The Most Important Money Conversations to Have with Your Spouse/Partner

Dana Brewer, CFP®
Nov 23, 2022 8:10:00 AM


Over the years, I have learned not to reinvent the wheel when possible. When I began writing about the topic of couple’s money conversations, it was clear that one blog would not come close to explaining the process involved in making meaningful change.

When it comes to couples and money conversations, I go back to a resource that has been a staple of money education in Minnesota for decades, Ruth Hayden. For more than forty years, Ruth has been helping people break down old habits and achieve financial success, and her approach remains timely and relevant. Over the many years, Ruth has enlisted several financial advisors in our firm to help her educate the students in her classes about money and investments. She has also written several books, and for this blog, I will be highlighting her book, For Richer Not Poorer. The Money Book for Couples. Along the way, we have learned from Ruth how she guides couples to create a partnership in their money lives and create healthy financial lives.

Readers may be drawn to this book when their financial life is struggling and they want their money to work better for them. Also, if you are looking for new ways to work together and to talk about money, this book may give you hope that you can change your money life.

The chapters in Ruth’s book For Richer Not Poorer outline the process of financial change. The process is simple, but the commitment to the money work can be difficult.

  1. Our Money Life Is Not Working
  2. Whose Fault Is It
  3. Let’s Begin at the Beginning
  4. First, I need to Understand Me
  5. Now, I need to Understand You
  6. So, That’s Why We Do That
  7. We’re on the Same Side – Money Meeting #1
  8. This Isn’t How I’d Spend Money If I Were Single – Money Meeting #2
  9. Creating a Road Map for Your Life.

Ultimately the cornerstones of the process are:

  1. Recognize the methods of communicating as a couple that do not create a long-term financial partnership and the methods that do.
  2. Uncover your beliefs about money, which control your behaviors with money.
  3. Identify your mutual values and goals for the foundation of your spending and saving plan.
  4. Learn a process for developing a workable budget that you both can commit to.

Identifying What Isn’t Working

Chapter one deals with identifying what isn’t working and getting past the finger-pointing at whose fault it is. Money is the number-one reason for conflict in a marriage, so getting this figured out matters. Ruth asks each partner to answer questions such as:

  • Do you believe that conflict in a relationship can be caused by money?
  • Do you and your partner ever argue about the amount of money to spend on something?
  • Do you believe people have different levels of comfort with debt?
  • How would you describe your level of comfort with debt?

Ruth then asks each partner to answer these (and other questions) as if you were your partner. Finally, she asks you to make a commitment to continue working through the book and shake hands on it.

Four Ways Couples Communicate

In chapter two, Ruth outlines the four ways couples communicate:

  • Choice#1: Let’s Keep on Fighting. You continue to fight and argue over whose fault it is.
  • Choice #2: We’re Tired of All the Fussing and Feuding. One partner often takes charge of the money and the other partner simply quits.
  • Choice #3: The Sound of Silence. These couples simply ignore the money part of their lives. They somehow believe as long as the bills get paid, they can avoid talking about money.
  • Choice #4: Let’s Just End This. They are exhausted by the tension, estrangement, and hopelessness.
  • There is a Choice #5: Learning a New Way. Learning a new way will be difficult but worth it if there is a possibility that things could change.

Understanding Your Money Story

Chapters three through six dig into helping you understand your money story. Your money story is how you were raised and taught about money. Many of us never had a formal education about money, but we learned from what we saw and heard in our homes. Ruth helps you identify your money beliefs. The way you think about money and how that influences your behavior. Changing behaviors may not be enough without fully understanding what controls your actions with money.

Sometimes we want to follow our parent's lead, and other times we want our money lives to be very different from what we had seen growing up. The trouble is without understanding your money story and your partner's story, it is almost impossible to get to chapter six: So, That’s Why We Do That.

Committing to Talk

In Chapter seven, We’re on the Same Side, you and your partner have agreed to stop blaming. You learn how to commit time each week to talk about money and what is working and what is not working. The meeting symbolizes your commitment to creating change in your money life. Trust is formed over time, and you begin to trust and respect your partner and learn how to compromise. This meeting time is a place to practice, week after week, these new communication skills and more effective ways to structure your money.

More than once, I heard Ruth suggest a nice glass of wine or some other refreshing drink to be served at your money meetings. No reason not to add a little celebration to the event.

Build Your System

Chapters 8 & 9 help you to build your systems. One system that has worked for many of our clients is bucket budgeting. Creating buckets gives money visual boundaries that can help decide how to spend and fill up your buckets. Ruth is a big advocate for using cash for those budget categories that can trip you up. For some, it is clothing. For others eating out. Whatever the category that trips you up, consider using cash or a pre-loaded cash card. When the card is empty for the month, the spending in that category must be done. Cash gives your boundaries that a checkbook, debit card, or credit card cannot.

We have seen couples design dozens of different budgeting systems, and they can all work if the pillars of the system are respect and communication. As you learn to work together as a team and your life changes, the numbers will change, but the system and methods can serve you for a lifetime.

Investment Advisory services offered through Birchwood Financial Partners, Inc. an SEC Registered Investment Advisor.

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