How I Almost Died Talking To My Wife About Money
We all know that money is important. Tracking, budgeting, and saving it is also super important. But frankly, it’s not something a lot of us feel super-passionate about.
Throw in a significant other into the mix and well… It’s a recipe for disaster.
If you’ve got a partner who doesn’t see eye to eye with you with regard to your money goals. Or a spouse who just doesn’t take money as seriously as you do. Here are a couple of tried-and-true strategies that I’ve developed over the years for talking to someone about money.
Seriously, learn from my mistakes, and save yourself from dying of exasperation.
TL;DR: How To Talk To Your Partner About Money
It all boils down to a couple of simple things:
- Practice accountability and compromise
- Consider your timing and tone
- Give specific examples and think “we”
- Have goal-oriented conversations
- Recognise that it’s a process
- Don’t judge
Accountability And Compromise
Before I was married, I saved almost 70 per cent of my salary, ate frugally, and purchased clothing probably once a year. Heck, I was rocking a Nokia 8210 and loving it.
My wife, on the other hand, spent all her money on dining out, always had the latest iPhone, and was essentially living paycheck to paycheck. This was despite the fact that she graduated with good honours from a local university and made good money.
When we got married, there were adjustments on both sides that had to be made regarding how we handle our finances. This was especially so because after tying the knot, there was a sense of financial accountability and responsibility to each other.
This meant that it becomes more difficult to rationalise going to Morton’s Steakhouse for steaks twice a month where a ribeye starts at $118. Conversely, the lady’s gotta have to satisfy her epicurean cravings too. And a black pepper steak from the kopitiam Western food stall is just not going to cut it.
Oh, and the old adage is true: happy wife, happy life. My man Justin Guarini knows what’s up.
It’s All About Timing And Tone
Before I get into it, always remember that you should never feel apologetic or bad when talking about money. Especially if it concerns your combined future. At the risk of sounding like a marriage counsellor, open communication is what helps to keep a relationship healthy. #truestory
However, this doesn’t detract from the fact that money is still an acutely sensitive topic. When and how you broach it often dictates the end result.
I’ve found that if we schedule a time to talk things over, preferably during a Sunday afternoon. After she’s had brunch. And after her midday nap. Also better if she has some snacks on hand when we start. My partner is more receptive and committed to our discussion. Basically, if your partner is not up for it, you’re not going to get the result you want.
I also noticed that how you start the conversation can greatly influence how the discussion pans out. Here are some phrases and faces to avoid making:
- “Why haven’t you [insert something they were supposed to do but didn’t]”
- “It’s your fault.”
- “You always…”
🚫 Instead of: Shouting from the study – while your spouse is replying an email from an overbearing boss, who she always complains about – to ask “Why did you spend $500 on a leather jacket when Singapore feels like it’s 100°C out?! You always spend unnecessarily on useless…”
✅ Try: Approaching her with a plate of her favourite cookies and lead with, “It would really make me happy if we worked together to track and ultimately lower our clothing expenditure…”
Be Specific And Think “We”
By looking at the credit card statement and shouting, “I can’t believe how much money we spend last month! WTF did it all go?!” When obviously it’s because your partner went on a shopping spree at Kate Spade, despite this conversation:
I imagine that her only possible reply to that question is, “I’m a self-indulgent idiot with the financial literacy and self-control of a 5-year-old.”
However, that won’t move the conversation forward.
By pointing to a specific example, it signals that the action itself is problematic and does not put all of the focus on the person in question. Simply put, giving specific examples helps to de-personalise an issue. It makes it more bearable for the person involved to talk about the issue and puts them in a position to take responsibility in helping to rectify the situation. Especially if you phrase it in a way where both of you are tackling the problem as a team.
🚫 Instead of: “Walao eh, are YOU a millipede or something? Why did YOU buy so many pairs of shoes last month?”
✅ Try: “We usually keep to the budget of $200 for dining out, but last month we spent $400. What do you think happened and how can we fix this?”
Have Goal-Oriented Conversations
As a couple, it’s important to be honest and talk openly about your shared money goals. I noticed that when I frame money conversations as steps taken towards achieving our future goals, we tend to have more productive conversations.
Here’s a real example.
After talking about our goal of being able to go on one major vacation a year to a far-flung destination, we established that her $15 lunches were an expense that had to be cut in order to make this a reality. When I reviewed her receipts from lunch, I realised that she was ordering dessert – cakes, bubble tea, and Starbuck’s coffees – almost after every meal.
When I explained that the additional $5 she spends on dessert at lunch, amounts to $1,200 in a year. And that amount could easily pay for an air ticket to Europe (if we booked it months ahead), she immediately decided that a well-earned vacation is better than splurging on simple carbohydrates.
Better still, this change in her diet also helped with her weight loss goals.
🚫 Instead of: Getting frustrated with your partner that collectively, you aren’t saving enough money.
✅ Try: Selling a shared dream first; then talk about logistics.
Recognise That It’s A Process
You’ve enjoyed reading articles on Seedly for a long time now (I hope), and you’re voraciously devouring any literature that can help you to retire early and comfortably.
But your partner would rather read a phone book than touch anything to do with personal finance.
Just like how you can’t expect someone to give up sugary drinks overnight. If your partner’s spending habits bother you, sit down, and review how you can improve your combined savings together.
Remember the “dessert at lunch or flight to Europe” example I shared earlier? That talk was easier to have after we had an earlier discussion with regard to how much she should put towards paying off her student debt on a monthly basis. I introduced being free of the debt as a positive goal to work towards, which would ultimately give her the peace of mind AND the discretionary income she craved for, to spend on what she really desired.
Once she was committed to the mission, it was easier for her to see that the faster she paid off her student loan, the sooner she could lead a worry-free life. And once she achieved that goal, it made it infinitely easier to talk to her about other instances where specific expenses needed to be cut.
🚫 Instead of: Expecting your partner to change their financial habits overnight.
✅ Try: Choose simple goals to work towards first. Once your partner tastes success, he or she is more likely to be receptive of setting other larger financial goals.
One of the most important things I learnt when talking to my wife is to never judge. The problem with passing judgement is that it undermines the relationship and makes your partner less inclined to work with you.
So if both of you are committed to the relationship and truly wish to make your money work, leave your ego at the door and encourage open communication.
And if either of you is better at handling money, be sensitive and create an environment where there is no such thing a “stupid” idea or question. Your spouse might have made financial mistakes in the past, but that doesn’t mean that he or she is unable to learn or don’t wish to try to do better. In fact, this should apply to other aspects of your life as well.
Boom. Free relationship advice.
🚫 Instead of saying, “Wah piang, your money IQ damn cui please.”
✅ Try: “I love you, but I also need you to know that it’s important to me that we talk more about how we’re spending our money.”
Parting Thoughts For Success
When it comes to talking to your spouse about money, always treat your partner with respect. Even if he or she might have the financial literacy and self-control of a 5-year-old.
Oh, and as a friendly word of advice, that should extend to every other aspect of your lives together too.
P.S. I love you, mi amor.
And to my readers, it would really make me happy if you subscribed to Seedly’s Telegram channel and shared your personal experience in the comments below. I’m sure that together, we can make great decisions in our personal finance.