Conversation Starters: Talk Money with your Partner

man in black long sleeved shirt and woman in black dress

Frequently in relationships, one person is more inspired to clean up finances and communicates it with such enthusiasm that their partner is likewise convinced.  This process may be quick or may take some time. Once I had my paradigm shift and strongly desired to become debt free, it took about six months for my husband and me to get fully on the same page.

You see, we valued different things. I wanted the experience of debt freedom most of all, and my husband wanted to invest. He wasn’t as worried about our payments as he was about the power of compound interest and getting our money to work for us.  

In order to come into agreement, we both had to change and grow. Looking back, I see how we did that in stops and starts over those six months.  Asking the questions listed below, are what ultimately got us to understand each other and sync up.  

If you’re trying to get into lockstep with your significant other, these conversations may serve you.  And remember, that you can’t force anybody to change.  You must lead by example and persuade them by fruits of your actions. 

Daydream together – Ask: How do you want the future to look? 

In our house we dreamed of big holiday dinners, camping trips, a paid off home, rental properties, and vacations overseas.  By setting a clear image of the leisure and lifestyle we wanted, we were able to make plans to achieve them.  We agreed on success indicators that we want to measure our lives by.  From there, we set savings and debt repayment goals, calculated rental property ROI’s, and established parameters for our budget to keep us on track.  In other words, we new the end from the beginning and worked the numbers accordingly.  This gave us a shared optimism that helped us suffer the hard times and made sacrifice more palatable.

Compromise – Ask: Will this matter in 5 days, weeks, or years?

Sometimes you must agree to disagree, be the bigger person, or let a sleeping dog lie. Compromise on small disagreements, so that you can put energy into resolving the disagreements that matter most to you.  To help gauge which is which, I suggest the 5 days, 5 months, 5 years qualifier. If you are on the cusp of an argument, or dealing with disagreement, ask yourself – Will this still matter to me in 5 days?  Will this matter to me in 5 months?  Will this matter to me in 5 years?  If the answer is no across the board, then acquiesce and move on.  If the answer is yes to any of them, think through how much it matters to you and how far-reaching the impact will be. Then hash it out calmly and seek a win-win solution if at all possible.  As a humorous aside, all arguments about what to order in for dinner ceased once I learned this rule, because I finally had a tool to help me see how little it matters if we have Italian or Mexican! 

Discuss needs – Ask: What is most important to you financially?

Just as some of us are inclined to save and others to spend, some of us need security while others need adventure.  In our household, I’m risk averse and like the idea of a puffed-up cash reserve. I’m a homebody who needs the security of knowing that even during an emergency I can put food on the table and pay the electric bill. My husband is more adventurous, he wants to travel, play in the woods, and is thrilled by big risks that can offer big returns. Ultimately, we balance each other out. The way you handle household finances requires long term thinking – this is not a crash diet! Therefore, everyone’s needs must be addressed. If not, you diminish the value of your teamwork.  Worse than that, you open the door for resentment to come in. 

Share regrets – Ask: What do you wish we’d done differently?

When starting this conversation, it’s best to admit personal fears and mistakes before asking your partner for his/hers. For example, when we started our debt free journey, I confessed my regret of buying a brand-new car rather than a new-to-us car. I felt we would have saved a lot of money purchasing a certified pre-owned vehicle, but we missed the opportunity because I cared more about appearances and getting exactly what I wanted.  Owning up to that, helped kick-off an earnest conversation about fears and other regrets. We better understood what values most to us, and came to agreement on when and how to handle things differently in the future.

Share money stories – Ask: What did you learn about money growing up?

The way we handle money today is shaded by how we were directly and indirectly taught to handle money growing up. Many of us witnessed parents living paycheck to paycheck, lacking the wisdom to save and invest, and frequently borrowing from Peter to pay Paul. Additionally, money discussions could have resulted in fights because finances can be a source of deep stress. All of these circumstances can inhibit our ability to speak freely about finances.  We are so impressionable as children, that it’s common for limiting beliefs to develop.  Opening up to a compassionate partner heals you, because he/she can help you discern when you are filtering reality through beliefs that stunt your perspective. 

Again, these conversations happened over several months. I recommend that for you too – space them out. I love the idea of a monthly money date, whether over coffee or wine, it can be an enjoyable time set aside for developing a unified vision for your household.

For some people self expression is exceedingly difficult. Please approach all talks with the full intention of hearing what your partner has to say. After trying these conversation starters, if you find you’re still struggling to express yourselves to each other, consider working with a Couples Money Coach or a Marriage Counselor who can mediate the discussions. In all things, we move smarter and faster when we work together, so strive for collaboration especially when it’s hard.   

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