Having 'the talk': discussing finances with your spouse

Money problems are notorious for causing discord in marriage. Having a monthly financial discussion with your spouse can help you navigate problems, avoid pitfalls, and reach your financial goals.

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  • It's time you had “The Talk.” No, not that one, although I'm sure that has helped your marriage, as well. I'm talking about initiating monthly financial discussions with your spouse.

    Money problems are often a cause of contention in marriage. Regular discussions eliminate surprises and allow you to work together to resolve money issues. Here are some ideas for your first financial tête-à-tête.

  • Come prepared

    Gather copies of all your financial statements. Bring a notebook and pen to take notes and write down goals. You may also want a calculator on hand.

  • Start with prayer or meditation

    Praying together helps you check your ego at the door and makes you less defensive. Relying on a higher power to guide you in your discussion reminds you to keep emotions in check.

  • Practice good communication skills

    This is not a time to point out faults or place blame. Use “I” statements like “I feel we could cut back in this category,” rather than using “you” statements like, “You spent too much on the kids this month.” When discussing solutions, focus on “we” rather than “you.”

  • Set goals

    Determine what you want to accomplish. “Cut back on spending” is not a goal. “Eliminate credit card debt” is. Do you want to get out of debt? Do you want to build a safety net in case one, or both of you is laid off? Do you want to save for retirement or college for your kids? Do you want to plan a family vacation? Decide together on your priorities.

  • Evaluate your spending

    Small problems become big problems when kept secret. Look at all your financial statements, every bank and credit card statement. Try to identify problem areas that are keeping you from reaching your goals.

  • Brainstorm problem-solving ideas

    Ask questions that invite cooperation, problem-solving, and agreement. What can we do to cut back here? If it isn't feasible, is there somewhere else in the budget we can cut back to make up for it? Take responsibility for what you can do to solve the problem, and allow your spouse to suggest how he can help. Then offer your support: What would you like me to do to help you with that? Don't be afraid to ask for support, as well.

  • Set aside some "fun" money

    My mother taught me this principle. Growing up, my father worked hard to provide for the necessities, but with eight children, money was often tight. However, my mother knew that splurging every now and then is good for the soul. So, she would take all eight children out for ice cream as a special treat, or purchase a small box of chocolate just for herself. It was just enough to make sure we never felt deprived.

    Based on last month's spending, decide on a total amount that seems fair to both of you and won't interfere with your goals. Divide the total amount equally between the two of you.

    What if one spouse makes more money than the other? Wouldn't it be “fair” to divide the spending money accordingly?

    Consider this. Six years ago, I came down with a chronic illness. Not only am I not able to work outside the home, but my contribution to the household is also severely limited. If we were to divide our spending money “fairly,” my husband would get $1,000 a month, and I would get $10. How do you think that would make me feel? Do you think my wonderful, loving husband would ever want me to feel that way? Absolutely not.

    Dividing the money equally takes into account the intangible contribution each spouse makes to the family, the marriage, and the household.

    It might also be a good idea to have separate accounts specifically for spending money. This is helpful because it is hard to keep track of your personal spending when it is mixed in with all the household spending. It is unlikely to overspend if you know you will be responsible for overdraft fees, and it allows you to easily roll over the unused amount into the following month, or save for a big-ticket item.

  • Don't be afraid to ask for help

    If you discover that your money problems are bigger than you thought, seek out professional help. Find a reputable debt counselor and learn ways to change your habits. Talk to a marriage counselor who can help guide you through the stress and emotions that your money issues have created. Consider bankruptcy as a last resort, and only if you have changed, as a couple, the habits and behaviors that got you into trouble in the first place.

  • End with a prayer

    Vocalizing your commitment to God will reinforce your determination to stick with it.

    There — you did it. That wasn't so bad, was it? Even if it was, don't worry. Next month will be a lot easier.

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Shelli Howells is a creative fiction writer, and a mother of six.

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