Talking to Your Spouse About Money
I have a guest post up on Get Rich Slowly about how to talk with your spouse about money. I had the privilege of interviewing financial counselor Lou Scatigna, aka The Financial Physician, for the article.
Lou's not at all shy with his opinion. He told me straight up that a marriage where the couple can't agree about money is doomed. He also painted a pretty scary picture of what can happen when one partner abidcates full control of the household finances to the other: elderly people lose their spouse and suddenly have no idea how to pay the bills, or one partner is able to hide tens of thousands of credit card debt from the other until it is too late to avoid bankruptcy.
How to avoid these problems? Communicate. Specifically, Lou suggests holding a family finance meeting every month where you sit down with your partner and go over each bill together. In my household, we take it a step further and go over our spending spreadsheet to look at each category together. Not just the bills but also groceries and gifts and anything else we spent money on during the month. We also use the time to check how we're doing on our long term financial goals.
This is harder than it seems. Here's an excerpt from my post:
Managing finances together sounds simple, but there are a lot of stumbling blocks. People are busy. You’ve got a career, a family, maybe kids of your own, plus friends and hobbies. Spending an evening a month on a boring chore can seem like a lot to ask.
Plus, money pushes a lot of buttons for people. It brings up fear, anxiety, guilt, anger. A lot of negative emotions most of us like to avoid. So we avoid talking about money with our spouses until it explodes in a financial disaster or a relationship meltdown.
Even when we do sit down to talk, it can be hard to make good use of the time. Should you discuss long-term goals or just go over this month’s bills? How can you avoid spiraling into a fight?
It helps us to set aside a specific time to go over these things each month. That way, we resist the risk of ambushing each other with small money dramas when one of us is busy, distracted, or cranky. Having a time and place to talk means these conversations happen, and they happen with a lot less friction than they used to when we crammed them in over breakfast or after bedtime.
A few commenters on GRS suggested that once a month wasn't often enough. Indeed, when my husband and I first started getting our financial act together, we had weekly meetings for awhile. I still sit down alone once a week to work out the budget for the coming week, because it's me who handles the day to day finances. Others felt a formal meeting was unnecessary, and they just catch up with their spouse about money on a need-to-know basis.
What's your financial communication style? Formal meetings or swift chats on the fly? Are you happy with the way you and your spouse talk about money? Do you know enough about your finances to handle things alone if you had to? What would you like to do differently?