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Talking money with your spouse is one of your most important conversations. Do it right, and you will likely be on the same page and have a great relationship. Do it wrong, and you could find yourself fighting more often than you thought possible. You might even end in divorce.
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Why Do Couples Fight About Money?
It doesn't matter how much (or little) a couple makes. There are always reasons to fight about money. Money fights aren't always about not having enough money but about different financial histories or ideas on how to handle money.
Here are some reasons couples fight about money.
Varying Financial Habits
Everyone has a different 'money story' or money situation. In other words, everyone comes to adulthood with preconceived notions about money and how it should be spent or saved. If you come from a household where savings was a priority, but your spouse grew up in a household where they prioritized spending, you may not have the same financial goals.
If you've already established your financial habits, starting over with someone with different ideas can be hard. This is often a big issue if you marry later in life. Adults usually have financial habits already created and habits can be hard to break.
If you enter a relationship where one spouse saves and another loves to spend, it can quickly cause issues with the family finances.
Difference in Salary
If one spouse makes more money, there can be feelings of inferiority or superiority, depending on how you view it. The spouse that makes more might feel like they should make all financial decisions, or the spouse that doesn't make as much might feel like they don't have the right to spend money.
This can become an even bigger problem if one spouse works and the other doesn't. Even if the working spouse doesn't mention money, the non-working spouse could feel guilty or 'without the right to spend money.
Debt causes stress, which can cause fights within the marriage. Information from the National Survey of Families and Households showed a direct relationship between increasing consumer debt and divorce. The more a couple incurred, whether through loans or credit card debt, the more likely they were to get divorced.
Fights about debt can also occur when one spouse brings a large amount of debt to the marriage. Assigning blame for financial issues or feeling like you are paying for your spouse's mistakes can be easy.
When debt and a poor credit report take away from things like retirement savings or saving to buy a house, it can cause even more conflict within the relationship.
Guilt vs Resentment
Sometimes money issues or fights occur out of sheer guilt or resentment. One spouse might feel vulnerable and forced to give in to the higher-earning spouse's money views. You might feel guilty for not making enough money or feel it's your spouse's right to control the money.
You might also be resentful when one spouse goes overboard with spending, and you have to pick up the pieces and give up investment accounts or other personal finance goals to take care of the debt.
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Why Being on the Same Page Is Important
Talking money with your spouse is one of your most important conversations. When you're on the same page and comfortable having money conversations, it's much easier to reach your personal finance goals together.
Does this mean you'll always have the same views and goals?
It doesn't, and that's okay too.
Every marriage has spouses with different views. Opposites attract, but it's how you handle those differences that matter. Talking bills and paychecks with your partner is one of the most important conversations you can have.
Most important is the ability to talk to your spouse about money. You should feel comfortable sharing your ideas, goals, and worries. Blaming one another doesn't help anyone get anywhere.
Instead, working together toward a common goal of supporting each other in your individual goals can be the key to a solid relationship.
How to Talk About Money With Your Partner: 6 Steps
The money talk can be one of the most intimidating talks you have with your spouse. Even though this is the person you love, everyone comes to the conversation with preconceived notions and ideas.
Here are 6 steps to help you learn how to talk to your spouse, break the ice and help make your money talk successful.
Discuss Financial History
Your financial history is what causes your financial habits. If you're used to spending what you want, you'll likely continue doing that in the marriage. If your spouse isn't used to those habits, it can cause stress in the relationship.
Together, talk about your money stories. Discuss money and how you were brought up with it, how you treat it, and where you stand with it right now.
For example, if you're coming into a relationship with a lot of student debt, say that upfront. Debt repayment will need to be a part of your monthly budget and may affect how much money you can afford for other expenses.
The key is to be honest with one another from the start. Don't be embarrassed if you've filed for bankruptcy in the past or you recently bought a new car and have a large car payment. With the right attitude and plan, you and your spouse can create a financial plan that works for both of you.
Evaluate Current Financial Situation
Your financial history plays an important role in your financial plan, but now it's time to focus on your current financial situation, how to move forward, and save money.
Total the monthly expenses that you each bring to the table. Compare these expenses to your total income between the two of you and see what's left. If one partner is in over their heads in debt, you'll have to decide how you'll handle the debt.
Consider options like debt consolidation or asking creditors for a payment arrangement to make the payments more affordable. Evaluate how each of you handles savings or if you must add it to your budget to have an emergency fund ready.
Create Common Goals
Now that you're married, you'll create financial goals together. This doesn't mean you can't have your own goals. They are okay too.
Make a list of individual and shared goals, and then create a plan to reach them. If you find you have a lot of goals together, prioritize them. For example, retirement savings should be a top priority for everyone. From there, create a list in order of your goals, checking them off as you satisfy them.
Have monthly talks with your spouse about money so you're always on the same page. As life changes, your goals might change too. Stay current on your goals so you can always plan and reach your financial goals.
Develop a Structured Plan
You can work on your finances together, but each spouse should have specific roles. Together, decide how to track spending, what to save and where, who will pay the bills, and which goals you'll try to reach first.
You don't have to give one person all the power, but having someone in charge of making sure you stay on track is important. Think of it like a checks and balances system. You're both there to make sure your plan gets followed.
Agree on Guidelines
With two people involved in the finances, there must be some wiggle room regarding the boundaries. For example, limit how much each spouse can spend without asking the other.
As we mentioned earlier, you should assign each person tasks so that someone is always checking on all aspects of your financial health.
It's important, though, that you are on the same page. For example, what should happen if one spouse overspends beyond the monthly budget? How should you address the issue so it doesn't come across as financial infidelity? As many as 2 in 5 Americans admit to financial infidelity, don't be one of them.
When you create plans and guidelines together, it's much easier to be on the same page and fight less about money.
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Your first money talk should not be your last. Talking bills and paychecks with your partner should happen often. Don't make money a taboo subject in the house. While you want to choose your time wisely to talk to your spouse about money, you should feel comfortable doing so regularly.
It's easiest if you set up money dates monthly. Choose a date that you can both talk to one another freely about money, touch base on your goals, and together decide what you might need to change if things aren't going right. If You find discussing money with your partner is difficult, don't be afraid to seek personal finance advice or help from a couples therapist to get the conversation started.
Talking About Money With Your Spouse FAQ
Is It Okay to Have Separate Finances in Marriage?
It is okay to have separate finances in marriage. There's no right or wrong way to handle your money. If together you decide that having separate accounts is best, then go for it. Just make sure you're both on the same page.
Should You Live In Debt or Be Debt-Free?
Ideally, couples should be debt-free. This makes it easier to achieve your combined financial goals and to make hard financial decisions together. Some debt, however, isn't horrible, and most couples have at least a little debt.
Why Do Couples Avoid Financial Talk?
Money is just one of those taboo topics. No one knows how to start talking about money, so they just avoid it. Some couples worry about fighting or that talking about money will ruin their relationship, but the opposite is true.
Should Married Couples Pull Their Money Together?
When married couples work on shared financial goals, having your money together is easier. If you both work and equally pay the bills, having your money in the same account can make it much easier to track spending and bills. But, it's not required to pull your money together. If you decide you're both more comfortable with your money separate, that's acceptable too.
How to Talk to Your Spouse About Money: The Bottom Line
Talking money with your spouse is important. It should be one of the first serious conversations you have when you talk about settling down. It should also be an ongoing conversation in your relationship so you both are on the same page and feel equally supported financially.