If you and your partner fight about money, you’re not alone. Couples often butt heads about everything from impulse buys to regular weekly expenses, says Katherine Fredland Richardson, a partner at the family law firm Richardson & Richardson LLC, which deals with many cases where money is the root of conflicts and even divorce.
“One will insist that they shop at discount food stores, like Costco and BJs, buying in bulk or stocking up when frequently used items are on sale,” says Richardson, who runs the law firm with her husband Coulter. “The other will blithely shop multiple times per week at more expensive specialty stores, like Whole Foods and Wegmans, without regard for the aggregate amounts being spent per week.”
Here are five tips to help you and your partner make talking about money more positive and productive.
If you want to have healthy money conversations with your partner, then make them a habit, says financial coach Jill Emanuel of Fiscal Fitness Phoenix.
“Start with once-a-week 'money dates’ to talk about any upcoming expenses, and get on the same page for what is happening in the coming week,” she says.
The more you talk about money, the easier it gets. “Once you begin to communicate more naturally, you can move to once-a-month budget dates, where you plan for the month or coming months ahead,” says Emanuel.
Using concrete dollar amounts to jump start conversations about money works well for couples who approach spending and saving differently, says Emanuel.
“Each individual has their own idea of how much [discretionary] money they have, and they likely each have their own agenda for how and where it should be spent or saved. The numbers don't lie, so opinions quickly leave the equation once they are able to see the bottom line,” she says.
If you aren’t doing so already, start by tracking your expenses. Breaking them down into three categories—fixed expenses, variable expenses, and financial goals—can help you figure out where to trim your budget, and where you have some wiggle room for saving or spending.
Dan Hinz, a financial coach and author of the blog Adulting With Money, says that couples who think of themselves as a team with common financial goals automatically improve communication.
"I was coaching an engaged couple where the groom was a saver and the bride was a spender," says Hinz. "The top goal they chose to tackle was to get rid of their debt, including the credit card debt that the bride brought in to the relationship. After deciding how much money to throw at their debt and adding up all their bills, we were able to figure out how much money was left for the couple to have as fun money."
Debt, in particular, is a major source of conflict: Nearly half (46%) of couples who are concerned about debt agree money is their biggest relationship challenge, according to a Fidelity study of 1,662 couples with household incomes of at least $75,000 or $100,000 in investable assets.
When talking about money gets tense, keep your goal front of mind, suggests Hinz. "Making decisions with money takes work, so when a couple has clear goals that they both want, there is a reason and a purpose to putting in that work," he says.
Whether you’re more prone to saving or spending, take care not to diminish your spouse’s needs and desires, says Coulter Richardson. Keep in mind that your approach to money is informed by your emotions and sense of security, as well as your financial goals.
“The spender derives emotional fulfillment from acquisition, while the saver derives a sense of security from providing for the future, and lack of that security makes them anxious and unhappy,” he says.
If you’ve exhausted these strategies and you still need guidance, Emanuel suggest another option: mediation.
“Hiring a financial coach or therapist can help to offer an outside and professional perspective, and can be useful in helping to navigate difficult conversations and come up with real, workable solutions,” she says.
And when all else fails, says Hinz, remember that you're in this together.
“It's much easier to say 'no’ to spending money when you have something you really want to say 'yes’ to,” he says.
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