Talking about money with your spouse can be a touchy subject, and financial issues are among the top reasons for divorce. By having healthy money conversations without fighting, you and your spouse can improve your finances and lives together.
Money touches most aspects of our lives and is personal to each of us. With money causing a lot of daily stress, it can be tough to discuss, especially if you or your spouse have issues managing money.
In this article, we'll discuss how to talk to your spouse about money without fighting.
Talk About One Another’s Dreams
Money is a tough topic, and if you find that you and your spouse frequently argue about it, then it's time to work on your communication. First, find some time where you both can get away from the hustle and bustle of the typical day and have a conversation about where you'd both like to be in the next 5, 10, and 20 years. Some common topics to touch upon include:
- Where would you like to go on vacation in the future?
- Are you happy with your current home? Would you like to move to a bigger house or a home in a better location?
- What would you like to do more of on the weekends?
- What are some fun things you would do if money were more abundant?
The theme here is keeping your money conversation positive and oriented around what each of you look forward to in the future. By talking about your dreams together in a relaxing setting, you'll be able to come up with money goals together, leading to reduced tension that you may have around your finances.
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Be Empathetic and Understanding
Financial problems are one of the most common reasons for divorce among married couples. When discussing money together, the best thing you can be with each other is empathetic and understanding.
At times, you may both disagree or have different views on how to handle specific financial situations. Attacking one another is counterproductive, as is assigning blame or making “all or nothing” statements such as “You always overspend,” or “You'll never get us out of debt.” Instead, keep an open mind and listen to your spouse as they express their ideas and concerns. You or your spouse may have made poor financial decisions in the past, but by working together, the two of you can wade through the past to create a better financial future for both of you.
Allow Conversations To Be a Two-Way Street
When discussing money, it's important to have honest communication in both directions. If one person is directing the conversation too much, the other may feel like they have no say or that their opinion isn't important. This may lead to more money fights which is opposite of what you're trying to achieve. Allow your spouse to finish speaking before you take your turn. Validate your partner's words and then add to the conversation with your own thoughts.
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Create An Overview Of Your Finances
Create an overview of your family's finances. This includes listing out how much money you have in your bank accounts – such as your checking accounts, savings accounts, and emergency fund – as well as money found in any retirement and investment accounts. In addition, determine how much debt you have, including mortgages, car loans, and student loan debt, credit card debt, and so on.
Writing out your current financial situation also helps you determine your net worth, which is a useful number to track. You can track everything in a spreadsheet or use an app like Personal Capital.
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It can feel overwhelming to write down your financial situation in one place, especially if you have a lot of debt. With that in mind, remember that you and your spouse are a team, and you have to look at all of your income and debt as both of yours. That is, it doesn't matter who the debt or the income belongs to; as a team, it belongs to both of you. Helping your spouse pay off their debt is up to you, too, because as a married couple, you are a single unit.
Forgive Past Money Mistakes
Financial infidelity is when spouses with combined finances lie to each other about money. This could be lying about how money is spent, substantial debt, or one spouse hiding a large sum of money from the other. Regardless of what has caused frustration in the past, if you and your partner are going to be a stronger team going forward, then both of you need to forgive one another for what happened in the past. Instead of letting feelings fester, communicate openly with one another and come to a resolution. As a team, it doesn't make sense to hold on to grudges, as this won't help either of you move forward.
Come Up With Short-Term and Long-Term Financial Goals Together
As you think about your future financial plan, come up with both short-term and long-term financial goals together. By coming up with common goals as a team, you'll be able to reach them together better.
Here are some ideas for short-term goals:
- Save $1,000 for an emergency fund
- Pay down one credit card
- Save and use a certain amount of extra money twice a month for date night
Once you've set goals for the more immediate future, come up with some long-term goals as well. These may include:
- Pay off the mortgage
- Get completely out of debt
- Go on a luxurious vacation
- Put your children through college
- Retire earlier than initially planned
Good goals are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-based (SMART goals).
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Determine Who Will Do What
Money management is everyone's strong point, so as a team, it makes sense to divide the responsibilities in ways you both see fit. For example, one of you could pay the bills while the other might be in charge of monitoring your overall finances. Each person has their own strengths, and finding which of you are best suited for each task in maintaining your family finances will set you both up for success.
Here are some common tasks to break up among you and your spouse:
- Creating the household budget
- Tracking monthly spending
- Reviewing bank account balances
- Paying monthly bills
- Going over investment accounts
- Setting up autopay on common bills
- On a regular basis, reviewing where money can be saved
- Transferring or setting up auto-transfers to the savings account
Try out different ways of dividing the responsibilities until both of you are comfortable with what you're each in charge of.
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Create a Monthly Budget
You've sat down and had one or more financial discussions. Now, it's time to create a budget. A spreadsheet is one of the best ways to create a budget. You can download our home budget spreadsheet here or create one of your own. If spreadsheets aren't your thing, then a paper budget or an app like YNAB (You Need A Budget) works great.
Write down the family income and then review your credit card and bank statements to determine how much money you're spending on different things.
If you're new to budgeting, check out our guide on how to create a budget for beginners, which breaks down budgeting into simple steps.
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Demonstrate Good Money Habits
If your partner has bad money habits, focus on setting good money habits for yourself so that you can help them learn good habits as well. This works better rather than pointing out their money problems in a negative manner.
People learn better by being shown versus being told. For example, by showing good money habits, your spouse will see that you're serious and that it's important to you.
Celebrate Financial Wins Together
As you spend time going over your finances, look for financial wins that you two have accomplished. Did you pay down a credit card? Were you able to make extra payments towards one of your student loans? Did you meet or beat your savings goal for three months in a row?
By celebrating financial wins together, you and your spouse will find positive things to reflect upon as you tackle the tougher financial issues together.
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Update Your Plan Regularly
After you've come to a mutual understanding and decided who will do what, follow the plan for a few months. Sit down again and see how everything is progressing. Are both of you happy with your financial responsibilities? Do you both feel that you're confident in the tasks assigned? Has your money situation begun to improve?
After reviewing your plan and progress, update your plan with your partner as you two see fit. Perhaps you've identified opportunities to save more money, and you want to pay down a credit card, or perhaps it's time to save for one or more big purchases, like a new car or house. As time changes, so will your financial plans.
Good things take time, and you and your partner are in it for the long run. If your partner struggles with money, you'll need to be patient with them and help them improve. That means being patient and not judging them for an occasional slip-up. Remember, don't let your emotions get the best of you. To have a better relationship means being patient with one another as each of you works to improve your handling of money.
Wrapping It Up
In this article, we discussed how to talk to your spouse about money without fighting. Financial conversations can be challenging to navigate at times, so sitting down in a quiet, calm place will help you and your spouse work through current money issues. Remember to be empathetic, understanding, and respectful to your partner as you would want them to be to you. You've committed your lives to one another, and even when times are tough, you can continue to work together to better them.
Dave is a Certified Educator in Personal Finance (CEPF®) and is passionate about spreading financial literacy. He founded Clean Cut Finance in 2021 and has been featured on websites like Yahoo! Finance, MoneyGeeks, and GoBankingRates. In his spare time, Dave enjoys experimenting in the kitchen, racing simulation, and reading.