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How To Talk To Your Partner About Money Without Losing Your Sh*t

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The experience of arguing over money is a common one among couples, and especially common when there isn’t enough money to go around. When a couple’s expenses expand beyond the limits of their budget, they can end up at each other’s throats over money. In fact, along with sex, money is one of the top two topics couples fight about.

Scarcity isn’t always the problem, though. Sometimes the issue is that people simply view money differently. For some, money is an abstract concept that they’d rather not “buy into” (excuse the pun — though, to be fair, money is literally an abstract concept). For these folks, spending to the edge of their means and living week-to-week may be just fine, because who knows what the future may hold? Live in the moment.

Others see money as a means to eventual comfort and stability. They’re happy to make sacrifices now in exchange for security later. To someone who subscribes to the “live in the moment” mentality, these folks’ expectations for saving and investing may feel unnecessarily rigid, or even stingy.

So it’s easy to see why people end up fighting over money. Or … maybe not fighting, exactly. Sometimes money troubles look like slowly sliding deeper into debt as each partner silently prays for something to give even as their resentment toward one another builds.

Regardless, if money is a source of friction in your relationship, it’s time to get proactive with your partner when it comes to how the two of you handle your money. And it starts with a sit-down talk.

1. Say Out Loud How You Want Your Financial Life To Look

This will require lots of vulnerability. Without thinking about where you’re currently at, say what you want for you, for your kids, for your family. Say aloud your hopes for the near future and for the distant future, but also talk about how your own family managed money when you were a kid. How does that impact your behavior and feelings now? What scares you?

This is not a time to point fingers and tell your partner about how their spending habits piss you the hell off. This is just about you. And when it’s your partner’s turn to speak, let them speak. Be open with each other and keep any resentment you may be feeling in check.

Remember: all the spending you’ve already done is literally history. There’s no place to go but forward.

2. Get Real About Your Budget

Once you each have a clear idea about what you want, you need to know how to get there. And you can’t get anywhere without knowing where you are at the start. That means you need to know exactly how much you bring in, and exactly how much is going out.

Set up an appointment with a financial planner who can look over your existing budget or create a fresh one for you. Many financial planners will provide this for a flat fee. If you can’t afford that, generate your own spreadsheet using Nerdwallet, MS Excel, or Google Sheets. This process may seem daunting, but you really just need a column for income and another column for expenses.

A note about your expense column: don’t forget to include annual expenses like holiday gifts, birthday parties, home repairs, car repairs, charitable donations, wedding and graduation gifts, and travel plans. Each of these items should appear in your monthly budget even though you don’t buy them every month. For example, if you have three kids and you spend about $400 per kid around the holidays, you need to budget $100 per month for that expense.

These annual expenses are usually the ones that get folks into trouble because they think they’ve created a budget when really they’ve left out several major annual expenses that, when combined, put them in the hole by the end of the year.

3. Get Out Of Your Feelings

Remember how we talked about our feelings before? Now pretend you’re a robot. You have zero feelings. You are a mathematical wonderhuman who has explicit financial goals and by golly you’re going to logically figure out how to attain them.

Approaching financial planning can be hard for folks who have trouble separating themselves from their spending or who have money-related trauma (that’s most of us), but if you can manage to set big feelings aside for this step, it’s really the key to getting where you want to go with regards to your financial future.

If one of you gets emotional or feels attacked when discussing spending, explore why this is, but do so outside of crunching the numbers. If you can, talk to a therapist. (Of course, I realize if you’re dealing with money struggles, this is not always possible.)

Yep, that’s right — setting aside your emotions is a whole step all by itself.

4. Make A Plan, And Commit To It

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Because of the work you did in step two, you know exactly how much is coming in and exactly how much can go out. You may have realized your expense column added up to more than your income column, and you may have had to make some difficult decisions about what to cut. You may have each realized that you spend more on coffee drive thrus, shoes, or video games than you realized. Or you may have realized that you’d save a ton on student loan interest if you commit to going hard on it for the next two years and just get the shit paid off.

Whatever the plan you come up with together, stick to it. It may feel like a personal affront to have to give up (or cut down) something that brings you immense joy like your daily frappuccino run. But if you’ve agreed to it in order to accomplish other bigger goals together with your partner, you need to stick to it.

If you have a month where you want to go over a limit in a certain category, give up something else to make the desired expense fit. Do not add expenditures unless you have a correlating addition of unexpected income.

5. It’s Okay To Have Separate Accounts

If one of you is a spender and the other is a saver, or one likes to spend without constantly doing math in their head, set up separate spending accounts. This way, the saver doesn’t develop resentment over the spender’s “frivolous” spending habits, and the spender doesn’t develop resentment over the saver’s “stingy” micro-managing. Manage joint expenses and retirement savings from a joint account. The spender can set up a monthly cash account from which they can draw, and when it’s empty, it’s empty. They have to wait until next month.

It can be infuriating as the saver to watch your spender partner purchase items you think are frivolous. But remember that the peace of mind you get from saving is the same feeling they likely get from making a purchase that brings them joy.

Money may be just a social construct, but it’s one that influences nearly every decision we make. Naturally, we are all going to have feelings about it. And that’s okay. But have these big conversations so resentment doesn’t build. You and your partner may not ever think about money in the exact same way, but the two of you can at least get on the same page.

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