Your relationship with your spouse is multi-faceted. Before you got married, you probably talked about the “important” things, such as, where you would live, how many kids you would want to have, jobs, even religion, but you may not have talked about budgeting and spending habits. And once you got married, I’m willing to bet that, you soon realized that money and spending habits were “important” issues that you should have talked about.
Why is it that we find it easier to talk about and work out compromise on major life decisions, such as children and religion within a marriage, but avoid talking about money? According to CreditRepair.com, 60% of couples say that “spending was kept a secret to avoid problems at home.” Ironically, 60% of couples also say that they think that “spending infidelity is just as destructive as sexual infidelity” within their relationship. So if couples identify finances as such a major factor in their relationship, why do they go to great lengths to avoid talking about it with their spouse?
Alright, we all know that talking about money with your spouse is not easy, but, obviously, it is essential to building a healthy relationship. And if you and your spouse have been having trouble communicating about money, you are probably able to find quite a few resources on how to effectively talk with your spouse about money, but sometimes, it is just as important to know what NOT to do…. so, since it is such a sensitive topic, let’s first start off by looking at when you should NOT talk about money:
DO NOT talk about money when you are angry.
If you find out that your spouse has just made a purchase that you didn’t know about or possibly didn’t even agree should be made, let those initial emotions subside. If you confront your spouse when you are angry, the conversation probably won’t get very far and is almost certain to end in a fight—and the issue won’t get resolved.
DO NOT talk about money when you are preoccupied.
This may sound obvious, but you both need to be 100% in on the conversation. If you try to talk to your spouse about a purchase or budgeting when they are trying to work, or they are running out the door to pick your child up from basketball practice, or when they are tired and trying to fall asleep, you are not going to have a productive conversation.
DO NOT confront your spouse about money or spending habits in front of others.
If you want to shut down any communication about finances, confronting your spouse in front of family, friends, co-workers, or even complete strangers, and possibly embarrassing him or her, will not help your situation. If your spouse perceives what you are saying as ridicule or public embarrassment, that would be counterproductive. Finances are a private issue, so keep them between you and your spouse. That is not to say that you can’t reach out to a marriage counselor or financial planner to help you get to where you need to be. Sometimes you do need an outside opinion, but the manner in which that happens makes all the difference.
DO NOT talk about finances in front of your children.
If you have children in the household, disagreeing about finances in front of your kids, talking about all the debt that you have, or how you are unable to pay your monthly bills, will not create a good sense of home life for your children. Allow your children to be children. They don’t need to worry about how to pay down a credit card or how to pay down student loans. Also keep in mind, that what they overhear, may not be perceived the right way—you and your spouse may just be having a disagreement or a discussion about how to tackle debt, but your child may think that you don’t have enough money to pay for your home. Children are perceptive and will pick up on your attitude toward finances and money—don’t teach them that money is a problem, or a headache, or overwhelming. Show them a positive outlook.
Okay, so there are definitely times that you should not talk about money or finance problems with your spouse, but obviously, this is an important topic, so when is a good time to talk through your budgeting issues?
DO set aside time to talk finances.
If you are aware that finances are a touchy subject for the two of you, and you know not to bring up it when you are angry or preoccupied, decide on a time that you both agree to and focus only on finances. Setting time aside allows both of you to think about things ahead of time, and hopefully, when you come together, the conversation can be productive and free from distraction.
DO communicate with each other in a loving manner.
Marriage counselor, Brian Linder, says “The more you focus on communicating love to your spouse the better you will negotiate finances.” You and your spouse need to work together as a team, and if one of you is blaming the other, or if neither of you are willing to take ownership, then your marriage will suffer. Remember, when you are talking to your spouse work on ways to solve the problem, not just point out what they are doing wrong. Regardless of how things were handled in the past, you need to agree on a financial path moving forward.
DO create a plan.
Regardless of how you each spent money before you got married, or the bad spending habits that you may still have, or even the debt that you must deal with, come up with a plan to get on track. You can’t change the past, so focus on the future, where you are going, and how you will get there. Here is a check list to use when you talk with your spouse about money. Go over each topic and make the decisions together:
- Create a budget—look at monthly income and expenses for your household. Figure out how much disposable income you have (the money that is left over after paying all your bills each month). This is the starting point, because you must know where you are if you are going to figure out how you will reach your financial goals. Click on the image below, or on this link, to download your FREE Money Savvy Living Family Budget:
- Set a purchase limit—if you or your spouse is going to make a purchase (or a series of small purchases) that add up to a certain dollar amount, then you should talk it over with your spouse first. Set the limit to an amount that you both agree on, maybe it’s $100, maybe it’s $1000, but set it, and stick to it. That way, there won’t be any surprises…and that also alleviates the desire to “hide” a purchase from your spouse. Remember, honesty in communicating is important to the health of your finances and marriage.
- Create a pay-down plan—if you have accumulated debt together or brought debt into your marriage, decide on how to pay it down—and off. The stress of large amounts of debt can be overwhelming, but creating a plan to get it paid off can lessen the financial stress, as well as the stress it may be putting on your relationship. So, after you have made your budget and know how much disposable cash you have, you can decide together which debt amount you will tackle first. For example, if you have $100 of disposable cash each month, perhaps, you put that extra money toward paying off a student loan or a credit card. Once that debt is paid off, you can put that $100 towards paying off another debt. Actually, you will have more disposable income with each debt that you pay off because you are taking the minimum payment out of the budget, so for example, maybe you now have $150 to put toward paying off the next debt.
Once you have put a plan in place, stick to it. But remember, things will come up—the car may break down and need to be repaired, you may encounter unexpected medical expenses, perhaps you will need to replace the water heater or refrigerator—so be flexible. Talk about how you will pay for these extra expenses and then work to get back on track with your plan.
Communicate with your spouse about finances—but not in a negative way.