How to Talk about Money: Ten Tips for Calm Conversation

Talking about money is one of the most difficult conversations that couples have. Statistics indicate that money problems are a primary reason for divorce. I have talked about the issues that make it difficult for ADHD individuals to manage their money here and here. Trying to explain to your partner some wacky impulse purchase that made total sense at the time is a set up for bad feelings, accusations, and disagreements.

Talking about how to spend money can be fraught with judgement, and if one partner has a higher income the conversation can be very uncomfortable. If you are going to survive as a couple, you have to find a way to talk about your money, how to spend it, what to save for, and how to handle debt. This is important even if you keep your money separately. Here are my top ten tips for a constructive money conversation.

1. Have the conversation in a neutral environment where each of you feels safe. Ideally the environment will not include children if you have them. You want to be able to focus and really hear each other.

2. Listen! Listen to each other without judgement. Listen, without forming your response in your head. The moment you start thinking of your answer/rebuttal you stop hearing what the other person is saying.

3. Keep the discussion in “I” phrases. For example : “I am worried that we are not saving enough to retire.” Do not blame. It is pointless. Focus on the now, not the past.

4.  Bring all the numbers with you. Make a list of everything you owe and all your resources so that your are not talking about nebulous numbers. This is most important if one of you is the only one who pays bills and handles the banking.

5.  Remember that no one is a bad person because they have poor money management skills.

6.  If impulse spending is the root cause of your problems, create cooling off mechanisms and spending agreements. For example: No one spends more than $100.00 on non-food items without discussing it with the other person first.

7. Agree to have regular meetings to discuss your money. Yelling at each other as you pass in the kitchen does not count.

8. If you find that no matter what you can not have a civil discussion about money, you may need to involve an outside party. This could be clergy, an accountant, or similar, non-family, neutral party. It is essential to have an individual present to help facilitate the discussion who is not invested in how you spend your money.

9. Remember to breathe. We do not come into this world automatically knowing how to manage money. It is a process. Take advantage of resources, many of them free, that are available to learn how to manage your money. Learn together.

10. The best way to start any money meeting is to remember why you became partners/spouses in the first place.