Illo by Joan LeMay
Money

We Asked Experts How to Get Past Money Woes in a Relationship

One partner likes to save. The other loves to spend. How will this end?
October 14, 2021, 1:44pm

Supported by GEICO.

If you’re not on the same page as your significant other about saving money, congratulations! You’re both perfectly normal. 

“Rarely is anyone on that same page initially when it comes to planning and savings goals,” says Amanda Clayman, a financial therapist. In fact, most couples tend to pick someone for a romantic partner who has a complimentary view of money, as opposed to one that is exactly the same. We need to see that these differences are healthy, “as opposed to differences being a sign that something is wrong,” she says.

Advertisement

Adam H. Kol, couples financial counselor and host of The Couples Financial Coach podcast, says his clients often misunderstand their fundamental problem. They’ll say, “We have big differences. We came from really different homes." And while that may be true, Kol says, “the real issue is that they don't feel comfortable or safe talking about finances with each other. And maybe not with anybody.”

It’s understandable to feel distraught when finances are driving a wedge between you and your partner. However, your situation isn’t hopeless. In fact, you now have the perfect opportunity to get to know each other better. 

Here is how you can get on the same page with your partner about financial issues when you have drastically different opinions about how much you should be spending and saving. 

Reflect on Your Roles

How did you get here? Think about the things you said and did to end up in this conflict. Maybe you’re the one struggling with over spending or you’ve been too scared to initiate the conservation. If you can acknowledge the role you played in the relationship, it’s more likely the other person will be willing to hear the things you have to say, Kol says. 

Pinpoint a Good Time Talk

Kol recommends this particular phrasing: “When’s a good time to talk?” This is better than “Can we talk about this?,” which is a yes-or-no question, he says. Avoid bringing up a conversation about finances when the other person is stressed. Though it may seem obvious, Kol recommends having this talk in private, when family members or kids aren't around. Make sure the vibe is chill and minimize distractions, he says: “Put the cell phones away and just connect to each other.”

Be Complimentary

As you begin your conversation, Julia Kramer, CPA, a financial therapist, recommends first sharing something you admire about how your partner relates to finances. “If you're the saver, see if you can see the positives in the more light-hearted person when it comes to money,” Kramer said. The goal is to illustrate that neither person’s approach is “a hundred percent right or a hundred percent wrong,” she says, and it also shows no one is the enemy here. You could compliment your partner’s ability to pay bills on time, if that’s something they do. Have they paid down their student loan? Are they good at researching the best deals or balancing a checkbook? Giving credit where it’s due here will go a long way in the end.

This will send the message that, ultimately, these occasionally difficult talks happen because of your strong love for each other.

Go Deep

Kramer suggests asking your partner about their family’s financial behaviors. “A lot of times, we don't understand how the world worked before we came into the picture for our partner,” she said. “So asking ‘What was the biggest lesson you took from your mother regarding money? What's the biggest lesson you took from your father?’ can give you lots of insight into how they think about money.” 

Kramer encourages clients ask each other questions like: 

  • What is your earliest money memory?
  • What is your most joyful money memory?
  • What is your most painful memory of money?
  • Name three things you learned from your mother/father about money either directly or indirectly.
  • Tell me about the richest person you knew growing up and what did you think about them?This conversation isn’t “about arguing or right or wrong, it's just sharing,” Kol says. “And that helps you learn more about each other and it helps you feel a sense of comfort and safety.” 

Vice Geico Piggy Banks Joan LeMay.jpg

Be Clear

Clayman suggests formulating a concrete ask when coming up with a savings goal by stating what's important to you. Instead of making vague statements like “We should save more” or “I just want to enjoy life with my money,” we should frame our needs into something measurable, she says. So for a saver, the ask would sound like, “I want to save $300 a month.” And for the more spendy person, it would sound something like, “I’d like to go to concerts four times a year.”

Go Slow

Kol recommends not trying to untangle all of your financial issues in the space of one conversation. Pick a single priority and focus on that. “This helps keep the conversation contained rather than going off in other directions” and blindsiding the other person with a topic they weren’t prepared to address, he says. 

If you use your first conversation to share your experiences with money, “maybe the third conversation is talking about some of the reasons money is important to you, and some of the goals you have or the hopes and dreams you have for your money,” he says. The hope is that each successive discussion will build off the foundation you’ve laid. 

Check In

Make it a habit to check in with your partner to make sure you’re both on the same page. “Life is always changing,” Kol says. Sometimes you’ll need to overhaul your plans, other times you’ll just need a few tweaks here and there. Either way, it's really important for the conversation to be ongoing, he says.

Clayman agrees that it’s important to be flexible. “When it comes to money, there isn’t always a right or wrong answer,” she says. “We have an infinite amount of opportunities to get in there and get our hands dirty and to move things around and see how it affects our life and our relationship and how we feel about ourselves and all these great things that don't happen when we just treat it like numbers on a page.”

End with Love

Hopefully, after taking the steps above, you’ve made it through discussions about finances not only knowing more about your significant other, but have reinforced the idea that you’re approaching this issue together as a team. To keep the happy, fuzzy feelings going, Kramer suggests couples end financial conversations with “at least a kiss and preferably with a date.” This will send the message that ultimately, these occasionally difficult talks happen because of your strong love for each other. 

This article is supported by GEICO.