Raise your hand if this has happened to you. All’s well and lovey-dovey with your honey … until this fateful sentence is uttered:
“Honey, we need to talk … about money.”
Dun, dun, dunnnn.
Nothing good ever comes after that, right? Chances are, just reading that sentence raised your blood pressure a bit!
Maybe you and your honey can talk about everything under the sun — from sex to religion to in-laws — except the biggest taboo: money. Perhaps things go unsaid for years, building resentment, distrust, confusion and pain. Or maybe you talk about money all the time — but it ends in fighting and tears.
Money is one of the biggest, hairiest, most gnarly subjects for many loving relationships. It’s high-stakes territory, fraught with shame and confusion, anxiety and fear. And with good reason: we simply aren’t taught how to deal with money, let alone all the emotional weight it carries, and least of all how to share our feelings about it with those closest to us. It takes some loving light to accomplish all of us, and most of us have spent our lives in the shame-filled shadows.
But here’s the truth: when you create space to talk about money with your honey — honestly, openly, compassionately — you will move mountains. You will create unprecedented intimacy. You will share your values and dreams. You will create honesty, empowerment, and clarity — and these will ripple out into other areas of your relationship (and your entire life).
It’s not a fairy tale. This is real-life stuff. And sometimes it gets sticky! But with the right framework and tools, you and your honey truly can create a healthier, happier relationship around money.
Here are my top 10 big ideas for getting started. Whether you and your sweetie are just starting out or have been married for 50 years, this will help! These 10 Big Ideas are the fruits of many years of trial and error with my own hubby — as well as working with the wonderful and diverse couples who have come into my practice and group programs over the years.
The Top 10 Big Ideas
1. Do a “Body Check-In”
This is, hands-down, my favorite tool for working with money. It’s deceptively simple and only takes a moment — yet, when practiced regularly, it’s utterly profound. I recommend doing a Body Check-In before, during, and after … just about anything related to money. When talking with your honey about money. When you’re stressed, overwhelmed, or simply feeling “off.” When planning that vacation together or checking your bank balances.
Here’s how to do it: wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, simply pause. Take a breath. Tune into your body. How does it feel right now? How do your feet feel on the floor, or your back against your chair? Is there tightness in your jaw? A fluttering in your belly? Is your breathing shallow and quick? Deep and slow? Simply notice what’s happening in your body — without trying to change anything.
Next, move on to your emotions and thoughts. What’s your mood right now? What feelings are passing through you? Are they subtle, or tidal-wave big? What thoughts are scrolling through the screen of your mind? Are memories coming up? Thoughts of the future?
Simply notice what’s happening in your inner world. Be open and curious. Add a dollop of compassion and three more teaspoons of curiosity. Breathe. Gather clues. These are the keys that unlock more insight in your money relationship, more depth in the present moment, and make you more available for communication and intimacy with your partner.
The Body Check In is extraordinarily simple — and, it is utterly life changing + supportive. Pinky swear.
2. Go on Money Dates!
You look at the calendar on the fridge. Tuesday night says, “talk finances!” Ugh. How dreadful does that sound? Now … how about: “Money Date”? Does that feel a little better?
Here’s the deal: you and your honey can create your own custom bridges, here. Between each other. And between the two of you and money. Bring all of your creativity, playfulness, personal meaning, and — yes! — even sexiness to your money talks! When you make them fun and meaningful, you’ll stress less, laugh more, and likely get to the real issues at hand.
So. Create a time and space to discuss your “money stuff.” Make it special. Light candles. Nibble chocolate. Go slow. Breathe. Laugh. Remind each other how much you care. Make it a safe space for you both to get vulnerable and share what’s coming up for you. And remember: do Body Check-Ins before, during, and after!
When you’re starting out, putting it on the calendar is a great idea. Maybe thirty minutes, once a week works great for you now. Or perhaps you want to schedule a monthly “deep dive.” Eventually … you may find yourself having money “quickies” in the kitchen!
Simply creating a little time and space to talk about money together is huge.
3. Share Story Time
Each of us has a unique relationship to money. It’s grown out of our experiences, our family dynamics, our career, our lineage and community, and much more. I call this unique conglomeration of money messages and beliefs our “Money Story.” You have one — and so does your partner.
Getting shared reality about each other’s Money Stories is a big part of couples financial therapy. I’ve found it helpful to share these stories even before getting to the practical aspects of money (bookkeeping and so on). So carve out a little time — perhaps on a Money Date! — for Story Time.
Let one person speak, and the other only listen. Then switch. This isn’t chatting! If you’re listening, your only job is to listen. Easier said than done — but powerful. Let your partner talk for 5, 10, or 15 minutes with no interruption. Simply take them in. Then switch, and speak until there’s nothing left to say.
Talk about anything that’s on your mind or “up” for you. Talk about your parents’ relationship with money — and how yours is the same (or different). Talk about how your ethnicity, religion, or spirituality impacted your relationship with money. Share what your money role in the family was, growing up (ex. spender, saver, peacekeeper, etc.).
This deep listening and Money Story-Telling help you express to each other: Here’s where I came from, these were my parents, here’s why I freak, this is where I have anxiety, this is where I feel shame, this is why I spend/save the way I do . . . .or simply, these are my feelings about this, even if I don’t completely understand them . . .
Money Story Time is not a once-in-a-lifetime conversation. There are layers, here. The conversation will evolve and deepen over time, if you keep showing up for it!
4. Find, Learn, and Stick with a Tracking System.
This. Is. Huge. But it doesn’t have to be difficult. Get help if you need it. Please don’t fall into the oh-so-common “analysis paralysis” trap of comparing systems without actually using one! There’s no such thing as a perfect system. They all have different features, pro’s, and con’s. The key here is: find a system you like — and dive on in.
Some of my community’s current favorites: Mint, YNAB, Quicken, Outright and Quickbooks. Truly: it doesn’t matter if you use one of these or your own Excel spreadsheet. Find what works for you, push through the learning curve (which is always uncomfortable) and make tracking your finances a regular practice.
5. Decide: What Positions are You Playing?
Now that you’ve got shared reality about your Money Stories and your tracking system, it’s time to assign roles for the practical, “nuts ‘n bolts” aspects of your money work. Because we want you both on the same team — and like any great team, it’s helpful to play specific positions!
So get honest with each other, voice your needs and wants, and assign some roles. Who’s the bookkeeper? Who will pay bills, transfer funds, and track? Does one of you love this stuff, while the other despises it? Can you split up roles in ways that feel good to you both?
Typically, these agreements are unspoken — or even unconscious. This creates all manner of resentment and tension down the line! Clear, conscious, mutual agreements are key, here.
Remember to compromise. Be playful. Agree to try out certain roles for six months (or so), after which you can switch roles, if you like. This isn’t a lifelong sentence! It’s your custom-built bridge to more intimacy with your honey — and money.
6. Decide: To Merge or NOT to Merge (Accounts)?
Long gone are the days when couples merged their finances when they got married — not before or after. I’ve worked with couples who merged finances 7 years into their relationship — and others who separated them after 20 years of marriage. This intimate decision has ever so many layers — and a myriad of possibilities, from separate accounts to merged and varying shades in between.
The key here is to make this decision conscious and spoken. Instead of unconsciously sliding into an arrangement you don’t love — set a Money Date and talk about it! Bring up the practicalities, as well as the emotional aspects of this decision.
There is absolutely no right and wrong answer here. What you can find is a just-right sweet spot that fits your relationship, right now. And remember: your choices can shift over time.
7. Get Clear on Your Values.
How we spend money and what we spend it on speaks volumes about what truly matters to us. Talking about money, then, is an incredible doorway into more honesty and intimacy with your honey.
Set aside some time to discuss what you value — as individuals and as a couple. Chances are, you’ll have some common ground as well as some big differences.
Personal example: my hubby and I are 100% in agreement about spending money on the best food for our child. But I love to splurge on the finest lotions (which he couldn’t care less about) and he’s a cyclist (which is an expensive hobby I don’t share). We could wag our fingers at each other (“you spend WHAT on THAT?!”). But instead, we’ve gotten honest about how essential these things are to our happiness.
When we can clarify for ourselves and for each other what is most important, it’s much easier to accept our own spending choices, as well as our partner’s.
8. Get on the Same Dream Team
What are you big dreams? Life-long goals? What’s still in your bucket list?
Money — when used consciously — can become an incredible support for your dreams, bringing them to life. But first, we have to get honest about what we truly want.
So: do you and your honey share the same big life dreams? Are your dreams in alignment, or do they contradict each other? Do you even know each other’s dreams?
Zooming out and dreaming big comes naturally to some of us — but it’s scary, vulnerable work for others. So make some safe space for each other to get honest and open. Talk about your dreams. Does your hubby long to quit his job and start his own business? Do you secretly long to move to the south of France?
Take the time to listen to each other’s dreams. This is huge! Only after this is done can you align your spending, saving, and earning to support your goals.
9. Make a 3-Tier Money Map
OK, the word “budget” is massively boring, right? My antidote: create a Money Map, instead. Here’s the clincher: include 3 tiers: Basic Needs, Comfortable Lifestyle, and Ultimate Lifestyle.
Start by free-writing about each of those 3 tiers, without thinking about any numbers yet. What would it feel like to be there? What sorts of things would be included? Remember to include everyday expenses, as well as any savings, debt repayments, or investments you want to make.
Most importantly: there are no right or wrong answers, here! One person may put “organic food” in the Ultimate Lifestyle level, while others put it in “Basic Needs.” Give yourself permission to be honest, here. And remember: your answers will change over time!
Now, once you’ve done this inner work — get out your favorite spreadsheet tool and start adding up the numbers for a monthly Money Map, at each of the 3 tiers. (Do a Body Check-In, here!) What does each level look like, for you? Which level are you in, right now? Are you and your honey at the same levels, or different? Where do you want to go?
10. Celebrate. Often.
It’s easy to focus on what’s “wrong” or painful in money work. After all: there’s always more work to be done, more layers to peel back.
That’s why I encourage my community to take baby steps — and celebrate each one! When you make that dreaded phone call to the credit card company. When you have your first Money Date with your honey. When you get brave and check your bank balances. Treat yourself to high fives and chocolate and dance breaks and candle-lit baths along the way. Celebrations keep us motivated and moving forward.
Finally, remember to appreciate your sweetie for being on this journey with you. Celebrate every little step he takes, right along with him. Every baby step deserves a huzzah.
How you approach your money relationship can become your new approach to life. Why not choose a path of awareness, self-care, compassion, and radical un-shaming?