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How to Really Talk to Your Partner About Money

Heather Pulier
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Talking about money is hard. There's never a good time to talk to your partner about budgets or saving or how much is in your retirement fund. It feels stressful, like you're teeing up an argument. We tend to put off these conversations until something's gone wrong, and at that point panic and stress have totally taken over.

We're big fans of a more proactive approach. Talking about money before panic sets in. We love it so much we regularly turn normal dates with our partners into money dates: a few hours entirely devoted to talking about money and nothing else.

Here's how to plan the best money date possible. Choose a date two to four weeks away (you'll need some time to prep) and when you have a few hours uninterrupted. Like, truly uninterrupted: no phones, no rushing home for anything. Give yourselves permission to disconnect for the duration of the date.

Choose a fun, relaxed, neutral place that you both love so it's super comfortable for both of you. Could be your favorite noodle shop in Chinatown or bringing some pints of ice cream and blankets down to the beach. Wherever your collective happy place is, go there.

You want to come prepped mentally, emotionally, and practically. Each of you needs to prepare separately for the date with a thoughtful list of dreams, questions, and worries. Plan how you will share your thoughts using “I” messages (“I feel…” or “I am…”) and asking questions. With love, kindness, and patience, you should be able to share your hopes and fears. If you come prepared and relaxed, you’ll demonstrate to your partner that your “family” business matters. Bring whatever paperwork you think is essential to have access to for reference.

Lay Down Some Ground Rules Before Your Money Date

Agree to end all the money talk the minute one of you is getting defensive or angry. It is better to enjoy the night. Successful money dates only happen if emotional safety comes first.

No lecturing allowed. Limit the amount you talk at any given time to four or five minutes. Set a timer if need be. Make sure to laugh when the buzzer goes off. It’s silly, but it works.

Trade-off taking notes. When emotions are involved, it's always best to jot down what you decide, share or want to remember. This is not a to-do list but a reminder of what you will work on, what is going great, and your new dreams so you can make sure you both are hearing what is actually being said versus what you hope/fear is being shared.

Don’t accuse, belittle or disrespect your partner. Stick to the topic. This is not a time to talk about the kids or air grievances about your in-laws. This is about the two of you building richer lives.

Stop at or before the two-hour mark. That’s more than enough time to cover what you need to. It’s best to leave wanting more and to feel connected and joyous. Not everything has to be covered in one evening. Positive money habits happen when you feel inspired and good.

How to Kick Off the Money Convo on Your Date

Start off on a positive note. Share everything that's working. Talk about things you'r both proud of. Rattle off some things you're looking forward to. Discuss the effort you've noticed your partner make towards meeting your family goals.

Check in with each other about work, tasks, and responsibilities. People outgrow or feel overwhelmed by roles that they may have chosen in the past. Nothing is forever, and it is critical to find out and share what works and what doesn't, and how you each may help shift things. It may take time, but put it on the table.

Each of you should share your hope and fear. Intimacy happens when we reveal who we are. If you are the primary breadwinner but don't want to be, it's critical to discuss that as soon as possible. If you want to change careers, then say it. Time for compounding your money is vital, but it's also critical to lay down plans to meet both your personal and professional goals as a team. The sooner you start, the better the outcomes.

Harboring money resentments is a fast path to breaking apart.

If it's too difficult to cross specific topics off your list, discuss seeing an intermediary, either a therapist, financial therapist, or someone who can help you communicate.  

At the end of your date, congratulate each other for making this happen—for each other and your partnership. Before you go, choose a day for your next money date.