According to surveys conducted by the American Psychological Association, one of the top financial stressors for households is money/personal finance. That makes talking about money with your partner a really important topic for everybody to understand.
Why Is Talking About Money With Your Partner Important?
- For alignment with your partner
- To ensure you’re working toward the same goals
- Personal finances/money is in the top three reasons for divorce
- Divorce is one of the biggest wealth-killers
I want you to live a life of wellness, and for many people that means having the money you need and people you love to share it with. So whether you're married or not, you should be having financial conversations with the significant other in your life. But maybe first you need to know how to have this conversation. Start with being HOT (Humble, Open, and Transparent) then follow the tips below.
First, find common ground with your partner on personal finance. In every household I know of, there's almost always one partner that cares more about money than the other. And there’s nothing wrong with that. We just don't need to let it halt the money conversations. Maybe don’t dive into the weeds of comparing a governmental versus a non-governmental 457 with your partner if you know their eyes glaze over about those kinds of things. But you can still talk about the financial goals you have based on your shared values.
We can create conversations around questions like What is our shared vision? Looking forward, what do we want our life to look like? By what age do we want it to be able to accomplish X, Y, and Z so that we can make our savings or financial independence goals? Here are a few tips to keep in mind when talking money with your partner.
Maybe your partner doesn’t want you to think they don’t know what they’re doing, or maybe you feel intimidated by your partner’s financial know-how. Maybe they’re just not that interested in the topic. Maybe money talk was taboo when they were growing up. Maybe it feels embarrassing. Wherever you land on the financial spectrum, try not to judge each other. If you want to have a conversation that leads somewhere helpful, don’t open with, “Hey, I saw that $249 on the credit card statement from Lululemon … what’s that about?” There’s no faster way to make someone feel ashamed and judged than by picking apart their spending habits. And let’s remember: none of us have always had perfect money management skills.
One story I tell a lot is how early on in my marriage, between my fourth-year of medical school and my intern year, I didn't realize there was going to be a gap between the amount of money my loans covered and my first paycheck as a resident. We hadn’t planned our finances well because we didn’t know how (yet).
I had to borrow $5,000 from my grandmother to bridge the gap because we didn’t have the money. That didn’t feel great. So while it’s a good reminder not to judge your partner for their financial tendencies, don’t judge yourself, either. When you learn better, you do better. Finances can be stressful enough without unnecessarily adding that extra layer of judgment.
Having a difference in opinion or knowledge level doesn’t mean your partner isn’t as invested in your financial future as you. Personal finance is personal, and no two people are going to go about doing things in exactly the same way. Meet each other where you are.
Be Patient and Approach It In Steps
Maybe you’re ready to have the personal finance conversation early in your dating life, but your partner isn’t. Maybe it will take a while before they can feel ready to talk about money with you, and even longer before you share your financial picture with each other. That’s OK.
Maybe you’ve been married or in a relationship for a long time, but you or your partner have changed your views on how you want to navigate your personal finance. Maybe it seems like one of you cares more about money than the other. Or your spending habits have changed since earlier on in the relationship. Whatever the case may be, be patient, and approach the conversation in steps.
Be open and up front when you’re talking about goals and priorities, so that you can start to approach things as a couple. If you know you want to make travel a priority, communicate that with your partner. If your partner wants to travel but you’d rather save for a house, communicate that, too. Don’t pretend travel is also your priority just because it’s theirs. It’s OK to have a difference of direction as long as you can be clear about it with your significant other and work together to be on the same page and figure out a path forward.
Be Vocal About Things That Bother You
In the same vein of being honest, it’s important to be vocal when things bother you (again, without judgment) when it seems you’re heading in the opposite direction of your shared financial goals.
Pick a good time to share your thoughts with them — don’t do it when you’re feeling upset. State how you’re feeling as factually as you can, clarify any questions they have, and remember to ask them how they feel and how they perceive the situation. Once you’re both understanding each other fully, you can come up with a plan together to figure out the best next step.
For many doctors (and people in general) in order to live a life that isn’t bogged down by the stress of money, you need to be sure you are talking about money with your partner on a regular basis (no matter if you're married or not). When having these conversations about money, remember that no matter where you land on the financial spectrum, try not to judge each other, be patient and honest, approach the conversation in steps, and don’t hide the things that bother you. Getting on the same money page with your partner will feel like a million dollars.
How have you approached conversations about money with your partner? Share in the comments.
Dr. Jimmy Turner is an academic anesthesiologist and the Chief Medical Officer and co-founder of Attend, a comprehensive financial platform built by physicians for physicians. He is also the author of The Physician Philosopher's Guide to Personal Finance and host of the Money Meets Medicine podcast.
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