While interviewing couples for her new book, "Financial Adulting: Everything You Need to be a Financially Confident and Conscious Adult," Ashley Feinstein Gerstley noticed that, like her and her partner, many people had very different money instincts than their significant others. If one was a saver, the other one was often a spender.
Couples like this can end up more polarized. "A spender becomes more spend-y because they are feeling restricted by the saver, and the saver becomes more save-y because the spender is spending," she says. "This is where the tension comes in."
If you and your partner's money habits are at odds, you might have a tendency to talk around your finances, as to avoid conflict. Instead, Gerstley suggests, try confronting it head on. "I'm a fan of the 'money party,'" she says.
Having a money party means picking a recurring time and place where all money concerns will be discussed. This can hopefully keep tensions about your finances from leaking into your everyday interactions.
"We deal with it at this time," she says. "We set an intention and a space. This is the time to listen and be compassionate with each other."
Make these conversations enjoyable, adds Ashley Agnew, the director of relationship development at financial advisory firm Centerpoint Advisors. "Get a sitter, get a bottle of wine," she says. "You're in this together. Have fun and treat it with love as you would anything else in the relationship."
Pick a time that isn't stressful for either party, says Nashira Lynton, a certified financial counselor and the CEO of Breaking Cycles. If your partner needs an hour after work to wind down, for example, that is not a good time to plan a money party.
"Some people do it in the morning, prior to their children waking up," she says. "Or some people do it at night or on the weekends."
Pick the date strategically, too. For example, a couple days after a pay period might a good time to decide how you're going to spend that paycheck.
Whichever time and date you choose, just be sure it's when both people can be totally present,
Fights are often caused by one person in a relationship not feeling heard, Agnew says. If you're trying to have a talk about finances while the other person is cooking dinner, they are not able to dedicate all their attention to you.
Communicate what you want the focus of the money party to be, Lynton says.
"This week we are focused on paying attention to our spending and next we focus on our income goals," she says. Choosing a focus increases the likelihood a productive conversation that doesn't devolve into picking at each other's habits.
It's important to set a time frame for the conversation, Agnew says. "You don't have to have a formal agenda, but be honest with what you're going to talk about," she suggests. "Say, 'let's have a talk on Tuesday for 45 minutes just on organizing the bills,' or 'let's talk just on where we see ourselves in retirement.'"
Look at your finances the way a third party would, Gerstley says. "Try not punish or judge yourself when you make mistakes or something doesn't go as planned."
Instead, she says, "think more in a problem-solving way. This is easier said than done when you're stressed and upset, but try to think of it like you're a detective."
While addressing money habits your partner has that you don't understand, try to do so without judgment, Lynton says. The conversation should be about the specific behavior, not the character of the person.
"Don't talk about the financial behavior, then pick four or five other character traits of the person that are similar, or bring up another topic that's not around that financial behavior," she says. "Talk to them about their financial behavior but not in a judgmental way."
If the two of you can't seem to communicate clearly, consider hiring a financial therapist or CFP, Lynton says.
"Sometimes you can't avoid the conflict and there are too many arguments," she says. "Bring someone in that's a third party to help mitigate some of that tension. Know when to get help."
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