If we’ve never met before, (and maybe if we have), you might wonder why my advice on this subject is worth reading. I’m not a financial planner or industry expert. I don’t have professional credentials.
I’m a wife who dove into marriage not knowing what I didn’t know, especially when it came to handling money. For the first two years, I tried not to think about it much. When we did talk about money, the conversations were tense and stressful.
Our story isn’t exceptional or unique, but that’s exactly why I share it. I’ve felt isolated by financial questions and worries in the past, when really so many couples face the same issues. I hope that sharing some of ours will help it seem less intimidating to others who feel a little over their heads sometimes.
That said, here we go:
1. Acknowledge feelings, but focus the discussion around a logic based plan.
Culturally, we are uncomfortable talking about money. It’s a subject that can stir up negative emotions (shame, guilt, fear, inadequacy, to name a few), and quickly become emotionally charged instead of logically based.
Early in our marriage, we made some financial decisions based on emotions instead of numbers. I was lonely in Arizona and frustrated by my unfruitful job search. Mike felt guilty for any unhappiness I felt due to relocation, so we spent money we didn’t have to visit family and friends in California.
Suddenly our student loan wasn’t just paying tuition and basic living expenses. One plane ticket isn’t a big deal, but habitual emotional spending costs tens of thousands. Without a plan and a budget we actually stuck to, we succumbed to emotional spending.
Few things in life are black and white, but numbers are. If you have a plan to pay off a certain amount of debt or to save a down payment for a house by the end of the year, you can break down exactly how much money you need to apply to those goals each month. Knowing that number can make the difference between buying a plane ticket and sticking it out to reach your goal.
2. Say everything out loud
Some conflict averse people never fight with their spouses about money, because they never speak up when they disagree with or don’t understand the family’s financial decisions.
Maybe money was a taboo conversation topic in your household growing up, and you’ve carried that into your marriage. Maybe one of your parents made all the financial decisions, and you’ve followed the example and exempted yourself from decision making. Maybe you don’t have the emotional energy to disagree, or you just don’t feel your opinions are informed enough, so you go along with whatever your spouse wants to do.
No matter how uncomfortable, it’s worth having honest, frequent money conversations with your spouse. If a fulfilling marriage allows you to be your most vulnerable, then no conversation should be off the table, especially when it’s one as pervasive as money. Discussing the practicalities of how to spend, save and give money can open conversations that reveal the deepest part of our hearts.
I’ll post part two next week. In the meantime, here are a few other things I’ve written about our story and this topic: