How to talk about money with your spouse

6 Steps to a Successful Money Talk with Your Mate

by Alicia Z. Klepeis

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"Where did my paycheck go?"

"Did you really spend $125 at the hair salon?"

"How much was that ping-pong table you just bought?"

"Is there really only $25 left in our savings account?"

Do any of these phrases sound familiar to you? Do you live in a household where one person does the budgeting and the other person un-does the budgeting? If so, you are not alone. Money (and the lack of it) is one of the big stresses in any relationship or marriage. When there is enough money, one partner often deals with all the family finances. But when times are tight, blame is often placed on someone. At the end of a long day or week, talking finances can be frustrating and exhausting. But for a couple to stick to a budget, or just not get into debt, it is necessary to have a plan. Here are some ideas for economizing while keeping your relationship happy at the same time:

1. Choose a good time to discuss the finances.

If you have kids at home, it does not make sense to have a serious conversation about money until they are in bed or otherwise occupied. If you are both wiped out, wait until you have some energy or a cup of coffee in hand. A glass of red wine and some dark chocolate may make the conversation go down a bit easier. Block out at least an hour, so you have enough time to get into the nitty-gritty details of the budget.

2. Prepare.

Make a list of questions, ideas, or suggestions before you have your financial discussion. If you are the person who handles the family finances, make some notes on what you see as the biggest expenditures, trouble areas for the budget, and patterns of spending that regularly occur. Have your partner write down any questions or concerns he or she may have. It is helpful to have several months' worth of bank statements and credit card bills handy so you can look at them together.

3. Listen.

It is important to keep an open mind when talking money. Try not to interrupt your partner while he or she is talking, and being accusatory or defensive will not make your conversation go more smoothly. Remind yourself that the person at the table with you is your love, as well as your financial partner. Kindness and flexibility are essential tools for successful budgeting.

4. Try doing the bills together for a month or two.

One of the biggest problems with money discussions is that one spouse often has no idea about where the money goes and the other knows all the details. Regardless of who makes the money, it can be very enlightening to try paying the bills together for a short period of time. Many people like budget programs such as Quicken or to figure out where their money goes. Keep all your receipts for a month or two and enter the information together during this trial period of joint bill-paying.

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5. Be sure to include some "mad money" as part of your budget.

When money is tight, it can feel depressing to not have any spending money that you don't have to account for. Set aside money to meet a friend for coffee, color your hair, or grab a beer with the guys after work. Now and again, everyone should be allowed a little discretionary spending. In the course of your money talks, figure out what is a reasonable amount per month and put that into the budget.

6. Keep the big picture in mind.

As we all know, there is never a month that doesn't have unforeseen expenses like car repairs, a leaky roof, or damaged appliances. There is always something. Try to put some money away each month for these "rainy day" expenses, so you don't get caught having to charge big-ticket items. Money always comes and goes. Be as organized as you can, but remind yourself of all the good things in your life (health, family, friends, nature, and so on). Having a sense of humor can make all the difference in having successful money talks and just navigating the ups and downs of family finances.

Take the Next Step:

  • For more on money talk in marriage, visit The Dollar Stretcher Library.
  • Keep your finances on track by visiting our money section where you'll find tools and resources to help you with your finances.
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