MMP055: How To Talk To Your Partner About Money
Here we are at session number 55 , and we’re going to be talking about how to talk to your partner about money. I’ve said before that in any relationship, a financial partnership is the optimum position. If both partners are working towards the same aims and both have fully engaged with the budgeting process, then that’s perfect.
Unfortunately, not everyone is in this position, so what should you do if you’re the one committed to nailing the budget each month, but your partner couldn’t care less? As usual I’ll be looking at what you need to know first, followed by what you need to do to move forward in this tricky area.
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For the first few years of our marriage, I took no interest in the family finances at all, which if nothing else, is deeply ironic looking back. Once or twice a month Jo would ask “Do you want to know how much money we haven’t got?” I would say “no.” And that would basically be it. Shameful really…
Jo did a great job keeping us on track but for various reasons it became a real burden for her, so I had no choice, I had to step up. Now we’re much better at working as a team.
There’s no doubt that for many couples, money is a major source of tension. Usually this is because one person is worried about the bills which need to be paid, while the other is at best passive and shows no interest, and at worst just spends whatever they want with no regard to the health of the family finances.
So if you’re the one who wants to put plans in place and stick to a budget, but you’re banging your head on the wall at your partners apathy, what steps should you be taking to help you talk to your partner about money?
Everything you need to KNOW
First we need to lay some foundations of common sense before we start knocking heads together, so here’s what you need to know. It’s worth mentioning that I’m assuming that as you’re listening to this podcast, you’re probably the one who takes an interest in the money, and it’s your partner that you want to engage.
1 – Recognise that in most relationships, partners have different roles
Fortunately, we’re all different. I mean, imagine if everyone in the world was like you! Of course, if they were like me then the universe would exist in a state of perpetual, well organised bliss.
In any partnership, there are different roles, so for many people it’s probably too much to ask that your currently disinterested partner suddenly becomes an equal co-conspirator in your financial future planning. It may be that there is a part of ‘doing’ the finances that your partner could excel at, even if they never become the driving force. Maybe they could be the one who enters all the receipts onto a system you use, or keeps track of all the birthday presents you ned to buy for friends and family.
Though it is lost on me, the American phenomenon of cheerleading may be instructive. It’s fair to say that the cheerleaders at a college football game don’t score any of the touchdowns or field goals. (I think) they’re there to whip up the crowd to get behind the team. And to look nice. I bet if you asked any team member though, they wouldn’t want to be without the cheerleaders.
Maybe your partner’s only job is to be a cheerleader for you, the main driver of the family finances. Quite what form that would take I don’t know. I have a vision of a 20 stone couch-potato bloke in a mini dress and pom-poms. But any role is better than total indifference – be thinking about what role your partner might take. How can you make room in the process of managing the family money, for their strengths?
2 – Money is an emotive subject
I know that for me, growing up, money was intrinsically linked with guilt about never having any (because I spent everything I had on sweets, and later, curries and musical equipment). I always dreaded being asked about money because I had spent it all and didn’t want to answer the question. Listen back to Session 26 for more about my own money history.
Everyone has a money history and everyone’s will be different. I’ve met people paralysed by guilt because they HAVE all the money they need. They’re almost embarrassed by it. Others have maybe experienced crippling debt and worry about getting into that place again.
For your partner, there may be factors which are the root cause of their unwillingness to be a part of the family financial planning. You’ll need to be aware of that and be sensitive to it.
As much is it might not be something you care to admit, it may be that your own attitude is part of their problem. If there has been tension before about family money, ask yourself if you were any part of the cause of that, and resolve not to be so again.
Ladies, speaking as a guy, there is something deeply ingrained in our DNA that wants to be the provider. As outdated as that notion may seem to us, it can still affect the way we feel about things if we’re not contributing as much as we should, either in monetary terms or in practical contribution to the mechanics of home money management. Something to be aware of…
Obviously I can’t speak for the women on this…!
We’re getting perilously close to a kind of weird parody of a Relate session here, so I’ll move on. Just consider that it might not just be apathy that is stopping your partner from taking part in things; there may be way more to it than that…
3 – There is no perfect solution, just the one which works best for you
While you may have a utopian idea of the way you want to work together with your spouse or partner, that may never happen. Also, there’s no right way to do this, just a bunch of right ways. The trick is to find the right way for you and your relationship.
So for instance, Jo and I have everything joint unless we’re saving tax by having something in her name only. This works for us, and to be honest we never really considered anything else.
But it can work just as well to keep your day-to-day finances separate, while coming together for household bills and planning. So you could each have your own current account, but a joint account for the housekeeping. Each month you both pay into the joint account, according to the agreement you have between you. So the amount you both pay in could be proportional to your take home pay. So if she brings home twice as much as him, she pays £500 a month into the household account, and he pays £250. Or whatever.
Ultimately, the mechanics don’t matter, it’s the collaboration you’re after, and whatever form that takes, it’s better than none at all.
#1 – Recognise that partners have different roles
#2 – Money is an emotive subject
#3 – There’s no perfect solution to how it should work, need to find the one which works for you
Everything you need to DO
So, with those things in mind, what practical steps can you take to begin working more closely together?
1 – Be gentle
If you’re the one who is the do-er in the family, you’re going to need to go easy on your partner. Bringing them into the family finance fold is going to be like a wooing them all over again. Unless you met when you were both drunk in a nightclub. This shouldn’t be like that.
If there is any suggestions of annoyance or resentment on YOUR part, your partner is going to be less willing to come to the table and talk about money with you. So the tone should be less “Look, I need to talk to you about the state of our finances” and more “Honey, can we look at this together for five minutes? I’d really value your input.”
Sometimes the one holding the can for the finances at the moment can become resentful that they’re doing all the work. If that’s you, let it go for the sake of your future collaboration. Remember that your partner will have an emotional context around money too, and be aware of it when you speak to them.
Gently does it. Pressure and coercion are not going to be constructive here. Woo your partner and encourage them. Start slow and small and bring them into the fold over time. Don’t ask too much of them to start with, just show them what you’re doing and how it is working.
Try to make it all low-key. Just like the mum making aeroplane noises to get the 18-month-old to eat their veggies, try to make the experience (dare I say it) fun and light for your partner, particularly if they’re very resistant.
Now I know what you’re thinking, some of you. Why can’t they just man-up and get with the programme? Here I am slaving over receipts and monthly budgets while they’re playing X-Box, or spending hours on Pinterest (gender stereotype alert!)?! You’re giving me aeroplane noises?!
OK, I’ll give you the aeroplane noises thing, but it’s that kind of attitude that will derail this before you even start. The idea is to come together. All you need to do is to make that prospect attractive to the reluctant partner.
2 – Make time
I think it’s important to set aside some time together to talk about this. Once you’re in the groove it doesn’t need to be more than once a week for five minutes, with a more detailed review once a month. But the time to do this is not while you’re trying to get the kids out of the door in the morning, or last thing at night when you’re both tired already. Everyone’s schedule is different, but find a time when you’re both fresh and able to focus and engage.
You should definitely avoid talking about this if you’re already angry. Let’s say you’ve just completed the monthly budget review and your partner went way over what you thought they would in one particular category. You’re probably feeling a bit resentful after you were so careful all month. That is NOT the time to get together for a chat. It’ll end up in a row and will damage your relationship. Take a deep breath and pick a time when you’ve calmed down.
Again, make your language attractive and non-confrontational in order to be persuasive. Don’t issue an ultimatum, instead make it an invitation.
3 – Have an agenda (but hold it lightly)
When you do come together, as the partner looking after things currently, you should know what you want to talk about. Make your agenda bite-sized so you don’t overwhelm your partner. Your first meeting should be short – ten minutes at most, so be prepared to get the most out of that time.
If you don’t cover everything you wanted, gauge how your partner is doing. Are they starting to sweat and fidget? Let them go with a thank you and a kiss and gratitude that they came to the table. Give them a week and then bring them to the table again to cover the other stuff. Hold your agenda lightly and be prepared to adjust it on the fly.
Don’t attempt to cover long-term goals and short-term spending in each of your categories all in the same meeting. Long term goals and other deep stuff can be discussed over a glass of wine in front of the fire one evening, while you’ll probably need your figures to hand if discussing spending.
In short, have a plan for engaging your partner over time. Start small and work up to the bigger stuff. Take your time, as frustrating as that might be for you, and your patience will undoubtedly pay off.
4 – Be a team
Collaboration is a good thing right? It’s why we’re even talking about this. Two heads are better than one, for sure. Good teams have a coach which might be a competent financial planner, or someone else you know with lots of experience in financial management. You’re probably a player/manager, both running the show and playing a practical part too. What part can your partner play?
Teams work together for the common goal, and that’s the best angle to convince your partner to take part I reckon. The aim is surely your combined financial well-being, so try to impress this on them and assure them that they are needed, and that you’ll be more effective as a team.
You could even come up with a team name. Go Team Fill-in-the-blank!
There are many benefits from working together on your finances. I bet than when both partners are engaged with the process your cash-flow will be better. You’ll certainly row less about money, so long as you make this process easy for them. So a win all round, and worth approaching patiently and gently until your currently-reluctant partner has come round.
If you have any questions or want to tell me that I’m full of it, then leave me a comment below.
This week’s reviews[Here’s where I read the reviews off iTunes – some belters this week
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As we’ve been talking about budgeting this week, kinda, I thought I’d let you know that a holding page for my new online course, LearnHowToBudget.com is now live, so you can register your interest. Do that, and I’ll keep you informed of progress as we go along. You’ll get sneak peeks at the content and those registered will get a special rate when the thing goes live in July. The holding page is itself temporary, but I wanted to get something up sharpish, so it’ll do for now…
Next Session Announcement
Next time we'll be talking about Lifestages. As we go through life, our relationship with money and the things we need to be thinking about change. I’ll be looking at each life stage and focussing on the important money matters for each phase of life.
If you have a question on this subject, or any other financial query that you want answering here on the show, then the best way to do that is to leave me a voicemail at meaningfulmoney.tv/feedback
That's it for this session of the MM podcast, I hope it was helpful. Remember, any questions or comments about this session should be left in the comments section below
I hope you enjoyed this session. Thanks for listening – I'll talk to you next time.