All of this can be a major source of contention, but there are ways to keep the relationship thriving despite your financial differences. Here’s how to prepare and ultimately have the “money talk” with your partner.
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Make a Date
When you’re both in a good mood and have undivided attention, hold a money meeting to check in, review goals and discuss what’s working and what isn’t. It could be over brunch or after dinner when the kids are in bed. An adult beverage is not required, though highly recommended. Whatever time you choose, make it productive. If you’ve been thinking it’s a good time to refinance the mortgage, use this time to discuss your options. If you, as the primary household bookkeeper want a break for a month and make the other run the ship, ask to switch things up for the next month.
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Agree to come the meeting with some material to work off of, including a spending diary from the last 7 days and your credit reports. This way you have some concrete material to review and talk about. If you speculate your partner’s been spending up a storm and his spending diary confirms this, you can better discuss the issues that have been bothering you. Also, if you know there’s something you definitely want to discuss send your spouse an article during the day that might be insightful. For example if you read an interesting article about refinancing the mortgage (something on your to-do list) email it to your spouse and use it as a reference when you both sit down to talk later in the evening.
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You may be the main person managing the books but you don’t want to come off in the meeting as a control freak. You want to make sure your partner is on board and aware of what it takes to manage the household finances—even if it’s not his or her strength to do so. If it’s not known, show where you file everything and how and when you pay the bills. Walk him or her through any online tools you use to organize the household finances. Note: This isn’t about showing off how amazing your organization and math skills are. It’s about re-emphasizing your family’s goals. Show why it all matters and point out how your spouse is contributing to the bottom line. Show examples of how cooking dinner instead of eating out the past two weeks has brought in an extra $400 to your savings account. Show how you may be just a few thousand dollars away from affording a summer rental house and discuss what you can do to save the rest. Remember to bring it all back to the family’s goals so that all the paperwork, budgeting charts and excel sheets become meaningful to the person who’s not the primary bookkeeper. Ask for his or her opinion and make them feel just as involved as you physically are.
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Review Your Goals
This is another way of engaging. Do you both still want to buy a house in two years? How are you meeting this goal? Are you on track to save enough for a down payment? It’s easy to fall off track but less likely if you periodically check in with one another and re-emphasize the goals that are important to you.
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If showing your partner an excel spreadsheet of your monthly budget at the meeting isn’t enough to create excitement around saving or talking about the family finances, use other means to engage to discuss money. Maybe it’s a personal finance book, a movie, a cool new iPhone app or newspaper article that you can bring up to then lead you two to a more personal conversation about your finances. Maybe you overheard an office coworker complaining about her husband’s financial mishandlings. Use that as an ice-breaker at the meeting.
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One money conversation does not a happy financial marriage make. You want to have monthly money dates to revisit your goals—and not just when things get hairy. Your meetings may last 10 minutes or two hours depending on whatever’s on your minds.
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Divide and Conquer
One of you is either naturally better or more interested in keeping tack for the household finances. To that end, designate a chief financial officer, the person who’s most organized and has the most time to dedicate to managing the household budget and paying the bills most of the time.
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Discuss Big-Ticket Purchases
Have a rule of thumb where you talk to each other before making expensive purchases that may compromise your joint savings. Perhaps it’s anything over $200 or $300. It not only shows respect for your savings and your goals, it builds trust – that you wouldn’t go behind the other’s back to buy something the other person may consider frivolous.
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Have Your Own Savings Account
If you don’t want to ask your partner if it’s “okay” to buy something pricey make sure the money is coming from your own personal savings. Having a personal savings account not only gives you the freedom to splurge once in a while, it also gives you some independence in case of an emergency. For women, this is especially significant since they —on average—outlive their husbands and will need to take care of themselves either due to being widowed or divorced. In fact, according to AARP, roughly two-thirds of women between 40 and 79 years of age have gone through a major financial “life crisis,” like unemployment, divorce, death of a spouse or a serious illness.
Good luck and may your conversations—and their results—be fruitful.