Lately my wife and I have been talking a lot about money.
No, not the exciting “What would we do if we won the lottery?” kinds of conversations about money. More of the “If we refinance our mortgage what does our monthly budget look like?” kinds of conversations about money.
During the seemingly never-ending presidential campaign, we heard a lot about the economy, but my hypothesis is that most couples either don’t talk about or don’t like talking about finances, even if they have plenty of money.
It’s definitely a wedge issue in most marriages. Carla and I avoid the subject like the plague. I know; it’s silly. It’s the same principal Carlton employs when he covers his own eyes to “hide” during Hide-and-Seek. Somehow, we think if we don’t discuss it, we have all the money in the world.
Well, when it comes to money, ignorance is definitely only blissful in the short term. Eventually, you have to face reality. Everyone has a fiscal cliff.
It’s interesting that we criticize our government for not being able to sit down and solve our debt crisis without devolving into partisan bickering while at the same time, most of us married couples can’t have a civil conversation about spending.
Like Congress and the President, we wait until there’s a crisis. Do any of these scenarios sound familiar? One spouse has inadvertently overused the debit card pushing the account to the brink of being overdrawn. Or maybe an extravagant purchase was made without the consent of both spouses. Or money that was set aside for savings ended up being slowly eroded over time to meet monthly budget overruns or used for something unexpected like a new set of tires. These are the situations that cause most of us to finally sit down and talk about our finances.
Carla and I tend to discuss our finances while driving. It’s just easier to discuss money when you don’t have to look your spouse in the eye. My recent job change has necessitated more of these windshield chats to talk through our budgetary realignment. For starters, I went from being paid every two weeks to once a month. This kind of shock to your system requires conversation.
We scheduled a summit – not the kind of summit where we jet off to Sea Island and discuss heady world economic challenges over shrimp cocktail and Dom Perignon. This was a kind of intentional conversation that allowed for total honesty, no blame and mutual support. The result? We had our personal 10-point economic plan for avoiding a fiscal cliff.
I am not a marriage counselor or a certified financial planner. That said, I humbly share five tips to help you and your spouse talk about your finances:
1.) Whatever it is, it’s both of you. If the money is flowing in and your problem is how to spend it, it can’t be just about one spouse or the other. Even if you maintain separate bank accounts, your collective largesse or indebtedness is a financial reality that must be owned and shared by both of you. If you take credit or assign blame, you will kill any dialogue before it starts.
2.) Start with the big picture. Most couples are penny wise but pound foolish. It’s easier to begin the conversation by talking about overall assets and liabilities than jumping down into the details of expenditures. This also helps set the stage for shared ownership of your financial situation.
3.) Neutralize your language. Speak in realities without assigning blame. “You” and “yours” must be “us” and “ours.” Avoid loaded phrases like “your spending” or “my salary.” It’s more helpful to talk about household income and expenditures.
4.) This is a private conversation. If you share too many of the details with your loved ones, you will find yourself talking about your spouse instead of to them. If you talk in front of your children, you may find your name on the church prayer list under “financial concerns” because your child mentioned what they overheard in Sunday School. Seriously, it freaks kids out to hear their parents arguing about money. It’s not very sexy, but if you must, plan a date night to have “the talk.”
5.) Schedule regular updates. This can’t be a once-every-six-months conversation. You need to write into your calendars consistent, monthly meetings to help you get over the awkwardness and conflict. Like any habit, it’s gets easier over time.
For what it’s worth, this is what I think. We live in a New South that isn’t as financially stable as it once was. Marriages have many points of conflict, but we all know money can be one of the biggest.
If Congress can do this, surely you can.
What tips would you offer to help couples discuss their finances more openly? What has been your experience that others may find helpful? Leave a comment below and channel your inner-Dave Ramsey.