6 Things To Know Before Talking About Money With Loved Ones

mbg Financial Contributor By Brianna Firestone
mbg Financial Contributor
Brianna Firestone is a Financial Education Instructor certified by the National Financial Educators Council, and the founder of The School of Betty. Her expert advice has been featured in Money.com, Real Simple, and Business Insider. Firestone received her bachelor's in theatre from Stephens College and lives in Denver, Colorado.
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Being in quarantine has been hard for many people. Add money conversations to the equation and your home might feel like a pressure cooker. It's OK. With or without quarantine, money conversations can feel stressful. Instead of staying in avoidance (especially if you've had financial shifts during this time), let's talk about how we can relieve that pressure and do a reset on how you approach your money conversations because there's no time like the present. Money will be a part of our lives every day for the rest of our lives. Building this communication foundation will set you up for any future money conversation: 

1. Establish visions. 

So how do you even start the conversation? Start with your visions. Each person can write out their vision for their dream life separately. Then, compare them. Are you both working toward the same things? Where are you different? This is a great way to see what each of you desires and values. Often, the money conversations (or lack of them) go wrong when values and goals aren't in alignment. Do you want to go on a vacation and your partner wants to sink extra money into retirement or make an improvement on your home? Both of you need to be in lockstep on the goals and expectations. It might feel scary to do this exercise, but like all things, we have to know where we are starting from. This vision action will set you up to have healthy negotiation conversations when identifying your shared goals. And having those goals will provide clarity on how you should move and manage your money.


2. Reveal your money secrets. 

Got some money secrets? Don't freak out, friend. This is one area where ripping the bandage off will feel painful, but it will allow for quicker healing. So, come clean if you are keeping any money secrets and take responsibility for your actions. To get the conversation started, set the tone from the beginning by communicating to your partner that this is a really tough topic for you and you feel (insert your emotions). When we let the other person know that what we are about to do feels hard, it not only reveals your vulnerability, but it also shows you can do hard things. When we know something is tough for someone, we usually show more empathy. It's not 100% foolproof, but it will help. In short: Honesty is the best medicine. Money is one of the top contributors to divorce and relationship stress but it doesn't have to be that way if you are willing to have tough conversations. Like anything: if you don't want to talk about it, you probably need to talk about it. 

3. Get on the same team. 

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Teamwork makes the dream work. Be in the money management game together. Don't assume your partner has it all together. They probably do, but it can feel like a lot of pressure when one partner checks out and isn't aware of the numbers. When you both know your financials, when things go sideways—you're in it together.

This means there'll be fingers to point because you have made shared decisions. When you are talking about your goals and money moves, use the "we" and "us" because you're in it together friend. And most states (if you are married or in a common law partnership) are going to see your finances (i.e., debt) as shared regardless of whether it was there before you got together.

If you are the one running your financials and want your partner to be involved, start with a simple invitation like, "I've put some numbers together for our budget based on some of our goals, and I'd love for you to take a look at them with me." Key word here is "invitation." 


4. Have a start and stop. 

Need to make some money shifts? Identify what needs to happen, and be specific. Most humans don't like change, even when we know we need it or it will be good for us in the long run, but we can make that easier by identifying the start and finish lines. Instead of saying, "We need to eat at home more often because we are spending too much," shift it to, "I'd like to try to see if we can cook at home three nights this week. Are you on board to try that and see how it goes at the end of the week?" This container is clear and makes it easier for your partner to get on board and will help you create good habits around trying new things, checking to see how they went and then tweaking. Trial and error will be your friend in trying to identify what will work for you and your household. 

5. Dating and money. 

Dating and want to get an idea of your potential partner's financial health? Best not to roll up into date No. 1 and abruptly ask if they have credit card debt. An easy way to start the money conversation is to pose the "what would you do" question. Example: "If you received $25k tomorrow, what would you do with it?" The key to this question is to keep the number small enough that it deters the respondent from going into fantasy land (I'll feed all of the children and buy a yacht!). Not to say that can't happen, but it won't let you know what money moves they would make NOW. You want a number that would actually require the person to really think about how they would move it (Like $15,000 to $25,000). When it comes your turn to answer, honesty and vulnerability always win.

Again, being vulnerable and opening up to a struggle you've had and how you are trying to navigate it sets the tone. "I'm not worried about my credit card debt" is different from, "I racked up unnecessary credit card debt. So, I have a plan in place and have been focused on paying it off by ____." These two statements feel different. One could feel scary to a potential partner, and the other feels more grounded and in control. 


6. Managing your money with someone else. 

How do you manage the actual money with two people? This can be a step that is overlooked. Once you know what your shared money goals are, you need to decide how you're going to make progress on those goals daily. A lot of miscommunication can pop up if you aren't on the same page for managing your money on the daily. If you don't have a method for managing your money, decide on one today. If you do have one, check in and make sure it is serving you well. This can look like: 

  • Separate accounts: Divvying up the expenses so each partner is paying about the same amount toward shared expenses each month including goals. This can make "spending money" feel different depending on each person's income. 
  • Percentage-based contribution: Each person contributes a % of their salary toward shared expenses. This can help if one person's salary is significantly lower than the other's. 
  • Shared accounts: All money goes into one account that each person has access to. All shared expenses and goals are paid from this account. To really make this work, it's best if each person has a "spending" amount they can use each month. It helps provide freedom and autonomy to have some money to spend on things just for you. 

The bottom line. 

Talking about money doesn't magically get easier in your relationship just because you've been together longer. If there is a crack in your money foundation, it will be tested when larger money decisions come up. But don't worry; it's never too late to start and repair your foundation and start building again. When you build your relationship with money together, you'll build a stronger partnership that can navigate any money decision. 

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