How should couples talk about money?

Talking about money can be particularly difficult in the following situations:

  • Your earnings power is imbalanced (doctor/stay-at-home parent, CEO/teacher, etc.)
  • The wife is the primary breadwinner
  • Either or both of you were raised to believe it is not polite to discuss money
  • Different money backgrounds and history
  • Different ethnicity/cultures
  • Ongoing parental interference
  • Undisclosed money problems (credit card debt, a past bankruptcy, compulsive spending)
  • 2nd marriages

I bet you can think of many more ways money can heat up an otherwise friendly discussion. But purposely ignoring the topic will only cause a bigger problem later. If one spouse is a spender and the other is a saver, nagging will only cause resentment and may actually exacerbate the problem as the saver tries to hoard more in an effort to protect the couple’s wealth and the other spouse hides purchases.

Openness is critical but it can be difficult to begin a money discussion without an argument or hurt feelings. In that situation, meeting with an impartial 3rd party, such as a financial counselor, pastor, or fee-only financial planner, can give both parties space to air out their positions.

Once you agree on a budget, both joint and separate bank accounts can be useful in giving each partner freedom linked to accountability. See “How do I start a budget?” for more.

If you’re contemplating marriage, financial discussions should be a component of all premarital counseling. Otherwise, awkward conversations about money compatibility will probably be sidestepped until after the honeymoon. At that point, you are more likely to be adversarial than you would in a friendly premarital discovery meeting. Read Premarital Financial Planning for tips and conversation starters to help you out.


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