(photo: iStockPhoto/ InkkStudios)
Usually it’s a crisis that gets a couple to enter the money talk: You open up a credit card bill and notice that the card is maxed out. You get an overdraft notice from the bank. A debt collector calls. And then instead of a discussion you get what? An explosion? Nuclear war?
The fact is that when bad news hits it might be too late to have the money talk — because at that point, talking can lead to screaming. Screaming leads to accusations. Accusations lead to name-calling and name-calling leads to the door. So make it a point to talk about finances now, when there’s no crisis on the table.
When you’re ready to tackle this highly important but sensitive subject, follow the tips below to know how to have the money talk with your significant other.
Start with your mistakes
Did you ever try to open up a discussion with a list of things the other person is doing wrong? If you have, then you probably didn’t get very far. Nobody, not even you, likes it when other people point out bad habits — even when they’re true. If there are some critical comments you’d like to make about your spouse’s saving or spending habits, the best approach is to put him or her at ease first.
How to do that? Make sure they understand that you are not perfect. Do this by talking about the problems you’ve had in the past or are having now. If you can take your fair share of the blame and ask for help working on your weaknesses, you’ll have a much easier time pointing out the things your spouse needs to do better.
If there’s one specific area you two think you should tackle (like putting more in savings or setting up a budget), give your spouse credit for coming up with the idea. It’s much easier to get somebody to “buy in” to an idea when they think it’s their idea.
Focus on the “why,” not the “why not”
Too often, money talks get framed in the most negative light possible. We all obsess with what we’re doing wrong and how we got in this mess. Then we sit down and make a laundry list of the things we are not going to do.
That approach focuses on the “why not.” Your new approach should focus on the “why.” It might feel stingy or boring to live within your means or take the right steps to pay off your credit card debt, but debt and uncontrolled spending leads to less freedom, not more. A bad credit score can keep you from buying a car or owning a house.
Make sure you make that point in your money talk. You take strong steps to get your finances in order so that you’ll have more long-term freedom and the ability to do more fun things together down the road.
Don’t let other topics creep in
Our financial habits often come from our families. How we were raised has a lasting impact on everything we do, including how we manage our finances. And sometimes the bulk of our spending takes place when we are with our friends. So when it comes to assessing our habits, our families and friends might get brought in. Blame might even be placed on them during the money talk.
Do yourself a favor and stay on topic. A casual mention of the late car payment might unmask some deep resentment of your parents or in-laws. Comments about your lavish nights out on the town might reveal hatred for one particular friend.
Those feelings should be put aside and dealt with later.