This is the second article in our two-part series on dealing with finances with your significant other. For the first installment, check out “Can Love and Money Get Along?”
You’re a hoarder, he’s a spender. You stash purchases in the back of your closet, he “forgot” to tell you about his three-day golf weekend—and its hefty price tag—before booking it. But even once you’ve recognized why money is a source of contention in your relationship, it’s not always an easy problem to solve.
I’ve counseled couples languishing in their same old money habits for years, and here’s what I’ve learned: communication is crucial—not just about dollars and cents, but about your feelings, too. “It is important not to confuse having transactional conversations about money (e.g., what to buy and for how much) with the deeper conversations that provide context as to why you feel, think and believe as you do. Financial intimacy is about navigating emotions that will surface when talking about money and negotiating the information you discover,” explains Jacquette M. Timmons, founder of Sterling Investment Management and author of Financial Intimacy: How to Create a Healthy Relationship with Your Money and Your Mate.
Need helping getting those conversations going without starting a fight? Try these tips to get both of you open up about money in a calm and productive way.
Plan a “money date.” Open a bottle of wine or check out a fun teashop in your neighborhood, then share a financial dream and why it’s important to you—the sky’s the limit! Do you long for a new house? A Hawaiian vacation? To start your own business? Spark the conversation by asking: “If you had $50,000, what would you do? No judgment.”
By learning about each other’s dreams, you’ll better understand your day-to-day financial decisions. Plus, make these money dates a regular event on your calendar, and soon you’ll no longer equate talking about finances with a blow-out over the credit card bill.
Meet in the Middle
When it comes to money, some couples feel like they don’t see eye-to-eye on anything: You clip coupons for groceries so you can splurge on your wardrobe, your partner hasn’t bought new jeans since 2003 but must have every new iteration of the iPhone. What you’re each willing to spend on rent differs by, oh, hundreds of dollars.
With so many different priorities, it’s important to pick your battles. Give up the small fights, and you might actually get a little more leeway in the areas that really matter to you. (Maybe you’d get over the fact that he pays extra for premium channels if he could be talked into downgrading the car.)
It can also be helpful to come up with a monthly discretionary “allowance” each of you can use without consulting the other. For many couples, up to $100 a month is a safe number to shell out with no questions asked. This way, you can avoid many of those transactional fights and focus the financial conversation on the big purchases and how they relate to your overall budget.
Swap and Share Duties
Want to really understand where your partner is coming from—or vice versa? If you always pay the bills or track the budget, let him take over for a month. If he’s the one that sees the financial advisor, schedule an appointment by yourself. Sure, one of you might make mistakes or you might do things differently, but there’s no better way to learn about your finances than by getting right in there.
Or, if you’re used to budgeting seperately, do it together: Sign up for tools like Mint.com and apps such as Expenditures or MoneyBook to set up a budget and track your spendings. If bargaining between yourselves feels too charged, get up from the table (or desk, or wherever your financial fights tend to happen) to find neutral ground. Register for a personal finance class together or have a professional help you plan a workable joint budget. The more you share your day-to-day financial management, the more connected you’ll be and the fewer surprises you’ll face.
As I heard at a wedding years ago, the secret to a happy relationship is to “communicate and compromise.” This is especially true when it comes to mixing love and money. If you keep the conversations coming, you and your honey will be well on the right track to financial bliss.