April 12, 2019

How to Talk About Money With Your Spouse

Study after study has shown money to be one of the leading causes of marital stress and divorce. Despite how important it is for couples to talk about money, it seems to be the topic that many struggle with the most.

Why do couples have such a hard time communicating about money without it blowing up into World War III?  

Where do money fights stem from?

When you take the time to think it through, most money finds can be traced back to three main differences between spouses.

1. Background experiences and upbringing

Different experiences, family upbringing, and training cause each spouse to have different expectations of how money should be handled.

With our differing backgrounds, we bring whole sets of expectations about a wide variety of things into our marriages:

  • Handling money
  • Disciplining our children
  • Our perception of work
  • Dealing with leisure time

The truth of the matter is we can’t change the background of our spouse (no matter how much we may wish we could), but we can be more sensitive to it so it doesn’t contribute to disunity in our marriages. 

The more in tune we become to our spouses’ ideas and the source of them, the greater the mutual understanding and harmony in our marriages.

2. Likes and interests

Every person has different passions and interests. And it’s only natural that we feel more comfortable spending money on things that personally bring us joy and satisfaction. Here are a couple of examples, though, of how that can create conflict in a marriage:

  • One spouse may really enjoy decorating and will naturally tend to prioritize purchases that are for the house.
  • The other spouse may find housing decorations to be very unenjoyable and unimportant and instead prioritizes eating out.
  • One spouse might love reading and prioritizes the purchase of books.
  • The other spouse may think this is a waste of money that could be spent on something more important…like golf equipment.

The examples go on and on. When a man or woman is single, they can spend their money completely to their own liking. But in marriage, both spouses have to make financial decisions that are best for the marriage as a whole and must prioritize what are necessary and unnecessary purchases.

This decision-making process is the cause of many fights and is the reason many spouses don’t discuss money at all.

3. Future goals

Every man and woman has dreams of things that they would like to enjoy in the future. (i.e. home, vacation, remodeling, clothes, electronics, sporting events, etc.). 

However, many times these dreams go unvoiced. Instead, one or both spouses continue to hope for a time when they will be able to enjoy these things. 

As time goes on, and these dreams are not realized, husbands or wives can get discouraged and even become resentful of their spouse.

But there is hope!

Communicating about money in marriage can be difficult. But let’s take a look at some ways you can improve the communication lines with your spouse regarding money.

The three most important keys to communicating about money with your spouse are:

  1. You MUST look at the possibilities of the future, not the failures of the past.
  2. You have to commit to having two-sided discussions. Each must share and each must listen. 
  3. You need to identify key financial goals that you as a couple want to meet.

Let’s spend some time focusing on that last point — setting financial goals with your spouse.

Setting Financial Goals With Your Spouse

It is very important that couples identify financial goals in the following four areas:  

1. Debt elimination goals

This one is pretty simple. List all of your outsanding debts and build your debt snowball. Most importantly,  set target dates for each item on the list.

2. Saving goals

Start small. Make a goal to save $500. Then up it to $1,000.

Next, identify how much money you would need to save, to cover 3-6 months expenses. Don’t worry about how long it would take you to reach this goal, or what steps it would take to get there.

Right now in this goal-setting step, you are vision-casting. Just focus on what the number would be.

Then ask each other, “How much money would we like to be able to save each month for retirement?”

3. Purchase goals

Ask yourselves what are our short-term, mid-term, and long-term purchase goals? Here are some examples:

  • Short-term purchases (maximum of 2 years- $1,000 or less) – Rugs, mattress, hot water heater, computer, TV, phone, vacuum, lawn mower, house decorations, and the list goes on and on.
  • Mid-term purchases (2-5 years- $1,000-$5,000) – Car purchase, Bathroom remodel, Kitchen remodel, new flooring, fresh paint job on the house, etc.
  • Long-term purchases (5 years or more- $5,000 and up) – Down payment for a house, roof replacement, AC replacement, etc.

Once you’ve fully discussed your debt retirement goals, savings goals, and purchase goals, you can move on to the one that’s the most fun — leisure and lifestyle goals.

4. Leisure and lifestyle goals

Ask yourselves, “What experiences would we like to be able to enjoy with each other? What experiences would we like to enjoy with our family?” Here are some examples of the types of things that should be included on this list:

  • Date nights once a week
  • Family vacations
  • Amusement parks
  • Anniversary get-aways
  • Concerts
  • Shows
  • Go-karts
  • Putt-putt golf
  • Sports events

During this step, you should also discuss lifestyle goals. Would you like for your wife to be able to stay at home with the kids someday? What would it take to make that happen?

Would you like to be able to move to a more personally fulfilling career? What would it take to make that happen?

Hold Each Other Accountable

Once you’ve worked together to create a budget based off of the goals above, you must feel the freedom to hold each other accountable in order to reach your mutual goals.

If you both agree you want to save a certain amount to buy a new dining room set, and you set a budget of saving $50 a month to reach that goal, then you both have the right to approach your spouse when he or she is not following the guidelines that you have set together.

The wife has the right to come to the husband and say: 

“Hunny, I know that we both decided that we wanted to save $50 a month to buy a dining room set, and our budget didn’t include any TV cost. I know its football season, but if we add cable right now at $60 a month, we won’t have any money left for the dining room set. I think we should probably hold off on cable for this football season. Do you agree?”

And the husband has the right to say: 

“Hunny, I know that we both decided that we wanted to save $50 a month to buy a dining room set. I just looked at our budget, and we only have about $50 left in the food budget for this month. If we go out to eat tonight, that will all get blown, and then the groceries we buy for the next week will put us over-budget in food, which means no money left to put in the dining room set fund. I’m thinking we should eat in tonight. Do you agree?

When both parties have agreed upon the same goal, it takes the emotional charge out of holding each other accountable.

Both the husband and wife want to reach the goals that have been set, so neither comes across sounding like a dictator when they help the other see ways that they might be veering off track.

Conclusion

Now, ultimately, we are all human beings, and even with the best practices put in place, you and your spouse may argue about money from time to time.

But I can guarantee you if you will put these principles into practice in your marriage, it will eliminate 75% of your money fights. So…I know it may seem a little scary, but why don’t you and your spouse give this whole “talking about money” thing one more shot. It may just revolutionize your marriage!

About the author 

Clint Proctor

Hi, I'm Clint! I love writing about everything personal finance. In addition to this site, my work has been featured on several major publications including Business Insider, Forbes, Credit Karma, and U.S. News and World Report. My hope is that you'll be able to find plenty of helpful information and inspiration on this site to help you reach your financial goals. Thanks for visiting!

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