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If you and your spouse argue about money, you’re not alone. Roughly 47% of couples have money-related conflicts at least some of the time. Finances are also one of the leading causes of divorce.
And it’s no wonder. Personal finances are one of those topics that many people try to avoid discussing. Some people have a sense of guilt or dread whenever it comes to discussing anything related to their debts, income, or spending habits, leading to more avoidance. Others are taught not to talk about money with other people, even their own spouse, which can make it even harder to know how to bring it up when it matters.
But learning how to discuss your finances with your partner is essential to building a healthy, open relationship that can weather both the good and the bad times. GOBankingRates spoke with Certified Financial Planners (CFPs) Jeff Rose and Taylor Kovar about some concrete steps you can take to get yourself aligned financially with your spouse. Here’s what they said.
Open the Lines of Communication
No matter where you are financially, it’s important to set aside your pride or misgivings and make way for honest conversations with your spouse. Chances are that they have some of their own stressors when it comes to personal finances and would be willing to listen. Just make sure you go about it in as honest and non-judgmental a way as possible so that everyone benefits.
“Initiate a culture of open and honest financial conversations,” said Taylor Kovar, CFP, and CEO at TheMoneyCouple.com and Kovar Wealth Management. “Understand each other’s ‘Money Personalities’ to foster a non-judgmental and constructive dialogue.”
But don’t just do this once. To really get on the same page with your spouse, you’ll likely need to have multiple conversations and check-ins about your finances with them.
“Establish a regular ‘money date’ where you discuss finances, goals, and any concerns in a non-judgmental space,” suggested Jeff Rose, CFP, and Founder of GoodFinancialCents.com. “According to a study by TD Bank, couples who talk about money at least once a week report being happier (78%) in their relationships compared to those who discuss finances less frequently.”
Learn One Another’s Money Habits and Goals
Everyone has their own money habits so, as you open the lines of communication with your partner, take some time to really listen to them and understand theirs. At the same time, don’t be afraid to share your own. By doing this, you can start to see where your values and habits already align, and which areas might need some extra work.
“Recognizing your own and your partner’s attitudes towards money, spending, and saving can help in understanding each other’s financial decisions and creating a harmonious financial plan,” said Rose.
Once you’ve got a baseline understanding of your partner’s money mindset — and vice versa — you can then start delving into the nitty gritty of finances. Start discussing things like your individual goals and see where they overlap so you can make some new, joint ones. Be prepared to discuss other things, too, like your preferred retirement lifestyle or, if children are involved, your plans for funding their education.
“Align on short-term and long-term financial objectives,” added Kovar. “Gain insights into each other’s spending and saving tendencies, and use this knowledge to set mutual goals.”
Establish a Realistic Budget Together
In a relationship where finances are shared, it’s also important to create a household budget that works with both people’s goals and expectations for their money.
“Create a joint budget, considering the insights gained from understanding your distinct financial personalities,” said Kovar. “This ensures a balanced approach that respects both partners’ perspectives and preferences.”
There are many types of budgets out there, so you may need to try out a few before you find the right one for your household.
“Consider implementing the ’50/30/20 Rule’ where 50% of your income goes toward necessities, 30% toward discretionary items, and 20% toward savings,” suggested Rose. “This can provide a simple framework to manage your money effectively as a couple.”
If you need help sticking to your budget, you can also use a budgeting app.
Rose said, “Consider utilizing apps like You Need a Budget (YNAB), which focuses on giving every dollar a job to help you allocate funds effectively; Empower, which assists in tracking spending, managing your budget, and saving money; and Mint, which provides a comprehensive overview of your finances and offers custom tips to help you save. These tools can facilitate budget tracking and financial management, keeping you both informed and engaged in your financial journey.”
Don’t be afraid to make adjustments as you go or as your finances or goals change. Also, continue to check in with your spouse to ensure they’re happy with the way the current budget is structured and that they feel like their needs are being met.
You can also create two smaller budgets, one for each of you to do with as you please. This can give both of you a greater sense of agency in your own finances, as well as the freedom to spend — or save — without judgment or guilt.
Create an Emergency Fund
An emergency fund can give you and your partner some much-needed peace of mind. So, if you don’t already have one, sit down with your spouse and start planning how you’re going to create one.
“Build an emergency fund covering 3-6 months of living expenses to safeguard against unexpected financial challenges,” said Rose.
“Having a safety net provides peace of mind, ensuring you’re financially prepared for unexpected events. Decide on a target amount and contribute regularly,” added Kovar.
Discuss Your Debts and Credit
For many couples, matters of debt and credit scores are two of the most difficult things to talk about when it comes to finances. But they’re also topics that can significantly affect both partners, which is why it’s so important to bring them up and start making a plan for how you’re going to handle them going forward.
“Have an open conversation about existing debts,” said Kovar. “Navigate this sensitive topic with empathy and understanding, and formulate a plan to tackle it together.”
Assign Financial Responsibilities
When it comes to handling money together, it’s also a good idea to assign individual roles and responsibilities.
“Having clarity on who handles various aspects of finances can minimize misunderstandings and ensure smooth financial operations,” said Kovar.
For example, one partner could primarily handle the budgeting and pay the bills. The other partner, meanwhile, could take care of investments or taxes.
Howsoever you go about it, keep the lines of communication open so you can discuss responsibilities or make changes as needed.
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