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How to have a difficult conversation with your spouse about finances

Talking about money with your spouse can be difficult. Not everyone enjoys talking about finances and it can seem easier to just ignore the subject. However, avoiding difficult conversations and money discussions can lead to many problems down the road.How to have a difficult conversation with your spouse about finances

If the idea of discussing money with your significant other stresses you out, you’re not alone. According to a survey by SunTrust Bank, 35 percent of people said money was the primary cause of friction and stress in their relationship. For respondents between 44 and 54 years of age, that number shot up to 44 percent.

When spouses have different views and values, this can be a particular source of tension. According to a study of 4,500 couples published in the Journal of Family Relationships, arguing about money is the number one reason for divorce. Don’t let financial arguments sour your relationship and cause problems with your marriage.

Having a difficult conversation about money can be daunting but the tips below will help you discuss your finances well before any problems arise.

Make a money date

There are many different demands competing for your attention daily. It can seem easier to avoid unpleasant subjects such as money and push them off to a later date. However, getting on the same page about your finances is essential for you as a couple.

Make a money date with your spouse so you have a set date and time for the conversation. Write it in your calendar just like your other appointments and make it a priority. Find a time and place that allows you to talk quietly without distractions from phones or crying children. You may even want to make it an occasion by going to a local coffee shop.

Whatever you decide, bring your laptop and any additional notes or information. Prepare for the meeting so you have all the necessary details. This is your time to focus on your financial future as a couple. Setting regular money dates will help you decide on your priorities and plan out how to handle your money – together.

Talk about goals

When it comes to your money as a couple, focus on being proactive rather than reactive. This is your money so you should talk about what you want for your future. Decide how you want to allocate your income toward common goals such as retirement, your children’s education, saving for a house, and so on.

Set goals together and work as a team to achieve them. Don’t let your personal money issues get in the way of your success as a couple. Take the time to discuss how you see your future and what are some of your hopes and dreams. This will form the basis for your future planning and will help you set goals that you both agree on.

Once you have a better idea of what each person wants and your dreams for the future, it’s time to start planning. Listen to each other and respect each other’s opinions. Recognize that you may not agree on everything. However, it’s important to decide on three to five big financial goals for the future that you can work on together.

If you’re having difficulty figuring out what financials goals to set, talk to a trusted financial advisor. Having another person whose sole purpose is to help you achieve your goals will take some of the pressure off. That way you can focus on working as a team to decide on the best course for the future.

Ask questions

The most important thing when having a difficult conversation about money is listening. Try to step back and ask questions. Work as a team to figure out the issue and how it happened. Taking the team approach will ensure that no one feels defensive.

Let’s face it, talking about money is hard. It’s much easier to hide from any money problems and avoid talking about them altogether. Before having a money conversation, it’s important to get in the right mindset. Clear your mind from any pre-conceived notions about who’s right and who’s wrong. Casting blame is not a productive use of your time and energy.

Use questions as a way to delve into the issue and brainstorm potential solutions. However, it’s important that you ask open-ended questions that lead to a solution rather than make accusations.

Find out what your spouse wants to do during retirement and when they want to retire. If you have kids, talk about how you want to pay for their college education. Money discussions should be a collaboration and not a dictatorship.

Working together as a team will ensure that you both have input into important money decisions. Asking questions is a powerful way to have an open conversation and make progress. Remember, no one is right or wrong but you both need to be honest with each other and figure out a way to compromise.

Don’t point fingers

While you may feel like your partner is to blame for a particular issue, pointing fingers never results in anything good. All it does is cause the other person to get defensive. This makes it difficult to have a productive conversation and actually get somewhere.

Resist the urge to cast blame and keep an open mind. Ask questions and discuss potential solutions. Involve your spouse in the conversation as a partner and work together as a team.

It’s much easier to blame someone for the problem than to figure out what was your role in it. This is your chance to show that you’re open to being part of the solution and working together.

Take a step back and look at the issue objectively. Talk to your partner about what went wrong and how you can stop it from happening again. When you take a collaborative approach rather than an accusatory stance, you will get better results.

No one likes to be wrong. Pointing fingers will make you feel better while causing your partner to feel terrible. Is that what you want?

At the end of the day, who’s right and who’s wrong is not as important as finding a solution. Being open and understanding will make it easier to get your spouse on board. Remember, being a couple means sharing everything – the good, the bad, and the ugly. It’s up to you how you handle difficult conversations.

Review the numbers

Taking a look at the numbers will give you a better idea of the situation at hand. The best way to discuss an issue is to ensure you have the full picture. Gather all the information and data before sitting down with your spouse. That way both of you can look at the problem at hand and decide how to move forward.

When you look at the numbers together, there’s going to be a lot of questions. Try to consider in advance what some of those questions may be so you can research potential answers you can then discuss.

For example, if you’re looking at a loan repayment issue, research if you can refinance it at a lower rate. If you have credit card debt, find out if you can do a zero-interest credit card balance transfer.

Having all the additional information and options at hand will help steer the discussion toward problem-solving. This will give the meeting purpose beyond just a difficult discussion. When you have options or potential solutions, it makes it easier to focus on what you can do rather than what you can’t.

If you’re not sure about your options, talk to a trusted financial planner who can help you find solutions that will work best for you. Having an independent third party look at the situation objectively with you can help you take a step back and figure out the next steps.

Work together on a plan

No matter how difficult the conversation, discussing finances with your spouse will set you up for success down the road. Most of the time when you need to have a difficult conversation with your spouse, chances are you’ll want to come up with a solution. Use this as an opportunity to work together as a team.

In most relationships, one person is the spender and the other is a saver. Keep this in mind as you’re talking through the problem at hand. Work on a plan for how you’re going to solve the issue and decide each person’s responsibility.

Make a budget that considers your income, expenses, and other financial liabilities. Use it to draft a plan that will align with your priorities and available resources. You may have to make some tough decisions and cut back on certain expenses, so you can put the money toward your new goal. Another option is to get a side gig and earn additional income.

When drafting a plan, set out a timeline with milestones. At each milestone, decide on ways you’re going to celebrate when you get there. For example, if you’re aiming for a down payment on a house, saving that much money can seem overwhelming. Celebrate when you save $5,000, $10,000, and so on. Or, you can celebrate percentages – say you saved 5 percent of the down payment.

Make the plan work for you as a couple and realize that you are in this together. Don’t be afraid to compromise – your dream may not align with your spouse’s dream and that’s okay. Find the middle ground and decide how you’re going to move forward to achieve your goal.

Schedule regular check-ins

As mentioned above, celebrating milestones is important, but so are regular check-ins. Schedule a time once a month (preferably during your money date) to talk about how far you’ve come. Use this time to troubleshoot problem areas and figure out what’s working and what’s not.

Check your budget against your goals and see how far you’ve come. Celebrate all wins, big and small. Making progress financially can be slow at first but stick with it to reap the benefits down the road. Be realistic with your expectations and don’t beat yourself up if you’re not making as much progress as you planned.

If you fall off the wagon, get back on and keep going. By having regular check-ins, you’ll realize sooner rather than later if you’re having problems meeting the goals you’ve outlined.

You should also review your budget and pinpoint other areas where you can make cuts or scale back. Remind yourself how good you’ll feel when you reach your financial goal. Make sure your spouse is on board and ask for their input at every check-in.

Reviewing your plan on a regular basis also means adjusting your goals as needed. If there are any major financial changes in your life – new job, new baby, major expenses, job loss, etc. – change your plan accordingly. Plans should be flexible and be used as a roadmap for getting to your goal.

It’ll be much easier to reach your goals and follow your plan if you have a good handle on your finances. Talk to a financial advisor about creating a financial blueprint to guide you and your spouse. It’ll help you answer questions like how much you should be saving for retirement and how to know if you’ve saved enough for a particular goal.

Do something fun afterward

Talking about money with your spouse can be draining. If you follow the steps above, you should have a good idea about the problem at hand and the proper steps to take.

Now that you have a plan, you know what you need to do to achieve your goals.

Figure out some fun and easy ways to celebrate making progress. Go for a picnic in the park or just for a walk around your neighborhood. The important thing is that you do something fun together as a couple to reinforce the idea that you’re a team.

Now what are you waiting for? Get started today!

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This is a post from Clint Haynes, a Certified Financial Planner® and Financial Advisor in Kansas City, Missouri. He is also the founder and owner of NextGen Wealth. You can learn more about Clint at the website NextGen Wealth.

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