One of the questions I’m asked most often is, “How can I talk to my spouse about money?”
If you’re looking for that answer, I’m so glad you’re here. Talking about money can be intimidating for any number of reasons. Maybe one of you is reluctant to tackle your money issues. Maybe you feel like you can’t even bring up the subject without it turning into a fight.
But you guys, love puts no limits on topics for conversation—and that includes money. Before we get into how to talk to your spouse about money, here’s what you need to know.
Why Do Couples Fight About Money?
As I’ve coached people with their money over the years, I’ve discovered lots of underlying reasons why couples argue about their finances. Here are a few common ones—and the emotions that go along with them.
Debt and Resentment
The sad truth I’ve seen time and time again is that debt can destroy a marriage. Maybe one person has a bunch of student loans or credit card debt. The other person could resent having to pay for their spouse’s past mistakes. In that case, the real reason for the fight is resentment. Add to that the stress of making ends meet and you’ve got a serious fight just beneath the surface, waiting to rear its ugly head.
Salary Differences and Guilt
When one spouse brings in less income or doesn’t have one at all, they might feel guilty for spending any money. Or the higher earner might feel superior. If you let those feelings build up on either side, they’ll turn into bitterness and distrust.
Different Money Tendencies
Everyone handles money differently, and in my new book, Know Yourself, Know Your Money, I identified the 7 Money Tendencies. If your spouse is a natural saver, putting money aside for a rainy day gives them a sense of security. On the other hand, a natural spender has lots of creative ideas about what they could use that money for. Neither is right or wrong—they’re just different.
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When it comes to money fights in marriage, there’s often a surface issue and an underlying issue. And the only way to find the root cause of the argument is to stop and talk about it.
5 Ways to Talk to Your Spouse About Money
Try to shift the conversation from dollars and cents to experiences and emotions. If you understand where your partner is coming from—their history and their feelings—you’ll make a lot more progress with your money and your relationship. Here’s how to do that:
1. Share your money story.
Start by saying, “In my house growing up, money was . . .”
Discovering how money was handled in the household your husband or wife grew up in will help you understand the foundation for their beliefs about money. It will probably help you get to the root of money fights you guys have too. Their experience was probably totally different than yours, which means you guys are coming at this big (and sometimes emotional) topic of money from two different perspectives.
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2. Share your fears.
Bring up the subject by saying, “My biggest financial fear is . . .”
Fear is a terrible financial advisor. But believe it or not, every single one of us either has or has had fears about money.
Some fear can motivate you to do good things, like put money away into a healthy emergency fund. But if you live in constant fear of financial ruin, there won’t be a number big enough in that savings account to make you feel better. It’s crucial to recognize your fears around money as well as your spouse’s.
3. Share your dreams.
Begin with, “My big dream for both of us is . . .”
Knowing your dreams will keep you connected to a shared goal and motivate you to save for the future. In fact, if you guys haven’t discussed your dreams together, you’re probably not seeing much progress financially. You might be saving a little here and a little there, but you’re going to have to tap into your dreams if you want to start making real progress.
Here are just a few examples of what your shared dreams may look like:
- Take your kids to experience Disney World every few years.
- Get out of debt so you get to keep all of your income.
- Move to a different home.
- Stay home with your kids and homeschool them.
- Be financially secure so you can fund an adoption for yourself or another family.
This is a great opportunity to share your heart with your spouse and set some short-term and long-term goals.
4. Share your attitude about giving.
Say, “When it comes to giving, I . . .”
One of you probably has a soft spot for any and every cause out there, while the other isn’t so easily moved. Neither of you is right or wrong—it just means one of you is a spontaneous giver and the other is a planned giver.
Simply learning which kind of giving you and your spouse lean toward is eye-opening. Planned givers can help spontaneous givers make more of an impact with their giving, and spontaneous givers can help planned givers experience the joy of surprise generosity.
5. Share your appreciation for grace.
Start with, “When I make a money mistake, I love it when you . . .”
We all want to be a safe place for our spouse to land, but some of us don’t naturally extend grace. If you tend toward withholding grace, you care deeply about integrity and doing things right. This is admirable and important, but you don’t want to sacrifice the relationship in your pursuit of being right.
Tell each other about a time when you felt the other show compassion for a mistake or misunderstanding. Then, the next time someone slips up, remember how you can handle it with grace. Money mistakes will happen, but as long as you learn from them, they can actually make you a stronger couple.
Talking About Money Will Never Be Perfect
For The Rachel Cruze Show, I use a subscription clothing service so I’m not constantly having to find new outfits for each episode. At the end of a week of filming, I just send back the clothes, and they ship me the next batch. It saves me a bunch of time and money.
But sometimes I decide to keep an item or two because, at that point, they’re sold at a deep discount. So sometimes I’ll go home and walk by my husband, Winston, with beautiful, new clothes draped over my arm.
Last week, as I was hanging them up in my closet, guilt started to creep in: What if Winston thinks I come home with new clothes too much? What if he doesn’t know I budgeted for them? What if he’s in the kitchen silently judging me right now?
I went straight out to Winston with worry on my face. “Babe . . . are you okay?” I said. “I feel like you’re judging me when I come home with new clothes. There’s nothing you do that makes me feel that way! I just want to be sure.”
Winston assured me that, no, he wasn’t judging me. It actually didn’t even register on his radar.
We laughed about it, but it just goes to show that no matter how well-versed you are in money conversations with your spouse, it’ll never be carefree or perfect. Winston and I budget together and talk about money very openly, but there are still times that money makes us feel vulnerable.
If you’re feeling prompted to talk to your spouse about money, lean into that. Talking about money is sometimes more valuable than the money itself. And if you do it, you’ll strengthen your relationship and improve your money situation.
If you’re ready to get on the same page with your spouse about money, I want you to take my new assessment together. The Know Yourself Money Assessment will open up the conversation around your finances in a way you’ve never experienced before!
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