How To Have The Money Talk With Your Spouse Without Slamming Doors

Have you ever had “The Talk” with your partner and it ends in hurt feelings and a slammed door? This is a financial blog so of course I mean the “Money Talk.”

If you haven’t, well then congratulations – can you tell me how it’s done? For the rest of us, you’re not alone. In an almost 30 year career as a financial planner and 26 year “career” as a spouse, I have had the money talk end in a slammed door and talked with people about how to have the money talk quite a few times.

What I’ve learned over the years is that there’s no perfect way to avoid it, but with practice and patience, you can decrease the door slamming and money stress in your relationship. Here are some guidelines that have worked for me:

1. Set reasonable expectations

  • Not a one-time deal. Unless you’re in Hollywood, the Money Talk is probably not going to have a romcom ending – you’re not going to be able to just have a 30 minute talk and then live happily ever after without ever having to bring it up again. Getting and staying on the same page as a couple takes work and repetition.
  • Judgement free zone. Start off with the expectation that there will not be a slammed door. This is where I failed miserably for a long time. In order to accomplish that, the talk must be judgement free – it is not an opportunity to blame each other over who spent too much last month.
  • Don’t be a jerk. This is also an opportunity for you to use your big boy words and not sound like a CFP® with an MBA who does this for a living. Sounding like a lecturing jerk is a major cause of doors getting slammed. (don’t ask me how I know)
  • Give each other grace. If your partner is trying his best not to sound like a jerk, grade him on a curve (he is a guy after all).

2. Remember that this is a planning discussion

  • Break it down into shorter milestones. I get overwhelmed if I try to think of the next 30 years. If this is you or your partner, narrow your timeframe. I suggest you start by discussing the next 4 paychecks (if you’re paid twice a month) or the next 2 paychecks (if you’re paid monthly).
  • Have a common starting point. To frame your discussion, you need to find some way of seeing where your money has gone (How to Find a Spending Plan that is Right for You). This is not the focus of the meeting, it is just where you start.
  • Stick with the next month or 2. Adopt the mindset of “What do I want to spend the next 2 (or 4) paychecks on?” Think of it as planning a vacation – you don’t have the time or money to do everything, so the task is figuring out what matters to you, then focus your time and money on that.
  • Work to limit the ‘must-spend’ items. There are some things like electricity that you must spend money on. Focus on figuring out how to spend the least amount on these items, so you can free up money to save or spend on what is important to you.
  • Follow your debt-payoff plan. Run a DebtBlaster to see how to pay off your debts sooner.
  • Take a look at retirement progress. Run a Retirement Estimator to make sure you are on pace to be OK in retirement.
  • Keep the focus on what you can change. Make sure your Money Talk is a forward-looking talk – if you’re talking about the past, doors will be slammed.

3. Think about the best time to have “The Talk”

  • When are you at your best? I am a morning person, which is another way of saying I am slightly less than perky at night. Some would say I am grumpy at night. The best time for me to have the Money Talk with my spouse would be at 6:30 on Saturday mornings. Unfortunately, my proposed time was met with a surprising lack of enthusiasm. We compromised and decided that 10:30 every other Saturday morning was a better time.
  • When can you talk uninterrupted? Find a time when both of your energy levels are high and you can have a relatively quiet 30 minutes.
  • Schedule it. Put this on your calendars, and if something comes up, you can make a note on your appointment to discuss it then. This is a lot better than having the talk when you are both rushing off to work.

4. Make a plan for all the money you’ll save on doors

One huge benefit to planning a regular Money Talk is that you will save a lot on door repairs. What will you do with that money instead?

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