14 Tips for Couples and Money

For Valentine’s Day, and in the spirit of couples, I’m sharing 14 tips to guide you through a healthier relationship with each other and your money.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

If you’re interested in taking a simple little assessment along with your partner, stick around and I’ll share a link with you at the end.

  1. Pay Attention to the Clues.If you’re still in the early dating stages, listen and notice important clues for how your partner manages (or fails to manage) and thinks about money. Those financial habits are an incredible insight into someone’s values, ethics and priorities. Notice if they’re in alignment with your own money style and attitudes. Chances are, these patterns will stick around for a long time unless you both take conscious, intentional action to be aware and change these patterns if they are not a fit for the relationship.
  1. Are you Listening? Are you afraid, embarrassed or clueless around the topic of money? Find a gentle way to slowly broach the topic and talk. Listen to each other – not judge the conversation. Learn where you share values, priorities, and goals and where you differ. How can you find ways to get on the same page with money and see yourselves working more as a team?

Listen to each other so you each feel heard. Use the focused technique where one party talks for a set time, the other only listens and does not respond or question. And then trade places staying focused the same way and really hearing what your partner is saying.

Most people really just want to be heard. Keep asking and listening until you get to the core concern and both finally feel better understood.

  1. Know what you don’t know. If you or your partner never learned about managing money, WHY would you understand how to manage money or be any good at it? There are scores of people out there who managed to miss the “Basic Money 101” course from their parents, relatives, classes, books, online, or the other sources. I know, I talk with them often. At some point this is a topic that does need to be “learned”. Money skills aren’t just an innate ability.

Maybe you each have been lucky during much of your life to have great jobs, good income and conservative mindsets so you never had to really “deal” with those nagging money issues.  Money was just always there and you had enough common sense, or family modeling to manage your money. This is much more common than you would think.

But without the tools and knowledge, what happens when an unexpected financial catastrophe derails that familiar routine and the normal income is lost or more expenses come up because of a lost job, new baby, medical issues, new business or even the economy? 

Recognize and share where you each stand with your money knowledge and vow to learn fundamental money management concepts this year. There is a ton of great information now online regarding all money topics. You just have to start the Google search process. Of course, The Budget Kit workbook and MoneyTracker website will also help get you started. 

  1. Tap into those old emotional messages. Get clear on what childhood money messages you each still drag around and bring to the relationship. What spending habits and attitudes did you learn while growing up? Is this where you learned to go shopping when you get upset? Do you remember being dragged off to Bloomies after another one of those parent fights about money? Can you recite a whole list of the regular “Money doesn’t grow on trees” responses every time you asked for something?

It’s time to recognize those old childhood patterns for what they are.  And time to realize the impact they are having on your adult life and relationship. Perhaps it’s now time to gradually create healthy new adult money patterns and attitudes.

  1. Play 20 Questions. What mindsets, backgrounds, habits, or ethics do you have in common, especially around money? What are the differences? Where do you each stand on savings, debt, investing, planning, you get the picture. What new spending patterns, shared values, important priorities and future goals do you want to create together as you set up a solid personal financial foundation as a couple and for your own growing family?
  1. Are you Communicating or Fighting? Money fights are seldom about money. But more often about other issues buried below the money surface really wanting to be deeply heard.

“Money represents love, power, security, control, self-worth, and independence,” says Olivia Mellan, A psychotherapist and authority on money conflict. “If money were just money, everyone would make rational decisions about it. But it’s not. It’s very emotionally loaded.”

  1. Help! We Both Love to Spend! Now, if you are flush with good jobs, business, money, inheritance, well go ahead and enjoy the spending.

On the other hand, if you both love to spend, but clearly agree it’s time to rein in the spending and stop the financial hemorrhaging, try using the “Designated Nay-Sayer” (DNN) technique (a technique I introduced in my book The Money Tracker: A Quick and Easy Way to Keep Tabs on Your Spending).

Each month or week you trade off roles. As the DNN, you are the person responsible for strongly and lovingly discouraging a purchase.  When both of you are swooning over a tempting unplanned, unaffordable item, your role is to put on the brakes. Refresh your partner on why you’re booth choosing to cut back on the spending. Bring up the previous agreement and expressed desire you both had about saving money for your overall financial desires and goals.

  1. Have a Family Financial Board Meeting. Get to know your financial status on a regular basis. Learn what’s going on in your bank account regularly. Know your expected monthly income, monthly debt, monthly general expenses (beyond the fixed bills), where the rest of the money is going, savings and other financial responsibilities you share together.

Have a weekly meeting or minimum monthly meeting for regular thorough financial reviews. Stay in touch with the household overall financial obligations, bills, status and limits of the financial picture, upcoming expenses, along with all the spending decisions needed every week.

  1. Your Money- My Money- Our Money. Determine what works best in your household. No one way is the best for all households. Some households do the basic three accounts with each partner contributing a percentage of the total monthly fixed expenses. The joint account handles all the household and general family expenses. This way you really see the big picture of how much money flows through your household/family lives. The smaller separate personal accounts stay private, covering smaller personal expenses.
  1. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Agree to a policy of discussing bigger ticket purchases before unilaterally making the impulse purchase. What is that dollar amount that triggers the call or text – $50? $200?

The goal is to avoid those chaotic situations that could ultimately throw off the whole planned monthly budget putting you in a tailspin for a few months – even though that big screen TV with its super price would have been very nice to watch. 

  1. Recognize your differences. According to Georgetown psychotherapist Annette Annechild. “Men would rather spend money on something that can be resold. They feel that if they buy a car, they’ll make money on the car. If they buy a house, they’ll write off the interest. It makes more sense, because men are more linear. When women spend money on clothes and makeup and hair, men view it as a complete waste, because it’s not coming back.”

Neither is necessarily “correct”, but definitely important to understand.

  1. What’s YOUR FICO Score? Review each of your credit reports. Don’t get too complacent about your good credit history. Be sure to watch for any identity theft issues, general errors, many inquiries and other details. Remember you’re entitled to one free credit report (report, not FICO score) from each of the three agencies every year. https://www.annualcreditreport.com/index.action is a government mandated site to get your free report.
  1. Keep Your Money Info Safe. Store your financial papers and records in a centralized place. Keep all access information, keys, passwords, thumb drives and other essential notes in a place you both (and family members) can easily locate and remember.
  1. Remember to Have Fun! Be creative about the many ways you can enjoy your life and extra time. Enjoy your week ends. Take mini dates. Try out new adventures in your area. With all the resources at our fingertips these days there is no shortage of ideas for reasonable and affordable entertainment.

Assessment Tool

Fill out this short PDF or Excel form separately and compare how you each approach some of your attitudes about money.

Once you do, I’d love to hear from you – your suggestions and ideas – in the comments below.

Thanks, and I’ll be sure to respond.   — Judy