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Let’s Talk About Money

A couple walking by the beach on a boardwalk. metaphor for having a calm money talk together

Most couples would rather talk about their sex lives than have the money talk.

Approximate read time: 9 minutes

Talking about our relationships is difficult, and money makes that doubly hard. Money is tightly linked to survival instincts, and the mere thought of talking about our relationship to money and to each other can be terrifying. Having intentional conversations about your finances will reduce that terror, deepen your relationship with your partner, and allow you to reach your goals.

The scaffold of this conversation is meant to focus not just on your shared financial life with your partner, but also the behavioral, emotional, and mechanical relationship we all have with our finances. Only by taking a holistic approach to finances can we achieve our shared and individual goals.

You do not need to have a budget to make use of this scaffold.

What to expect:

This takes time. Your first conversations will likely be hard. Address this openly with each other. Do expect that the hardship of these conversations decreases over time!

A scheduled, monthly conversation won’t supplant organic conversations about money, nor should it. In fact, the routine of a scheduled conversation will open up those ad-hoc conversations as another safe space in which to talk, effectively heading off conflicts before they become a larger problem.

You won’t ask or answer all of these questions. This is a scaffold, not a list. The three phases are suggestions, not requirements. Pick and choose which questions you’d like to answer and feel free to add your own and go in any order you like! There is only one mandatory step at the end. The answers provided are real-world examples and are meant only as a frame of reference, not what you should be answering.

Be prepared to answer any question you ask.

What to leave out of the conversation:

Blame, shame, judgment, and guilt for yourself and your partner. If applying these seemingly corrective attitudes to our money behaviors (or indeed to our relationships) worked, we’d all be perfect.

Leading the conversation. You may have been the one to initiate having these conversations, but the conversation itself should be leaderless. This is an opportunity to practice meeting our partners where they are without parenting or directing them.

What to think about before asking any question:

What is the goal of asking this question?
Do I just want to share and be heard?
Am I seeking sympathy, comfort, praise, or celebration?
Am I trying to solve a problem, seeking help or advice?

What to think about before answering a question:

What physical reaction am I having to this question?
Am I feeling defensive?
Do I need more time to answer this question?

Before you begin:

Ben Lacara in his blog “Real Talk” has some helpful things to consider before starting. I recommend his Real Talk discussion for couples wanting to have broader, honest conversations about their relationships.

  • Schedule the time. Make it one to three hours. Have it on your calendar and know that it’s coming. Both of you need to be available and able to participate without distractions, texts, phone calls, whatever. Make this time for you.
  • The more often Real Talk is done the easier it becomes to do. More context is shared and more comfort is found. I’d recommend doing it every two weeks even if you only get to three or four questions.
  • Be fed, have water, and go to the bathroom first. Take care of your base bodily needs.
  • Do Real Talk in an environment where you can touch each other during and/or after the session.
  • Exercise caution when doing this before bed. Sleep is important, why not get a good night’s rest then get to this in the morning. Don’t have time for that? Then you absolutely need to make time for it and ought to take a look at your priorities.
  • Exercise caution when doing this while driving. You can’t touch very much while driving nor can you make eye contact or read facial cues. It can be done, and it’s definitely harder. Instead of passing time on a long drive it can end up making the long drive feel longer.

Phase 1: Build trust and open the conversation

What have I done recently with our finances that you’ve appreciated?

    • I appreciate that you did a bunch of meal prep so we don’t have to worry about eating out as much.

What do you love about our finances right now?

    • I love that our savings is finally growing!

For your first few conversations you may want to build trust with each other by only doing Phase 1. When you’re both ready, add in Phase 2 and then Phase 3.

Phase 2: Deepen the conversation

Do you have any lingering concerns or hesitations about choices I’ve made that affect our finances?

    • I am concerned that your lunches out at work might push our food spending too high this month.

Is there anything you need from me that you’re finding hard to get?

    • I feel like whenever I bring a money concern to you, you get defensive or fearful even if it has nothing to do with you. I need to be able to finish my thoughts before you try to fix or defend whatever I’m bringing up.

In what ways can I better support you?

    • I feel like you aren’t fully “bought in” to the idea of me switching jobs. What’s going on there?

Are you satisfied with the way we share the work of running our lives?

    • Most of the time. I think I’d like to revisit how we break up the chores at some point, but that’s not a big deal.

Phase 3: Get intentional

Review:
This is the time to review plans, strategies, and projects already in place.

If you are using a Zero Based Budget (ZBB) or premade budget, review each of your categories. For each category (or bucket, if you’re using the Pacific Stoa system) ask yourselves:
Did we over or underspend? What situation preceded that over/underspend? (look for patterns)
Did we plan our expectations accurately for this category?
Did something unexpected happen? (emergency, opportunity)

If you are not using a ZBB, budget, or other spending strategy:
What did we spend money on this month that you are ok with? Why?
What did we spend money on this month that you are NOT ok with? Why?

Agenda and discussion:

After reviewing your previous month’s budget or spending plan, decide on some topics you’d like to discuss.

What would you like to add to the agenda?

  • I’d like to talk about how much we are spending on eating out.
  • We need to talk about the argument we had about child’s sports activities.
  • I have a new goal/project I’d like to talk about.
  • We should talk about the vacation at the end of the year!
  • I’m seeing a potential emergency/disruption/opportunity coming up.
  • Things are changing at work for me, I think we should be ok but…

Review and reflect:

What ah-ha moment did you have during our talk today?

  • I noticed that at the beginning I was feeling really stressed out, but then as we went on I felt better.

What do you want us to accomplish together?

  •  I’d like us to work towards making better choices in our spending and maybe talk about starting to invest.

Mandatory last step: Do something fun together!

Don’t leave this step off!

Go out to dinner, share some intimacy, or go on an outing. This is not a reward for completing the conversation, it is PART of the conversation!

Possible Next steps:

Planning:

When you and your partner are ready to begin making changes to your financial lives, it’s time to implement a Zero-Based Budget.

Goal Setting:

It might seem counterintuitive, but you don’t need to have an agreed-upon goal already in place to begin these conversations. Indeed the only way to get to the goal-setting process is to already have open, connected, conversations with your partner.

If you and your partner would like to schedule a goal-setting meeting, please reach out.

Expand the conversation:

If you and your partner can talk about money, you can talk about anything! Slowly grow your conversations to include the other parts of your lives together: parenting, inlaws, sex, work, household duties, etc.

In Conclusion:

Being open enough in your relationships to have conversations like these IS difficult, but so worth it.
After just a few sessions you’ll find that you both are growing more comfortable sharing and will trust yourselves and each other more and more. When a relationship is full of openness and trust it is resilient, and a resilient relationship can withstand almost anything.

Next Recommended Article: Goal Setting

Last updated: December 2023