How to Have Conversations About Money Without a Fight
Money talk is any conversation related to money. This includes discussions about salaries, side hustles, saving and spending, investing, and financial education. Money talk is vital because casual conversations about cash are how human beings become more financially astute. And this is where the problem lies. According to one survey, seven in ten people believe it’s rude to discuss personal money matters. However, when money conversations don’t happen—or aren’t occurring often enough—invaluable opportunities are missed.
For example, another survey found that 73% of parents claim they talk regularly with their kids about spending and saving. But only 61% of the kids agreed. So even if you think you’re teaching your children good money habits, it’s likely you’re still not having conversations often enough. The site money.com states that a lack of money talk is problematic because an “entrenched silence hinders young people from developing personal financial skills.” It also “threatens the relationships and financial security of couples.” As someone passionate about helping couples succeed, this last phrase resonates with me. Money talk is essential, not only because it leads to greater financial security. For couples, healthy money talk brings closeness!
Money Talk and Financial Intimacy
If you’ve followed any of my previous writings, then you probably know that I define intimacy as into-me-see. One aspect of intimacy is the ability to see into our loved one’s inner world. Of course, into-me-see can also lead to physical intimacy—as the head, heart, and physical body all intertwine. So, don’t be surprised if creating emotional and financial closeness increases your physical closeness too. Connected couples talk about everything. If money talk is lacking, it is certain to create cracks in the relationship.
Rebecca Johnson says, “Money is the opposite of the weather. Nobody talks about it, but everybody does something about it.” In addition to being a social-media-worthy quote, Rebecca’s statement pinpoints the problem. Couples can avoid money talk, but they can’t avoid spending. And acting without communicating sets the stage for a fight. Do you need more proof? INC has a list of 10 Things Every Long-Term Couple Will Fight About at Some Point. The question “What do we spend the money on?” tops the list. When it comes to couples and finances, tensions run high.“Money is the opposite of the weather. Nobody talks about it, but everybody does something about it.” ~ Rebecca Johnson #MoneyTalk #MoneyQuotes Click To Tweet
Of course, this makes perfect sense. Most of us are taught early on that money talk is rude and off-limits. As a result, many couples sidestep money conversations. Perhaps they think Financial conversations are a topic for another day. The only problem is that “someday” never comes, or it arrives too late. I know several couples who were shocked after discovering their partner carried excessive credit card debt. The catch is they didn’t learn this until after saying “I do.”
Other couples attempt to dive head-first into conversations about money. However, because they were never taught how to have good financial dialogues, their talk quickly spirals downward. So what should couples do when both talking about money and not talking about money feel like bad options? This is precisely why I wrote a list of 131 conversation starters about money, finances, and saving. Jenny and I know the power of having a list of conversation starters to guide you through the process.
Before the two of us married, we worked through a book of creative conversation starters ourselves. We went through each question in the book one by one, over coffee, evening bonfires, walks at the bay, and dinner dates. In addition to providing engaging conversations and fun dates, having a conversation starters book also took the pressure off. Jenny and I never had to worry about asking a question and getting a funny look in return because we weren’t the ones asking. All of the questions came from the book. In other words, the conversation starters list gave us permission to be curious.
Finances can make or break a relationship. If you are going to be a couple who truly thrives, then money talk is a must. And although a list to guide your financial conversations can help, this is only the beginning. Now let’s turn our attention to strategies for starting, continuing, and ending money talk well!
How to Start Money Talk Right
Simply talking about money is not enough. There are right and wrong ways for couples to discuss finances. Let’s start by examining a few poor money talk habits. These are almost certain to lead to disaster.
Entering into money conversations with a need to be right or a dogged determination to press one’s own agenda forward will create conflict. So will talking about money with an expectation that your loved one will change. According to relationship researcher John Gottman, 69% of problems in a relationship are unsolvable. Because most conflicts are rooted in fundamental differences in values, ideas, and upbringings, there is little chance they will change through a single conversation. Good money conversations are not about reaching 100% agreement—that might be impossible. Instead, they are about,
- Gaining a better understanding of your loved one
- Building on similarities
- Celebrating differences
- Stretching each other’s thinking
- Peering into one other’s inner worlds
- And creating financial into-me-see
Happy couples are expert connectors. They know how to start good conversations, keep them going, and end them well. The happiest of couples understand it’s often the little things that matter most. To converse in a way that generates energy, enthusiasm, and new insights, it’s first necessary to create a safe space to talk. And this is where micro-skills come into play.
Using Money Talk Micro Skills
Micro-skills are tiny conversation skills that communicate, You matter! If you ever had someone listen to you deeply, I mean so profoundly that it can almost be felt, then you know exactly what I mean. Examples of micro-skills that will help your money talk get off to a good start include the following:
- Start by creating a space conducive to listening. Do this by eliminating as many distractions as possible. Turn off the cell phone. Or, better yet, put it in another room entirely. Shut off the television, music, or anything else that might divert your attention.
- Turn your body toward your loved one with your arms and legs uncrossed. An open posture communicates you are open to hearing what your partner has to say.
- Make appropriate eye contact. Good eye contact is steady but not intimidating. An unbroken stare creates overwhelming intensity. Avoiding eye contact can arouse suspicion. For conversations about money, a warm, gentle gaze is best.
- Get curious, and ask excellent follow-up questions. Curiosity communicates I’m interested in you!
- Seek to understand. Even when the two of you don’t agree, you may still be able to appreciate where your loved one is coming from.
- Use verbal and non-verbal cues to let your loved one know you are tracking the conversation. Head nods and verbal uh-huh’s, let your partner know you are listening.
- Follow the example of the best convenience stores by getting a verbal receipt. A grocery store receipt confirms your purchase, and a verbal receipt confirms our understanding of what was said. An example of a verbal receipt is a statement like, “So what I hear you saying is… Is that correct?”
- Always assume the best. When your loved one says something that can be taken positively or negatively, assume your loved one has good intentions at heart.
- Finally, share from your heart too. Intimacy is about into-me-see. Intimacy is a two-way street. It involves knowing your loved one and being known. So be sure to listen intently and share deeply too.
The Power of Micro-Skills
I know micro-skills work because I use them personally. On one of my early dates with Jenny, the two of us sat at a restaurant and waited for our lunch to arrive. While we waited, I put every micro-skill I knew into practice. Apparently, a lady at the next table next tried to get our attention for a while. Finally, she tapped Jenny on the shoulder. “There’s something I want to ask you,” she said. “But before I do, I want you to know, that guy you’re with (pointing her finger at me), he is totally into you!”
At this point in our relationship, I was head-over-heels in love. I wanted Jenny to know that I was into her. Apparently, by focusing my full attention on her, I also communicated this to everyone in the restaurant—oops! Although I may have overdone things, my efforts paid off. Today, Jenny and I are happily married. We have an incredible relationship, and I have no doubt that I married up. As an added bonus, I can also personally vouch that these skills work! By adding micro-skills into your money talk, the two of you will grow closer as you build your financial plan.
Initiate Money Conversations with a Soft Start
- “Why are we overdrawn again this month? What did you buy?”
- “Are you shopping online again? I thought we were trying to get out of debt?”
- “What did you buy that for?”
Although these money questions are not the worst way to start a financial conversation, they are certainly not the best either. According to Dr. Mehrabian, who did extensive communication research in the 1960s, the way we interpret a message is based on the following:
- 7 percent is verbal (or the actual words said).
- 38 percent is vocal (based on pitch, volume, and intonation).
- And 55 percent visual (Gesture, posture, facial expressions, etc.).
Others suggest these numbers are too extreme. They propose a 30/70 breakdown (with 30 percent of communication being verbal and 70 percent being nonverbal).
Regardless of the exact numbers, the takeaway is the same. To begin money conversations well, we must pay attention to the words we say and how we say them. The three questions above are abrupt. They also carry an accusatory tone. Add a furrowed brow, frown, a piercing look, and an irritated tone to the mix, and you can practically guarantee a rough conversation about money.
The way a conversation begins sets the stage for the rest of the talk. The first two minutes of your conversation are especially important. Perhaps the easiest way to get off to a good start is to slow things down. Take a deep breath. Speak calmly. Get curious and smile. Not a big, creepy smile—like the Joker in Batman—but a soft, hopeful smile that communicates I genuinely believe we will solve this together. Finally, if the two of you have a history of money tensions, be sure to focus on the problem and resist the temptation to blame your partner. Remember, placing blame will almost always lead to a money fight.
How to Keep Money Talk Going
Financially savvy people know how to keep their money talk going. Financial conversations don’t feel awkward because they are a normal part of life. For example, In the New York Times bestseller, Invested, Danielle Town draws on many early money conversations she had with her financially savvy father. Although it took Danielle years to put her investment training into practice, the information was there when she needed it most.
This journey reflects Robert Kyosaki’s experience in his bestseller Rich Dad, Poor Dad. This financial self-help book has strong autobiography undertones. Robert shares key financial learnings he gleaned from two significant men in his life. The bottom line is, financially savvy couples think about money a little differently than everyone else. For them, money talk is not taboo. It’s an important part of life. So when it comes to good money talk, what should your target be?
Know Your Money Talk Target
Zig Ziglar said, “If you aim at nothing, you will hit it every time.” I think many couples know this from experience. Healthy financial conversations focus on more than just solving problems. While every financial plan is going to have bumps in the road, problem-solving is only one tiny piece of a much bigger picture. Happy couples talk about everything. This includes money.
Robert Kyosaki and Danielle Town have a slight edge over the rest of us because money talk was part of their upbringing. Like children who grew up in bilingual homes, these two had the opportunity to soak up the language of money like a sponge. Children’s brains are wired differently than adults—which is why they pick up language so effortlessly. As children age, the unused neuropathways drop off, and the used ones solidify. Although this explanation is simplistic, it paints a great picture for parents. Kids can and should be exposed to money talk. After all, they are going to eventually spend money, right?Kids can and should be exposed to money talk. After all, they are going to eventually spend money, right?#MoneyTalk #Parenting and #Finances Click To Tweet
Have money conversations open and often. Talking about saving, spending, good deals, staying on budget, dreams, desires, hopes, fears, and new financial learnings will make money talk feel normal. What if the primary goal of financial conversations is to connect, share insights, and experiment with new money ideas? Just imagine how much easier these money conversations would be!
Of course, money isn’t everything. The end goal isn’t to become consumed by these conversations. But couples shouldn’t fear them either. Instead, it’s to act like an MBA student. If you’re studying business in college, then money talk is normal.
Create Financial Into-Me-See
Into-me-see involves peering into your loved one’s inner world. Since many of our hopes, dreams, fears, and desires have a financial element, financial intimacy matters. Maybe you don’t agree with your partner’s position. That’s OK. Are there other things you can agree on?
When it comes to political affiliations, my wife and I know that our votes often cancel each other. Personally, this doesn’t bother me. When it comes to politics, we both have much in common. We agree that people in pain (whether physical, emotional, or financial) deserve to be supported. Jenny and I both long to see others succeed. We are both pro-marriage, pro-family, and pro-you. Neither of us cares whether someone was born in the United States, immigrated here, or illegally crossed over the border. Ultimately, if someone is hurting, we want to approach the situation with compassion. The way that Jenny and I believe compassion should be shown sometimes differs. But compassion is our connecting point. It’s what draws us together even when our political affiliations don’t align. Does this make sense?
The same principle of focusing on similarities applies to money talk. You and your loved one will know that you’ve reached financial intimacy when you can disagree yet still draw closer. Ultimately, this is what good money conversation is all about. If I were to guess whether a disconnected couple with a solid financial plan or a closely connected couple with an average plan were more likely to succeed, I’d bet on the connected couple every time. A sound financial plan will get you off to a good start. But a close connection will keep the two of you going strong for the long haul!
How to End Conversations About Money Well
Now that your money talk is off to a solid start, it’s time to end well. Gary Ryan Blair, who blogs at everythingcounts.com, says, “What people remember are the beginning and the end…how we start, and how we finish…therefore start fast and FINISH STRONG.” From the title of his site alone, I think Gary would agree. Finishing money conversations strong, counts. Here are two key principles to add to your repetiteur.
Finish Money Talk on a High Note
Ending financial conversations on a high note generates safety. Surprisingly, relationship expert John Gottman is not opposed to arguments amongst couples—even heated ones! In The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, Gottman writes, “Even happily married couples can have screaming matches—loud arguments don’t necessarily harm a marriage.” And successful conflict resolution isn’t the key either. Instead, happy couples are experts at repair attempts—or what I like to call connecting like Velcro.
The genius of Velcro is that it connects, disconnects, and reaches out. The microscopic hooks and loops on each strop of Velcro stretch out time. This causes the hooks and loops to literally “reach” for each other. The happiest couples are highly skilled at connecting like Velcro. Like average couples, happy couples also connect and disconnect when they disagree about money, politics, and life. The difference is happy couples don’t stay separated for long. Instead, they courageously reach out. Typically, one partner initiates this reconnection through a soft look, warm embrace, kind words, a gentle smile, or any of the other hundreds of other ways a couple reconnect. Then, the other reciprocates.
When money talks heat up, reconnection doesn’t have to be immediate. Go ahead and take some time to cool down. Ephesians 4:26 says, “Do not let the sun go down on the cause of your anger.” This is wise advice! Although you can make your loved one reconnect with you, you can courageously reach out. And reaching is a win regardless of how your partner responds. If reconnection doesn’t happen the first time, don’t fret, and don’t take it personally. Instead, give your loved one some space. Then courageously reach out again.
Connecting like Velcro takes practice. The good news is that for couples who practice this often, happily connected becomes the norm!Although you can make your loved one reconnect with you, you can courageously reach out. And reaching is a win regardless of how your partner responds. #RelationshipWisdom #BeCourageous Click To Tweet
A second way to end money talks well is to take action. CANI is an acronym that made its way into the urban dictionary. It stands for Constant and Never-ending Improvement. Money talk without action leads to frustration. So get moving whenever possible. Action isn’t the only thing, but it is a big thing.
Do this by giving yourselves permission to play with new ideas. Or, think of the application as an experiment. My wife and I did this when we built our first dream board. These are sometimes called vision boards. The main idea is to find pictures of your dreams and place them where you’ll see them often. Supposedly, our unconscious mind will lead us toward our goals so long as we keep these goals ever-present. I’m still not 100 percent sold on this idea. But I am coming to believe that there is something there.
After Jenny and I constructed our first dream board, we hung it in our office. Eventually, we transferred it to our garage and forgot about it. Fast-forward two years. I’m in our garage, taking down our vision board as our family prepares to move to Minnesota. Then, I see it! Smack-dab in the center of the board is a picture of a home. It’s the one we said we would own. When Jenny and I constructed our board, owning a home seemed impossible. We hadn’t planned on moving. And houses in California that fit our sized family started in the low half-million-dollar range. The two of us were convinced that this dream would remain just that—a dream.
Now, here we were, just a few years later, moving into a spacious home in a family-friendly neighborhood. It had a huge backyard and even a secret hideout for the kids under the stairs. Sure, there were unexpected twists and turns along the way. And our vision definitely hadn’t come about as planned. Yet, it still happened! In fact, so did many of the other goals on our board. Jenny and I were astounded!
Proverbs 29:18 says, “Where there is no vision, the people perish” (KJV). Could a vision board simply be another form of prayer? Does the Bible speak of the importance of vision because He knows the power of our subconscious mind? After all, He created our amazing brains.
Although I don’t know the answers to these questions, what I do know is that updating our vision board is now a part of our yearly routine. I still haven’t fully bought into the idea that our unconscious mind draws us to what we see. But I do enjoy this time of shared dreaming with Jenny. And I also have to admit there is something there I don’t fully understand. So much so that our vision board has made its way back into a prominent place in our office.
This story’s point is that none of this would have happened if Jenny and I hadn’t acted. A second way to end money talk well is to follow up on these conversations by doing something.
Diving into Money Talk
Speaking of action, now that we’ve examined specific steps for starting good money conversations, ideas for keeping them going, and strategies for ending well, it’s time to dive into your money talk. You may want to start with one of these conversation starters about money, finances, and saving. The best way to begin is simply to dive in.
Money Talk Conversation starters.
- Is money talk easy or difficult for you? Why do you think this is?
- Describe a time when a conversation about finances went well? How did the two of you accomplish this?
- What are some things you and your loved one are doing to create financial into-me-see? What would you like to start doing?
- Which of the above principles have you tried, and how have they worked for you?
- What money talk principles would you add to this list?
Jen and I are thrilled you stopped by! Kind words and coffee fuel this blog. If you enjoyed our thoughts on Money Talk for Couples, help us keep this great content coming. Please tell us how you have conversations about money without a fight. Or use the buy us a coffee button to help fund our next project. To dive even deeper, you can also check out our books and resources for couples. Jen and I are passionate about helping couples create happy marriages. Know we honestly couldn’t do this without amazing readers—like you—cheering us on!