The fight started with a receipt.
John was searching in his wife’s purse for a pen when he noticed the small slip of paper.
“What’s this receipt for, Karen?” he asked.
“Oh, that. I bought some comfortable shoes for our trip since we will be walking a lot,” she responded.
“Shoes? You’ve got like 50 pairs in your closet!”
“What’s the big deal? I would have bought you a pair if they’d had them in your size,” Karen said.
“It’s a big deal because you’re wasting money!” John shot back.
And so the argument began. Again. For the umpteenth time.
It can be hard to agree with your spouse on money matters—whether you’re talking about a pair of shoes, your kid’s college, or your financial future.
If you’re reading this and you’re on the same page with your spouse financially, congratulations! The truth is, though, most of us have had our share of money fights in marriage. I know my wife and I have—and I’m willing to bet you’ve been through the same thing.
In fact, according to a Money Magazine poll, the topic of money causes the most friction between spouses. Of married adults surveyed, 70% said they fight about money—ahead of other topics like sex, snoring, household chores, and what’s for dinner.(1)
Can you and your spouse change the money conversation into a positive one that brings you together? The answer is YES! And I’m excited to show you how.
Why Couples Fight About Money…and How to Fix It
As I’ve coached people on their finances over the years, I’ve discovered lots of underlying reasons why couples argue about money. Here are a few common ones—and the emotions they often carry.
- I’ve talked with hundreds of couples, and I can tell you firsthand that debt can destroy a marriage. Now you may be wondering: But why would a couple argue about getting rid of debt? Wouldn’t they agree about wanting to get on solid financial ground?In theory, yes. But the situation gets complicated when you look at why that couple is in debt. Perhaps one person had a lot of student loans or credit card debt. The other person could resent having to pay for their spouse’s past mistakes. In that case, the real reason for the fight is resentment. Following me? Add to that the stress of making ends meet and you’ve got a powder keg of conflict.
- One earns, but both spend. When one spouse isn’t earning an income—whether because of job loss, kids, or health reasons—the other spouse can feel the burden of being the sole money source. That feeling can intensify when finances are tight. When the non-earning spouse spends money freely or without limits, the earner can feel unappreciated or mistreated. Unless addressed, those feelings can fester and turn into bitterness and distrust.
- Different values about money. Yes, a dollar bill has the same value no matter where you go in the United States. But how someone spends their money tells you what’s important to them. In the example above, Karen valued physical comfort and was willing to pay for it. On the other hand, John valued the comfort of having more money in the bank. Neither person was right and neither person was wrong—they just valued different things.
When it comes to money fights in marriage, there’s often a surface issue and an underlying issue. And the only way to find the root cause of the argument is to stop and talk about it.
I want you to shift the conversation from dollars and cents to experiences and emotions. If you understand where your partner is coming from—their history and their feelings—then you’ve won half the battle. You can start playing offense with your financial plan instead of constantly playing defense.
How to Talk About Money With Your Spouse
Recently, I saw an optical illusion on social media. It had a white background and an image of a black curvy vase. But those curves weren’t just the outline of the vase—they formed two silhouetted faces looking at each other.
Was it a vase? Or was it the outline of two faces? Yes. It was both. What you saw depended on what you focused on.
Talking with your spouse about your finances is a lot like that.
No, I’m not saying you need to have the same viewpoint. You just need to see things from your spouse’s point of view. And for that to happen, you need to listen to them talk about their thoughts, opinions and feelings when it comes to money.
You may be thinking: But Chris, who has time for that? YOU do. Your relationship with your spouse is more important than any other relationship in your life. It even takes priority over kids. So, do whatever it takes to have a serious conversation with your spouse about money and how it affects both of you.
My friend Rachel Cruze also encourages couples to talk about money on a regular basis. Here are six conversation starters she offers to help you do just that:
- Share your money story. Start by saying, “In my house growing up, money was . . .”
- Share gratitude. Begin with, “One thing I’m grateful for that you might not know is . . .”
- Share your fears. Breach the subject by saying, “My biggest financial fear is . . .”
- Share your dreams. Start by saying, “My biggest dream for both of us is . . .”
- Share your attitude about giving. Say, “When it comes to giving, I follow my . . .” (heart, head, history)
- Share your appreciation for grace. Begin by saying, “When I make a money mistake, I love it when you . . .”
You won’t get through all of these questions in one night after the kids go to bed. If you breeze through them, you haven’t really talked. But, over time, you can use these discussion starters to deepen your understanding of each other. If you focus on listening instead of preparing your opposing viewpoint, I guarantee you’ll come away with greater respect and appreciation for the one you love.
Practical Tips for Working Together
Seems easy, right? It’s not complicated, but it does require you to be intentional. You can’t just snap your fingers and have amazing money talks. You have to work at it—together.
Talking About Retirement: The First Dream Date
Now, for the fun part. Once you’re able to communicate regularly about the small stuff, you can work together as a team toward the big-picture stuff. The earlier you start thinking and planning for retirement, the better off you’ll be. In fact, if you plan and work together early on, you could reach that million-dollar mark before you know it! But, to hit that magic milestone, you need a little motivation. You need to dream together. And the best way to do that is to go on a retirement dream date.
Yes, a date. I want you to get away for an afternoon or an evening to talk about how both of you want to spend your time when you don’t have to work anymore. Give yourself a few minutes at the beginning of the date to cover day-to-day things, like the kids, church activities, or work schedules. Then, put those topics aside and focus on dreaming together. Here are a few questions to get you started.
When your spouse is talking, listen closely and ask questions to gain more understanding. Don’t judge their dream, though. Don’t tell them it’s impossible or that it’s stupid. You wouldn’t want your spouse to tell you that! And don’t jump in and take over the conversation. Take turns.
Once you’ve dreamed together, you can plan together. What will it take to reach your dreams? How much money would you need? What changes in your lifestyle would you need to make now so you can reach those numbers later? Remember, retirement isn’t about an age; it’s about the amount of money you’ll need to live your dreams. Start working toward those dreams now!
What to Do When Your Spouse Won’t Talk About Finances
You may be thinking: All that sounds great, Chris, but I can’t get my spouse to even sit down to talk about it. Sometimes, no matter how much you try to approach the subject respectfully and resourcefully, your spouse may not want to talk about money or change their behavior.
It’s tough to get on the same page when that’s the case, but don’t lose hope. You still have some options.
- Start small and focus on yourself. Your spouse may not be ready for a color-coded pie chart that illustrates income compared to expenses year over year and accounts for inflation and cost of living increases. So, rather than laying out your budget ideas for the whole year, start with something small you can adjust—and start with your own behavior. Here’s how that could sound: “Hey, honey, I’ve been thinking about how much I’ve been spending on lunch lately. I think if I cut back a bit, we can save up for that night out we’ve both been wanting.” Can you sense how disarming that sounds and feels? Those little changes can make your spouse more comfortable with larger changes.
- Compromise. Yep. The magic word for a happy marriage. You want to put away 30% of your income toward retirement. Your spouse wants to stop at 10%. You need to be saving at least 15%, so start there. It’s not quite where you want to be, but you’re headed in the right direction. And once your spouse sees what happens to that 15% with time and compound interest, they may be ready to invest more!
- Talk about expectations. Do you think your spouse should take care of all the finances? Do you want your spouse to help with finances? Do you expect your spouse to tell you about every purchase they make—even if it’s small? If money expectations go unidentified and are simply assumed, be prepared to hit some bumps in your relationship. The earlier you identify those expectations, the better. (Ideally, you have this discussion before you get married.)
- Go to marriage counseling. If you’ve been working on this aspect of your relationship and don’t see any improvement, consider talking with a marriage counselor. Someone with both education and experience can help you identify underlying issues and give you tools to work through them. It could save you valuable time and energy—and a lot of hurt feelings.
- Get financial guidance. When you start building wealth and saving for retirement, I recommend talking with a financial advisor. These pros can help you create a plan to reach your goals. They can answer questions you have and give you investing options that match your risk tolerance. If you need help, check out a SmartVestor Pro in your area. Your initial conversation is free, so you can be sure you and your spouse are working with the right person.
Are You Ready?
Couples argue about money. Chances are, it will happen. But you and your spouse can move through those disagreements and talk about finances with respect and understanding. Open, honest, ongoing communication can turn what may have been a source of tension into an opportunity to work together and prepare for a future you’ll both be excited about.
So, are you ready to go on a dream date with your spouse and start planning the retirement of your dreams? Get it on the calendar today!
Find a SmartVestor Pro!
A SmartVestor pro can help you and your spouse create a plan for your financial goals. Find one in your area!