How Do I Talk to My Partner About Money?

My colleague in Boston said something that continues to stick with me every day. He said, our job is designed to be preventative by nature.

Take these scenarios for example:

Client wants to sell because of a poor economic forecast:

“How does this decision today align with your longer-term goals?”

Client believes they are healthy enough that more insurance is unnecessary:

“Besides saving you tons of money when you’re older and less healthy, insurance today is there to allow your family to live out a lifestyle, financially, as if you were still there.”

As advisors, people come to us with strong money scripts, deep beliefs about how the markets should be, or years of doing things their way, and say “fix it.” But the decisions we help families make today are in preparation for unfavorable events or in the face of turbulent times. The years of time and heartache saved can’t be simply quantified on a spreadsheet.

When it comes to money, it can be so hard to just be honest with yourself about your own habits. Couple that with dealing with someone else’s (or lack thereof) money philosophies and that can be a recipe for a stressful situation. So, how do you ensure you and your partner are in line with your thoughts and feelings on the household’s money management?

Starting any heavy conversation in a relationship can be daunting. But afterward, that conversation will either validate or tell you everything you needed to know about that person.

But one thing you should not do is avoid talking to your partner about money because it is stressful. Seriously, “don’t wait for a financial crisis to talk!” This will more than likely just lead to a heated discussion, misunderstanding, and a place you two would rather not have to go back to. 

Talking about money doesn’t have to be nerve-wracking, nor does it need to be invasive. When it comes from a place of genuine curiosity, it won’t seem like there’s some ulterior motive at play.

So how do serious couples, have … the talk?

How to start the conversation

I’ve come to learn that, depending on how anxious your partner is, starting a conversation with “we need to talk,” is probably not the best introduction to this conversation.

I’d start with something like this,

“Hey, can we talk about something that’s been on my mind lately? What’s your process for saving for big purchases down the road?


“You know, we never talk about this, what are your thoughts on investing?”

Or, flip it on yourself. Try Kara Copple’s question,

“Okay hey, I have another question … What do you think about my spending. Is there anything you think I should change?”

Tobias Donath, a senior VP at Fidelity, said that couples need to understand that “what we value about money is deeply personal. It’s tied to who we are and how we want to live.” 

Simply put, 80% of financial success is behavior. Once the initial conversation is underway, I think from there, you’ll find out how far or close you two are in your ideologies. It’s better to find out if you two are financially compatible sooner than later.

What you will get from this conversation

Who you are, financially

The other’s thoughts on money

How you two will work together

1.  Financially, Who Are You?

It would be wise to start by thinking about your roadmap and asking: where am I and what do I have? You probably don’t need a whole balance sheet to tell you what your net worth is. But just having a napkin idea of where you stand is helpful to yourself before it is useful for anyone else.

It might take some major self-awareness to ask yourself, are your own finances chaotic? Could you care less about how your money is spent, as long as you can pay your bills and eat today? Or, are you a penny pincher – budgeting down to the penny you’ve spent this week? Have you noticed that you’re better at managing your money than your friends are? 

Think about what have you been doing and if that has been working for you so far. The point of this exercise is not to figure out how you will convert or recruit your partner to have the same ideas as you. But rather, think of this as taking some time to know what you want for yourself. What kinds of things do you want out of life? Knowing this will help reduce the risk of you imploding and arguing about who is compromising more.  

2. Thoughts on Money

You’ve figured out where you are today, but you haven’t quite gone deep enough.

Follow up the first step by figuring out what are your true thoughts about money and how did you get there. This could be part of your attraction to each other; You’ll find out your similarities and/or differences over the conversations you had around money growing up. 

How much does their background come into play with how they treat money today? 

Let’s take a familiar love story for example. She comes from a family of means; house in a cul de sac, family traditions, money never really being a big topic of discussion. Him, not so much. He carries a chip on his shoulder, and because of that, he’s learned to become a good earner. But oftentimes, people who don’t come from money see money as a sense of security. There’s a belief that money is the result of hard work and because of this, they may hoard cash and put less of their money at risk or towards frivolous spending. Again, leading to misunderstandings and senseless fights about money that go deeper than a single request can handle

That’s why it’s important to understand each other’s money scripts. Money scripts? 

Money scripts are deep-rooted beliefs about money that we’ve adopted over our lives. Adina Lazar, personal finance contributor for several publications says, “they can be shaped by your experiences or even passed down to you from your own parents’ beliefs.” 

Ted Klontz and Brad Klontz, who conducted the original study, found people have these four main types of money scripts:

1. Money avoidance  

People with this money script believe ‘money is the root of all evil.’ They feel bad when they see others less fortunate. Feeling as if they are undeserving of the money they do have. 

Mary B. Storjohann, CFP®, of Workable Wealth says that this belief “suggests that living without money elevates your moral status, which often leads to self-sabotage, doubt, and unhappiness with your wealth.”

It’s a great character trait to show compassion and not let money rule your life. But ignorance doesn’t absolve negligence. 

2. Money worship  

These people believe that money is the source of all things great. Want a more fulfilling, happier life? Make more money. Want happier relationships? Make more money. 

Lazar says, they “associate having money with freedom, happiness, and a better life in general.” Believing there’s nothing more important in life than having money. 

This one is tough because financial freedom can mean a lot of things to someone. But it doesn’t take rewatching The Wolf on Wall Street over and over again to tell you having more money doesn’t solve all of life’s problems.

3. Money status  

Money-status-scripters believe their self-worth is tied to their net worth. For them, success (or proof of success) is shown by the attainment of material items. Similarly to money worshipers, they believe that improving their socioeconomic status will improve their overall life; happiness, relationship satisfaction, sense of control over life.

This kind of thought process typically comes from people from low-income households. They might have seen their parents (or someone close to them) work extremely hard and still struggle to make ends meet. If they only had more money, these problems would all go away. 

But we know that that’s not always the case. Lifestyles and habits play a key role in financial stability, and it could have been that they just couldn’t see what path got their parent(s) there in the first place. 

4. Money vigilance  

I find myself relating to these kinds of people. We value the management of money more so than the money itself. 

Lazar describes us as people who “don’t rely on credit cards, you have savings and emergency funds, and believe money should be earned with work and not handed out.” 

However, Storjohann still cautions that “money vigilant people can find it difficult to enjoy the money they have.” Being too vigilant and stingy with your money will lead to missed opportunities and dissatisfaction from those missed opportunities. Which can lead to “anxiety, lack of sleep, and decreased life satisfaction,” she says. 

3. How You Two Will Work Together

Whether it’s helping each other stick to a budget or being a sober voice when it comes to big purchases, you’re a team now. So it’s time to start thinking like one. I think it’s so important to always keep in mind: where you’re money is going and asking “who pays for what?” Make sure two are aligned with your spending.

Centuries ago, when I lived with my college girlfriend, we agreed to go by a simple system: I pay – you pay. Nobody keeps score. Anytime one of us paid at a restaurant the other paid the next time we went out. Regardless of the cost. The thought was, eventually, it evens itself out. And it worked well, for the most part!

Although highly effective, the system was not flawless. When we had not gone out for a while, there were arguments over whether the other was being truthful about if they had/hadn’t paid last. And when you have a memory like mine, it doesn’t help. 

However, another successful strategy I’ve seen done is basing expenses on who makes the lion share in the partnership. So, you could split costs up – Of the whole pie, I make 75%, so I’ll pay the major bills and groceries, you pay for the trips out and entertainment.

Once again, although not bulletproof, this should leave enough room for each person to still have money left to save/invest regularly.

Moral of the Story

If you’re anything like me, here are three facts and statistics that will bother you:

  • The average divorce costs: $12,900 / Divorces that go to trial on two or more issues cost, on average, $23,300.
  • “A large number of American women stay in marriages that are unhealthy and even border on dysfunctional due to financial insecurity and stress.”
  • Roughly 25% of all children live with only one parent, which is usually the mother.

Look, I’m no expert on relationships nor should I be giving relationship advice. But, there’s no secret that tons of relationships fail because of money problems. Dave Ramsey’s survey in 2018 concluded that “money fights are the second leading cause of divorce, behind infidelity.”

You’re probably not coming to me about the first cause, but at least I can help avoid what’s behind curtain number two.

When you two are on the same page, your chances of success will be much higher.

The best way to avoid these problems down the road – fights about money, failed goals, resentment – is to get in front of it early. Don’t be afraid to have these conversations often. It’s not a one-time deal and “now let’s go back to being oblivious of the situation.” 

I don’t think it is wise to believe that only one person in the relationship should worry about how the finances get dealt with. Today, women want to be a part of the financial conversation. This antiquated idea that only the ‘man’ should/can run the family finances is almost non-existent. Stacy Francis wrote in a CNBC article, “various studies show that women are typically more stressed about money than men.” However, in the event of a divorce, it’s much harder for women to get back on their feet than men. Francis goes on to say, “The years spent out of the workforce can have a devastating impact on the earning potential of women.”  

Of course, some of these conversations are highly complicated. Preparing a financial plan, an investment thesis, and talking about how assets should be titled could require a professional’s opinion. Understand, involving a financial planner could be the next logical step when asking what are some of the biggest mistakes couples make around money and how to avoid them.

Hopefully, by now, you have an idea of what’s a stake here.

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