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Need to talk about money, but worried about starting a fight? Carl Richards and I share easy ice breakers and conversation starters to help and your spouse get on the same page with money!

How to Talk to Your Spouse About Money

Need to talk about money, but worried about starting a fight? Learn easy and stressless ways you two can have the money talk and get on the same page with your finances!

While it makes for good TV drama, finding out your spouse has been hiding massive debt is so not the way to start talking about money.

But how do you do that – how do you start talking about money? Certified Financial Planner and NY Times best-selling author Carl Richards is on today to share some ways you can begin.

Like his fantastic sketches in The NY Times, he breaks down the essentials of finances, especially when it comes to opening up about it.

In this episode we get into:

  • Why it’s hard for most couples to talk about money
  • How money dates can keep things light and fun
  • Ice breakers to get the ball rolling

We have the episode below so you can download along with an edited transcript if you prefer to read.

Hope you enjoy!

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If you'd like to hear more from Carl, please listen to our first interview about creating a one-page financial plan!

Resources to Help the Money Talk Go Easier

If you two are ready, here are some fantastic resources to make talking about (and managing) money much less stressful!

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Why it’s Hard for Most Couples to Talk about Money

Carl Richards: I think this idea of [talking about money] being simple and approachable and something we can talk about.

[You] can have a couple that can talk about anything – you know like their moral code, they're really great like they're friends, they're best friends – they're a couple. Right?

They have great conversations then you just toss money in there and it's suddenly like this thing.

And I think most of it is like I'm really becoming increasingly convinced that you already have like your community – and not just your community – Everyone already has all the skills they need.

The truth is that especially this part of money because it's all about money really. I'm sure we'll get into right. Like it's much more about feelings than is it about than it is about spreadsheets and calculators.

You really have all the innate wisdom that you need to have this conversation you just need to unlearn.

What this sort of filter that the world has placed on you like this needs to be complex or scary or weird or like you just need to start realizing these are all stories they're all stories and most of them 90 percent of them are not true.

And as soon as we can start to recognize that like what stories are we telling ourselves we can get out of our own way and you don't.

Hopefully, you don't need someone like me right. Like you're making it simple yourself. So it's really a fun journey for me. And hopefully, we can keep watching more and more people take the same journey.

Elle Martinez: And I totally got what Carl was trying to say with stories and that being a hang up when it comes to talking about money.

We treat [money] differently. When we got engaged that's when we first started talking about money.

And honestly, I had this idea that this had to be a formal thing that we had to pull the numbers maybe create a spreadsheet or two.

While that's a very objective way to look at things it does put some pressure you feel self-conscious you feel nervous if you guys haven't talked about finances.

For us, I got to see how much debt I had for the first time. I had an idea. I knew I was you know paying on those credit cards but the total amount I wasn't aware of and that made me nervous to talk about finances.

And so the first step if you guys haven't really got into the weeds with finances is don't keep it simple. And as Carl says just focus on starting.

Need to talk about money, but worried about starting a fight? Use these easy and key conversation starters to open up about finances and get on the same page! #marriage #money #family #personalfinance

Conversation Starters for the Money Talk

Carl Richards: I think we really need to get. I'm like I just wish we could like impress upon people like please please please the smallest possible way. Like the smallest possible way. And as early as possible.

I think there's like really basic stuff. Let me give an example. It's really not that hard to say ‘what's your first memory about money?'

Elle Martinez: So if you're looking for an icebreaker or a conversation starter you can use Carl's idea about simply asking how they feel about money.

And if you need a segue or if you need an example, go ahead and use this podcast and take one of the examples and see if that is an easier way to talk about money.

[One the podcast] we talk about dumping debt together. We're trying to figure out a budget that works or getting started with investing.

You can use that and use those particular couple stories as an opening so you could say something like ‘you know it was crazy I was listening to this podcast and there was this couple and they knew they wanted to get on the same page with her budget but they were just having a hard time about it because one was a spender one was a saver' you should listen to it' or ‘what do you think about that?'

‘How would you describe yourself?' When you have that opening just listen, it's absolutely crucial.

I think sometimes we want to jump into the how and the spreadsheets but the first step is after you open up that conversation listen to their answer and then you can dig a little bit deeper later and find out more.

Understanding Each Other's Money Stories

Carl Richards: That actually maybe the most important place to start because we get a little more clear about some of these stories. Now it's hard. And I can comment on this because my wife is so good at this.

We grew up a mile from each other maybe a mile or two. But we didn't know each other. We went to we went to. We went to separate high schools we never met. We never even heard of each other.

But we were close enough that by almost all outward appearances we would be from the same socioeconomic background. Though from every outward experience you would expect are like our financial lives to be the same. But it couldn't be further from the truth.

Like my parents were divorced. My mom was doing everything she could to keep us in this neighborhood with great schools and church leaders and community people around us.

My impression – I don't know my mom's story – but my impression of the experience was like ‘Oh man. Next month the power bill might be you know the power might be turned off'

like that was my experience of like we didn't have much in. And by the way, I was like I guess I decided season ski pass right. So like like you know I'm not talking about we didn't have food but I just remember feeling insecure.

My wife, just a couple miles away, her parents ran a real estate company.

They were real estate entrepreneurs so they were very used to like boom and bust, easy come easy go.

If it doesn't work, we'll move and then money to her has always been about kind of opportunity and risk and risk is a good word.

And so I was really like scarcity.

My wife is really open and abundant and it's really hard to have an open and abundant person say like ‘Hey, maybe that's just a story. ‘

If you're the one worried, I would be like ‘Don't give me here abundance crap' like you're like ‘oh it will show up it'll be fine.'

I've got to worry about this because if I don't worry about it no one will. Right? Those are her exact converts. My wife and I have that.

She would just patiently say. ‘All right.' I think that that's where I would start. It's just really trying to understand the stories that we've told ourselves.

What's the background? What's our relationship with money?

And then you can say, ‘Wow isn't that interesting.' or ‘Gosh that's really interesting because my experience was completely different.'

Just suddenly starting to shape this conversation around mutual understanding.

Elle Martinez: And I just want to point out there's a little thin gray area here where when you're talking about money.

You want to be careful that yes we are trying to bring the best out of each other and we want to nudge ourselves towards more positive steps, but you don't want to make this about manipulation.

You don't want to force the conversation to go a certain way. Many times that can backfire and actually cause you guys to start having more tension with finances and with your relationship.

Carl Richards: And I also think there's a huge role in understanding like the fastest way to have an influence on somebody.

One spouse is interested in one's spouse and the fastest way to have an influence on somebody is to stop trying.

[Get] really super curious about them like ‘wow that must have been hard. Tell me more'.

You can not fake this. Yeah. So I just think this idea of stop trying to influence and start trying to understand which means you're pretty committed to the long game. Right.

Like I don't if that was a short way to do that's a shortcut to doing this. I would be a big advocate of it but I can't find one.

How Money Dates Can Make Finances Less Stressful

Elle Martinez: There really isn't a shortcut when it comes to trying to get on the same page with Money and Your Money talks. But there is a huge help making it a regular part of your conversations and your routines takes a lot of the stress out.

If you only talk about money when it's time to do the budget. If you only talk money in the context of oh we have this much debt to pay or you got these bills to pay or something just came up it's going to make you associate money with stress so something that I recommend.

You've heard this in the community and if you picked up my book jumpstart your marriage and your money a big help is having regular money dates and these money dates are not about pulling out a spreadsheet but really it's talking about what are your big goals that you guys are working towards.

What are you trying to do this year next few years? Long term and then every month at least some people do it every paycheck.

Sit down go out for a date. Like literally leave the house. Go out for a date or if you have kids and you want to stay home that's fine. But make it a relaxed setting where the two of you are sitting down about hey how are things going with our goals.

Are we getting closer to having an emergency fund? Are we contributing more towards retirement? How does the budget look? Adjust it.

When you put it in a setting of a date where it's relaxing, where it's fun then you begin associating money with just your day to day because I do think and I've experienced this when we only look at the numbers when something's happened.

We have this stress over it and really money is not the focus is not even in the focus if you're trying to retire or if you're saving up for house downpayment.

Money is simply the tool to get you there. So when you make it a part of your dates you take that stress out but you're still being effective because you're talking about your finances and you're keeping an eye on it on a regular basis.

Carl Richards: Yeah no. And I think I think that what's really important what he said to us you know where do we want to be in five years. I think if all of that stuff. I think the big key to me is like everybody just relax a bit. We don't know anyway. That's the big dirty secret financial planning. It's like it's a guess like as soon as you use the word goal.

I think you should literally say oh I mean guess and if you're at your audience would know this better than anyone if you why you doubt me just look back where you thought you would be go back three years and tell me honestly go pull up a journal.

Go look at someone else do something. Have an honest discussion about where you thought you were going to be now today when you were thinking four years ago like three years ago.

We've been in New Zealand two and a half years. Three years ago it had never crossed my mind. I think it's really helpful to suggest to the mind to relax event like hey you know what. Where do I think like you can use the word?

Let's play a little game. Where do you think you would like to be three years from now. Just relax is just a guess. Like I don't know. You don't know. Like, let's just guess.

Let's just write something on a whiteboard like here's where we are today and then hey would you mind.

What if we just took a couple of guesses and where we want to go. Oh, cool that. That's interesting. Tell me more about that. Oh, that's cool. Tell me more.

What what do you think that would give us. Like what why is that important to you if you're not cross-examination purely with an intention to understand. Well that's a really that's light. I like what you said, Like a date like it's a light conversation.

Disagreement Isn't Always a Bad Thing

Elle Martinez: But even if the two of you are sitting down and you're talking about finances and it's much less stressful just know that it is perfectly normal from time to time to disagree.

Carl Richards: I'm fighting with 20 years about money. Right. Like it's getting better. Right. When I use the word fighter and careful I mean we're both super stubborn. I'm more stubborn as she is but she's still stubborn she's opinionated and we clash a lot about money and. I've realized that but we're still. Fighting about money either one of us could end those fights anytime. We could stop talking about it or we could decide to get divorced but we now feel this those fights is like Oh and our kids call them heated disagreements. Let me just tell you just an embarrassing story real quick just to help. I wrote some of this e-mail newsletter that goes out to you know a few people and we often ask questions. Ok. So let's just paint the picture. I'm a certified financial planner and a certified financial planner for whatever I think it's somewhere around 20 years. Don't quote me on that. There is a date that that started I've been working in the industry for 20 20 20 years I've been writing for The New York Times as the money emotions guy for almost 10 years now 10 years October. I'm supposed to know this stuff. So we sent out this e-mail that says hey quick question is Is it hard to talk. Is talking with money with your sponsor partner harder. Easy is as talking about letting your spouse or partner hard for you. Yes or no. And we got we definitely have hundreds. Close to a thousand replies and I'm. I read everyone so I'm scrolling through them reading them. And and and what's cool is people were sharing stories. Yes. I feel like this. Yes. No it's not hard. And almost I think 90 percent of them were yes. Yes it's hard. Yes, it's hard to start scrolling through there. I get to one it's like yes it's really hard. I feel like whenever these conversations come up there's judgment and blame. Like she spent too much or he spent too much and it's really really hard. And then it says signed the spouse. And I looked up and I'm like oh my gosh that's my wife's email address. And I was like. I was immediately so embarrassed. Like it took a day or two. I walked around for a day or two thinking like. What a fraud I am. How could this be true. And then I mean it it was actually it was hard. I went what I normally do is go spend time in the mountains I was a trail running and I like sweet. I think that's the point right. Yeah, unfortunately, it's hard. Like whatever. Like but. But it would be great if it was easy and it's fine for people that it's easy. That's awesome and you've got it figured out that's really cool. But my point is. But we're still talking about it right.

Keep Takeaways for Talking About Money

Before we close up I want to focus on some key takeaways I got from chatting with Carl:

  • Make talking about money a normal part of your conversations. Don't wait to have THE money talk. That's the quickest way to get your spouse to calm up. Instead, go on money dates, have regular small conversations. It's less stressful.
  • Focus on the WHY before the HOW. Don't jump into the numbers and how you're going to slash the budget. Try to sit down and talk about why saving money would be a big win. Listen to what their take is and you may discover how to win them over.
  • Keep it simple. Making one small change at a time can be a great way to introduce your spouse to better money habits.

If you’d like to chat more about getting on the same page with your spouse about money, please join us in our private and free Facebook group – Thriving Families.

Hope to see you there!

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Music Credit

Like the music in this episode? Our theme song is by Gentle Regime. Additional music by Lee Rosevere.

This episode was originally released in May 2019. Show notes have been updated August 2021.

About Elle Martinez

Elle Martinez helps families at Couple Money achieve financial freedom by sharing tips for reducing debt, increase income, and building net worth. Learn how to live on one income and have fun with the second..