4 smart ways to talk to your partner about money

Get your family on the right financial page with these tips from relationship columnist Liza Finlay

Money is a hot-button issue for many couples. It, along with sex, tops the list of couples’ concerns. Why?
 
1. Money isn’t neutral; it’s highly charged. Money has a currency that far exceeds its paper value. It doesn’t just buy basics, it confers power, status, control. It carries a heavy symbolic value. In our culture, money doesn’t just talk, it makes a loaded statement about personal worth.
 
2. Money is a mystery. Personal finance isn’t taught in most schools, so most of us are frighteningly financially illiterate. Talking to our partners about money is like conversing in a foreign language. Since no one likes to feel stupid, many of us simply choose not to talk about money. We stick our heads in the sand.
 
3. Money is polarizing. We all approach money differently and it’s very rare to find a couple with harmonious attitudes. Typically one of you is a spender, the other a saver; one is impulsive the other prefers to plan. That’s a recipe for conflict. After all, it’s hard to find the middle ground when the two of you are so far apart.
 
What to do? Here are four helpful hints…
 

  • Know your money story. When it comes to money, most of us don’t live in the present, we live in the past. Our approaches are shaped by our histories. A childhood spent with an overly frugal father may contribute to the compensatory spending at the root of your current credit-card crunch. Similarly, watching your mother (sister, aunt) go into debt trying to keep up with the Joneses may have made you unnecessarily tight-fisted.
  • Know your spending style. Are you a spender or a saver? Impulsive or a planner? How about your partner? Knowing you and your partner are at odds won’t solve all your money issues, but it may help define the problem and preempt conflict.

 
Then…
 

  • Turn the odds in your favour. Harness each other’s strengths. My husband’s saving habit made our trip to Italy possible; my proclivity to spend is responsible for the five-star hotel in Venice that we talk about to this day.
  •  Write some house rules that reflect your stories and styles. Every family’s rules will be different, but here are some examples to get your own creative juices flowing.

 
House Rules

  • We consult on all purchases over $75.
  • We allocate 10 percent of every pay to a “future fund” and 10 percent to a “fun fund”
  • We spend one evening every month reviewing statements and paying bills
  • We spend one evening every quarter assessing our current situation, dreaming about the future and charting our course.