a good time for them. Try to pick a time and place that will foster good discussion. Agreeing ahead of time to a good time slot for both of you will help establish the right atmosphere and attitude.
2. Do your homework.
You should both look through any pertinent financial statements and possibly print them off to bring them to the meeting. The discussion will go better if it’s based on facts, not hand-wavy memories.
Memory is far too subject to personal prejudice. We tend to remember things that got a big emotional reaction out of us, like the time we got mad at them for overspending in a big way, and forget more prosaic facts, like all the times they got it right and we overspent more moderately.
3. Don’t fight dirty.
For many people, money is a hot-button topic. But, if you don’t know good ways to argue constructively and how to “fight fair” in marriage, a few sessions with a couple’s counselor may be the single best investment you ever make. Divorce typically comes at a high cost, both financially and emotionally, and fighting about money is the single biggest red flag out there.
If you need to first learn to have a meaty debate at all, do that. Then learn to have a meaty debate about money. It will very much pay dividends.
4. Set goals.
Be prepared to talk about your dreams. Be prepared to really listen to their dreams of the future. Then set goals based on both of your dreams.
Setting goals to work towards will help make this a positive conversation. Without goals, it’s all too easy to just fight about who did what. Such financial discussions tend to be all downside.
Studies show that people who set financial goals seriously outperform those who don’t. Working towards your goals together can be one of the most positive bonds your marriage will ever have.
It’s fine to dream big. Your goals don’t have to be things that are easily within reach. It can be fun to get creative about finding ways to make them happen.
At this stage, just toss out any old crazy idea and write it down. Good brainstorming sessions should not involve any criticism. When one of you says “I know: Let’s just sell both cars!” don’t balk. For now, just write it down.
Critical thought about the ideas and practical implementation can come later. Creativity dies in the face of criticism. This is not the time for it.
6. Shoot for win-win solutions.
If you have no idea how to do this, get some negotiating books and do a little reading. “Getting to Yes” is a research-based book and a quick read.
If you need to cut spending, don’t assume it means a huge loss in quality of life. Transportation is typically the second largest budget item. Maybe one of you can get a remote job and work from home so you can give up one of the two cars. Your quality of life could go up dramatically while expenses come down.
But you might not come to the conclusion that this is a real and viable option had you not first written down the “crazy” idea to sell both cars. An idea like selling on car and working from home may be the practical result of a seemingly outrageous idea.
7. Before it’s over, schedule the next financial talk.
Go ahead and get that part out of the way while you are having this first talk. Good financial planning that gets results is an ongoing process. It’s not something resolved by a single discussion.
You can help limit the heavy atmosphere by setting the next appointment during this one. That way you don’t have to bug them again in a few weeks. It minimizes the amount of time spent on negative feelings that can be involved in dealing with money.
This also makes sure you don’t wait until a crisis, such as an unexpected accident and big repair bills, to talk about money again. Ideally, your financial discussions should become a positive and constructive part of the relationship, and not something you dread. Some best practices can help push it in that direction.
8. Do something nice together
For many couples, this will be a tough discussion to have. Make sure you plan something pleasant for right afterwards to calm frayed nerves and affirm your loving bond.
It doesn’t have to be anything expensive. Maybe you will just watch a favorite TV show together or cook a favorite meal together. But do schedule a positive bonding activity immediately afterward to help cement the agreement and keep things emotionally comfortable.
About the writer: Jasmine Williams covers the good and the bad of today’s business and marketing. When she’s not being all serious and busy, she’s usually hunched over a book or dancing in the kitchen, trying hard to maintain rhythm, and delivering some fine cooking (her family says so). Tweet her @JazzyWilliams88.