Updated: Sep 5
How to talk to your spouse about money without arguing
Original post: 8/20/22 - Updated post: 6/4/23
What is a Money Date?
A money date is a scheduled conversation between you and your spouse in a comfortable environment that allows you to discuss your shared goals, values, and relationship with money. Money dates keep couples on the same financial page -- allowing both partners to control money in the relationship.
Money dates are referred to by some as household business meetings. Regardless of how you define it, you should speak regularly with your spouse about the household finances.
Partners may divide the money management tasks based on their skill sets and what they like to do. For example, one partner might manage investing and bill paying while the other manages insurance. In some cases, one partner is responsible for managing all of the money based on the financial goals established together on a money date.
What you and your spouse need to understand one another's relationship with money could depend on a number of factors. For my wife and I, what mattered most was our values. Discussing what we value most before making significant financial decisions has served us well.
However, most financial therapists would agree that it might not be so simple for others. For those who have experienced traumatic experiences around money, their relationship with money could be more complicated.
Money and Marriage Quiz
We have created a short ten question quiz with a series of facts and explanations to help you better understand the considerations that should be made when crafting a plan to manage money in your marriage. Take our Money and Marriage quiz to learn more:
The emotions you may experience during a money date can vary depending on individual circumstances, attitudes, and behaviors toward money. Some common feelings include:
Anxiety: Talking about money can be stressful for some people, especially if they feel like they are not in control of their finances or are dealing with debt or financial insecurity.
Frustration: If someone is unhappy with their current financial situation, they may feel frustrated during a money date, especially if they cannot progress towards their financial goals.
Excitement: On the other hand, if someone has recently achieved a financial goal or is progressing towards it, they may feel excited and motivated during a money date.
Guilt: If someone has made financial mistakes in the past or is currently in debt, they may feel guilty or ashamed during a money date.
Relief: Some people may feel a sense of relief during a money date, especially if they have been avoiding their finances or feeling overwhelmed.
Prepare yourself to manage emotions such as these. If you feel overwhelmed, walk away, and you can pick the conversation back up later. Give yourself grace for past mistakes; we all make them.
Respond favorably to similar emotions from your partner. Be an active listener by reinforcing what you have heard and asking questions to understand their perspective better. Refrain from judging their attitudes or feelings. Rather be empathetic and consider how their money experiences shape their financial choices.
Working through the emotions evoked by talking about money will lead to an empowering and productive experience for couples to take control of their finances and work towards their financial goals.
Money in relationships
Conversations with your partner about what you each earn
More income should not mean more control over money. This can lead to a toxic relationship.
Research has found that husbands find being the main breadwinners stressful. The same study also found that their stress increases if their wives earn more than 40% of the household income. In other words, talking about how much you each earn can be stressful. Approach the Money Date thoughtfully and prepare to work through any emotions aroused about income disparities.
"If you say that getting the money is the most important thing, you'll spend your life completely wasting your time. You'll be doing things you don't like doing in order to go on living, that is to go on doing thing you don't like doing, which is stupid."
― Alan Watts
Address your financial health first
Studies have shown that when an individual's basic needs are met, the additional income earned related to happiness is weak.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau created a free interactive tool to assess financial well-being (financial health). The tool can help you understand how much happier you and your spouse would be if your household income increased. You can see below how CFPB gauges financial well-being.
Above all, be honest. Financial infidelity is when couples who have combined their finances deceive each other about money. Surveys repeatedly find that this is the case for 2 in 5 couples. There are several painful outcomes to this, including that it led to divorce for 16% of folks.
And as it pertains to talking about what you are each earning, 1 in 10 reported lying to their spouse/partner about how much money they earn. Listen to NEFE President and CEO Dr. Billy Hensley share more about their financial infidelity research on the Modern Husbands Podcast. You'll also find in the show notes of the podcast a link to the NEFE financial values survey.
Take the time to listen to experts
Modern Husbands supports and holds in high regard the Financial Therapy Association, an organization comprised of professionals dedicated to the integration of cognitive, emotional, behavioral, relational, and financial aspects of well-being.
In 2022, we were honored to host national leaders from the Financial Therapy Association to join the Modern Husbands podcast. We highly suggest listening to their thoughts on how to approach conversations with your spouse about money.
Dr. Michael Gene Thomas
Dr. Michael Gene Thomas is a Lecturer at the University of Georgia. He teaches Financial Planning, Housing and Consumer Economics. His research involves understanding what factors influence financial well-being across socio-economic status and how to optimize those factors through evidenced-based interventions or therapeutic methods. Dr. Thomas has won numerous teaching awards. You can click the image to watch the podcast or download and listen to the audio version.
Dr. Megan McCoy
Megan McCoy, Ph.D., LMFT is an adjunct faculty member at Kansas State University where she teaches courses for the Financial Therapy Certificate Program. She received her Ph.D. in Human Development and Family Sciences with an emphasis in Marriage and Family Therapy from the University of Georgia. Her research interests truly focus on Financial Therapy and how to create more empirical evidence to support work that she has seen change so many lives in her clinical experiences. You can click the image to watch the podcast or download and listen to the audio version.
Ed Coambs is a Licensed Marriage, and Family Therapist, Certified Financial Therapist-Level I™, and Certified Financial Planner®. He is also the author of The Healthy Love and Money Way written for readers who desire to learn how to cultivate more financial intimacy and joy in their relationship and finances. Mr. Coambs is a Master of Arts in Christian Counseling, Master of Business Administration (Finance Concentration), and is a current Ph.D. Student in Financial Planning (Financial Therapy Concentration) at Kansas State University. You can click the image to watch the podcast or download and listen to the audio version.
Ask the right questions
You can only talk about money with your partner once you learn to talk with your partner about money. For some, countless emotions can accompany money conversations: fear, anxiety, and avoidance, to name a few. You can only go over the mechanics of money management once you've addressed the complicated control money has over some of our feelings.
It would be best to have more forward-looking conversations about money than about managing current problems or frustrations, which reduces the shame and blame of talking about past financial mistakes.
Ask these five questions on a money date. Your partner's response can reveal a more profound money belief that can help you establish shared values and goals.
Question: What do you enjoy spending money on the most?
Start your conversation with this question. Talking about trimming expenses and budgeting is the opposite of fun for most, so save that for later.
Enjoying your life now should be a priority, and associating money with the joy in your life can be the best way to set the tone for your conversations about money.
Question: If we won the $5 million lottery, what would be three things you would want to do with the money?
Does your partner dream about nicer stuff (e.g., home, car), experiences (e.g., vacations, concerts), working less and spending more time with family and friends, or philanthropy? These are all values, and managing money together becomes easier for couples with common values or at least have identified shared values to focus on together.
Asking each other what you would do with an unexpected $5,000 windfall can also be helpful. For one, it is more likely, to make the conversation more practical. Such a prompt can serve as a nice segway into a conversation about tackling upcoming challenges or opportunities.
Question: Do you believe that money can buy happiness or reduce stress to a certain degree? If so, what is the amount of money we would need to earn each year?
Will you and your partner prioritize time at work to earn more money to bring each other financial security and happiness? At what point will your partner feel financially secure and choose to spend more time with your family and friends?
Most of us earn more over our lives and face advancement opportunities that can take time away from our families. More money is often enticing, and advancing can create a sense of accomplishment, but at what price?
Rather than waiting until you have an advancement opportunity, discuss the bigger purpose of money and your career with your spouse first to avoid making an impulsive decision that might satisfy your career goals but at the expense of your relationship.
Question: Do you enjoy managing money, such as saving, investing, or bill paying? If so, what? If not, is there something you particularly hate?
Each partner should have an equal hand in controlling how money is used, which is not the same as managing money. Managing money is the systematic approach to executing the financial strategy you and your spouse decide upon.
To divide the household responsibilities fairly, begin with what you and your spouse enjoy doing and have a natural skillset to do well. Asking what money management tasks you each enjoy can make it easier to identify who should do what.
When you do move forward with a conversation with your spouse about money, consider using our Money Date cards. You can see images of some of the instructions and some of the cards.
Budgeting Series Overview
Part 1: What is a Money Date? Part 2: Evaluate your household income Part 3: How to save and invest together Part 4: Choosing where to live with your spouse Part 5: Budgeting for health expenses Part 6: Buying a car with your spouse Part 7: Budgeting for food as a family
When you plan a budget with your spouse, you are not budgeting with Excel or other tools such as our Budget Template for Couples. You are using these tools. You are budgeting with someone you love and share your life with.
Our free Budget Template for Couples is designed specifically for couples. Each category includes linked graphic-centric short videos to help couples in the budgeting process, providing essential prompts to consider budgeting each categorically appropriately.
This 10-part series is dedicated to helping you work with a spouse to budget together and provide the information you need to make educated decisions with your dollars.
Couples who learn more, save more, and spend more on what is important to them.
For engaged and recently married couples who want to manage money and the home as a team.
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Winning ideas from experts to manage money and the home as a team. 2023 Plutus Award Finalist: Best Couples or Family Content
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Everything you need to know about transitioning to marriage. The first gift you will receive is a guide to tackle the seven most asked questions about budgeting as a couple.