For some people, talking about money is as pleasurable a way to spend time together as going for a long walk on the beach.
“I am a money nerd, so to me, talking about money is super fun, and I’ve paired up with someone who is the same,” said certified financial planner and financial advisor Kate Fries at The Family Firm in Bethesda, Maryland. “For us, talking about money is the same thing as talking about dreams. Where do we want to go, what do we want to build? It’s a fun conversation.”
But not everyone looks forward to money discussions. Finances can be a significant source of stress in a relationship. Here are some ways to make talking about money with your partner more enjoyable or at least less painful – and possibly even romantic.
FIRST, CONSIDER YOUR OWN MONEY VALUES
Before initiating a conversation about money with your partner, financial wellness expert Eugenie George based in Philadelphia, suggests taking time to reflect on your own money values. In other words, what do you want to prioritise when it comes to spending and saving? Answers could include community, adventure and fun, she said.
“You need to figure out yourself first,” George said.
SCHEDULE RECURRING ‘MONEY DATES’
George suggested starting the money conversation with your partner by asking about their values, which allows you to find common ground even if those values aren’t identical.
“If your values aren’t lining up, it doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing. You could be complementing each other,” she said.
In George’s case, her partner prefers spending on family experiences, like a good meal, while she likes spending more on larger group activities, such as parties. Once they understood and accepted their differences, she said it was easier to move forward and find shared goals, too.
Fries suggested having a money date with your partner at least quarterly to check in and review recent spending patterns and goals.
“Make sure everyone’s tanks are full. You’ve slept and eaten, so you are coming with your best resources available. Maybe a cup of tea and a candle, so you are associating positive things” with the ritual, Fries said.
As those conversations progress, it’s common to uncover conflicts or sources of tension, said certified financial planner and couples therapist Ed Coambs in Charlotte, North Carolina.
“One way to avoid that is to acknowledge it. Say, ‘Honey, money conversations have been difficult for us’.”
Then, try to listen and open up the conversation with statements and questions that help you better understand where your partner is coming from.
For example, if you are concerned about your partner’s spending patterns, you could start by saying, “I am feeling anxious and want to talk about our spending”, Coambs said, instead of, “You’re spending too much and you’re making me anxious.”
A similar approach can work when tackling difficult subjects such as paying off debt or making cuts in your budget.
“You see how hard you work for every dollar, but you don’t see how your partner does. Try to extend them the same empathy that you give yourself, even if how they handle feeling sad or happy doesn’t make sense to you,” said author and host of the podcast Bad with Money Gaby Dunn.
FOCUS ON GOALS, THEN THE LOGISTICS
Fries suggested using your money dates to share your goals, making the conversation fun.
“‘Oh, you want to go to Paris? How can we make that happen in the next two years?’ Now that’s an exciting conversation,” she said.
It’s also important to get a clear idea of your current financial situation, including an overview of your net worth, with how much you have in each account and how much you owe on any outstanding loans, Fries said.
Then you can give yourself smaller tasks to complete before the next money date, such as making a budget or reviewing your retirement savings. Whether or not you commingle your finances, your actions still can affect the other person’s money if you’re sharing a home and other assets or debts.
GIVE EACH OTHER FLEXIBILITY
According to Fries, maintaining flexibility within the goals and budget you share can increase your chances of success. For example, you might not want to spend USD200 a month on golf, but your partner does.
“Each person can have a bucket to spend however they want,” she said, and that can help reduce conflicts over day-to-day spending.
BEWARE OF THESE WARNING SIGNS
Some money conflicts might require the help of a relationship counsellor or financial planner, or even signal that the relationship is not meant to be. Dunn said that certain red flags, such as controlling what you purchase, making comments about what you bought or value and even “love bombing”, or showering someone with gifts as a way of buying affection, could suggest deeper problems.