My top 11 tips for talking money with your honey

written by Bari Tessler October 19, 2019
My top 11 tips for talking money with your honey

People say money is the biggest reason couples get divorced. But I disagree.

Now, of course: money is high-stakes, emotional territory. And money is certainly an area of life where we can experience a lot of stress and friction — especially in a relationship or marriage.

Because as emotional and primal and confusing as money is for ONE person, when you add a whole other person to the mix — with their own money stories and patterns and childhood messages and dreams — well, it’s a LOT!

But I still think money itself isn’t the cause of all this friction.

The problem isn’t money. The problem is: we don’t know how to TALK about money.

I’ve known and coached so many couples over the past 20+ years who could talk about anything under the sun except money.

Deep psychological and spiritual wounding? No problem.
Heated political debates? We might disagree, but we respect each other.
But MONEY? The mere mention of it raises our blood pressure.

Many couples avoid talking about money entirely — until it becomes an absolute necessity. Like when a big surprise tax bill comes due or someone gets really upset about something.

Not a great time to start talking about money, right? We need to open lines of communication when things are lower stakes — so we have the skills and trust and intimacy to have harder conversations when they need to happen.

My husband Forest and I have worked on our money relationship for many years — both individually and as a couple — and as business owners.

It hasn’t always been easy! But from what we’ve experienced personally and what I’ve seen in the couples I’ve coached, here’s what I know for sure:

When you create space to talk about money with your honey — honestly, openly, and compassionately — you can move mountains.

You create unprecedented intimacy. You get to know each other and trust each other and connect with each other in ways you never have before. You discover each other’s values and dreams and where they align with yours. You learn about your sweetheart’s past and what makes them tick and what really, really matters to them.

When you put some work into your money relationship with your honey, the benefits ripple out to every other area of your relationship. The peace and connection and empowerment continue to grow. Trust me.

But you don’t have to head out into the money wilderness blind! There are many couples who have walked this path before you and found what works and what doesn’t. And while of course your journey will be unique, there are some tools and tips that can make the road much smoother.

The following 11 tips are the fruits of many years of working with my own husband — as well as supporting the wonderful, diverse, and brave couples who have come into my practice and group programs over the years, especially my year-long Art of Money program (psssst doors now open for AOM 2020!).

Whether you’re just beginning your life together or just celebrated your golden anniversary, these tools and practices have been tested and loved by many couples before you, who have stepped into more intimate, empowered, and peaceful money relationships together.

Ready? Here we go …

Also available on iTunes!

My top 11 tips for talking money with your honey.

1. Honor your differences: in pacing, styles, gifts, and values.

One of the most common questions people ask me is: “OK, I’m ready to really look at my money relationship and do the work. But my sweetheart isn’t ready, (s)he’s still resistant. How do I get them on board? Or do I start without them?”

We all have different timing and pacing, when it comes to money. You might be ready to delve into your deep childhood money messages and do all kinds of emotional and practical work around money — but maybe your sweetheart isn’t there yet. Or perhaps you’re great at starting money work, while she takes a little longer to come on board — but once she’s IN, she helps you stay accountable and motivated when your attention falters.

Money can show you how different you really are. Many couples notice money polarities: one’s a spender, the other a saver, for example. And what you each like to spend money on (or save for) can reveal your different values, personalities, and life dreams.

Please honor your different timing, styles, gifts, and values, when it comes to money. Get curious and compassionate when you notice your differences — and do your best not to make the other person “wrong.”

And if you’re ready to do your money work but your honey isn’t? Get started. Not all couples start together, and that’s OK!

2. Create a special space to connect: a Money Date.

When you bring up money concerns outta the blue — like right before bed or when he’s about to watch his favorite show — it can lead to added conflict and stress.

(Eventually, you can have conversations “on the fly” — or what I call “quickies in the kitchen,” but that’s once trust and communication are built, over time. I don’t recommend starting there!)

Instead, schedule Money Dates together! These can look however you want, and are simply a time for you and your honey to connect about money, together.

What you do and discuss in your Money Dates will evolve over time. The key is to keep creating a space to talk about money and keep showing up for it. 30 minutes or an hour once a week is a great place to start. You may eventually schedule monthly “deep dives,” too.

Make this time special — and dare I say, sexy! Light candles and play soft music, if you like. 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 do a Body Check-In at the beginning, end, and anytime during the Money Date.

3. Get present and mindful with a Body Check-In

This is, hands-down, my favorite tool for working with money. It’s deceptively simple and only takes a moment. But when practiced regularly, it is utterly profound.

Here’s what to do. Simply pause. Take a breath. Tune into your body. What are you feeling right now? How does your back feel in the chair? How do your feet feel on the floor? What does your breath feel like, moving in and out — is it shallow, slow, quick, smooth? What else are you noticing in your body right now?

Next, move to your emotions and thoughts. What are you feeling emotionally, right now? Where do you feel those emotions in your body? Are you feeling a big, pervasive mood, or something more precise? What thoughts are flitting over the screen of your mind? Memories? Plans for the future? What’s the feeling tone of all this?

Try not to judge what you find. Simply notice. Your job is to be a compassionate detective: simply notice what’s going on in your inner world. Be kind to yourself. Gather clues. Come home to your body, to this present moment.

That’s it!

I told you: the Body Check-In is extraordinarily simple. But it is utterly life-changing and supportive, when you practice it regularly. This kind of practice will help you become more available for communication and intimacy about money with your partner — and with yourself. Please rely on it before, during, and after any Money Date or money conversation … and just see what happens.

4. Share “Story Time”

It’s easy to dive right into the immediate, day-to-day money stuff: these bills need paying, those errands need running, those calls need to be made (and I’m not it!).

But we all have a rich, personal history with money that goes back to childhood (or beyond), which I call a “Money Story.” You have a unique conglomeration of money messages, drawn from your personal experiences, family dynamics, defining life moments, lineage, and so much more. And your partner has their own, completely different Money Story.

Sharing your Money Story with each other 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 (like bookkeeping).

Here’s what to do. Let one person speak, while the other only listens. This isn’t chatting: If you’re listening, your only job is to listen and hold space. (Easier said than done — but so powerful.) Let your partner speak for 5, 10, or 15 minutes without interruption. Simply take them in. Then switch.

What should you speak about? Anything that’s on your mind or “up” for you, around money. This might be something you read about in the news that bothered you — and reminds you of something your parents did with money. You might share about your first money memory, what you did with your allowance as a kid, or a big money challenge you overcame.

You can talk about how your ethnicity, religion, or spirituality have impacted your money relationship — or what your role in the family was, when it came to money: spender, saver, peacekeeper, etc.

There are layers here. This isn’t a one-and-done conversation. Keep showing up and making space for this Story Time, and just watch how it evolves and deepens over time.

This vulnerable sharing and compassionate listening helps each partner express to the other: I want to hear your story. And here’s mine. These were the messages I got about money. Here’s why I freak out about that thing you do. This is where I feel anxiety and shame. This is why I spend and save the way I do. These are my feelings, even if I don’t completely understand them yet.

5. Track your money flowing in and out.

When couples (and individuals) start working on “money stuff,” they’re often tempted to skip right to big saving goals or curtailed spending. But I recommend simply tracking the money flowing in and out, first, for at least six months.

Find, learn, and stick with a tracking system. This. Is. Huge.

First, pick a tracking system. Some of my community’s favorites: Mint YNAB, Quicken, and QuickBooks. But you can use your very own Excel spreadsheet, if that works for you! There are no perfect ones, so don’t lose too much time in analysis paralysis. Compare some features and find a system you like. Then dive in!

There will be a learning curve. Push through it. Get support from a bookkeeping trainer, if you like. Nibble chocolate. Be kind to each other. Get set up and make tracking your finances a regular practice. Then you can begin looking at spending patterns, cash flow and discussing changes you’d like to make.

6. Decide who’s on first.

You and your sweetie are on the same team — and like any great time, it’s helpful to assign clear positions, playing to your strengths.

Get honest with each other. I actually love reconciling accounts — but you’re so much better at making those phone calls. Decide together who will be the bookkeeper, who pays the bills, transfers the funds, etc. Try to split up roles in ways that feel good to you both.

Usually, couples fall into these roles without talking them through; the agreements are unspoken or even unconscious. This creates all manner of resentment and tension down the line Make clear, conscious, mutual agreements. Together.

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 is about custom-building bridges to more intimacy with your honey and money.

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 sweetheart.

So set aside some time to discuss what you value — as individuals and as a couple. Chances are, you’ll find you have significant common ground and some big differences.

Personal example: my husband and I are 100% in agreement about spending money on good food and travel. But I love to splurge on acupuncture, self-care, lotions and potions (which he couldn’t care less about) and he’s a cyclist which includes expensive road bikes (which I couldn’t care less about).

We could wag our fingers at each other: you spent WHAT on THAT?! Instead, we’ve gotten honest with each other (and ourselves) about how essential these things are to our happiness.

When you clarify the values behind your spending choices, it’s much easier to understand them and accept them: your own and your partner’s.

8. Get on the same dream team.

Are you living your way towards the same big dreams and buckets at the end of the rainbow? What do your bucket lists have in common?

Money, when used consciously, can be a vehicle to help you bring your dreams into reality. But first, we have to get honest about what we truly want.

So. Are your dreams and your honey’s dreams the same? Are they in alignment, or do they contradict each other? Do you even know each other’s big dreams?

Does your husband long to quit his job and start an organic farm in Vermont? Do you wish you could go back to school or travel the world?

Take the time to listen to each other’s dreams. This is so precious. Keep in mind, zooming out and dreaming big can be scary and vulnerable. But only once you’ve gotten honest about your dreams can you throw the full power of your spending, saving, and earning to support them.

So make some safe, judgment-free space for each other to open up and talk about your dreams — and then see how similar they are.

9. Make Money a no blame, no shame zone.

Most of us are already experts on shaming ourselves around money. We don’t need help from each other!

Strive to be kind, compassionate, and curious. Talking about money is so vulnerable. Remember that, before snapping at your honey when you disagree about a spending choice or shaming him for not saving more. There are so many layers beneath each money decision we make — and there may well be deep, tender things behind this moment that you know nothing about. We each have our money story and patterns. We all do money in different ways.

But when you bring some compassionate, open-hearted curiosity to the table — that’s when things can shift.

So try to make your Money Dates a “no blame, no shame zone.” Try to remain open and curious about each other. Allow for more compassion and love in your Money Dates. And yes: this takes practice!

10. Make room for the emotional side of money.

Money is connected to basic, primal things: survival, security, peace of mind, value, power, and more. We feel these things in our bodies, in our bones. And they create big emotions.

Make space for your emotions — and your partner’s emotions. Make space for any anger, shame, guilt, anxiety, sadness, and fear that may arise. And make room for joy, excitement, and increasing empowerment, too!

You simply won’t be unemotional, purely logical robots, here. Emotions will come up! Please do not shame each other for the hard emotions. Do your best to make space when the other is struggling or sorting through their feelings. Be honest about your own. Take turns. And be kind to each other.

11. Celebrate your baby steps. They are huge.

It’s easy to focus on what’s “wrong” or painful or left to be done, with money. After all: there’s always more steps to take and more layers to peel back.

But it is SO important to focus on the positive steps you have already taken. Sometimes, it’s appreciating the road rolling out behind us that keeps us motivated to keep going.

I encourage my Art of Money community (2020 now open!) to take baby steps and celebrate each one! Even steps you think are small or “no big deal” can take a ton of emotional courage — and deserve to be celebrated.

Did you and your honey have 3 Money Dates this month? Celebrate! Did you get brave and check your credit scores? Celebrate! Did you open up about a vulnerable subject? Celebrate more!

Remember to appreciate yourself and your sweetie for being on this money journey together. Even if you’re not walking at exactly the same pace or in the same style. Celebrate each other’s baby steps. Cheer each other on!

You can choose to craft a new money relationship: one built out of kindness, cooperation, and mutual empowerment. It’s not a one-time decision: it’s an ongoing practice. But when you put in some time and effort, you may be amazed at what happens.

You + your honey + money make three.

I know how tricky it is to talk about money with your sweetheart. But I also know how rewarding it can be! That’s why I offer so much support for couples in my year-long global money school, The Art of Money — now open for early bird registration.

It makes me so happy to hear couples in my community share their progress. Like how they used to not be able to talk about money without fighting — but now they’re actually looking forward to Money Dates. Or they’re learning new things about each other — and appreciating how strong and smart their partner is.

Maybe you’re both ready to take this journey together. Or maybe you’re blazing a trail, trusting your honey will follow when they’re ready.

Either way, if you’d like my help in your money relationship in 2020, now’s a wonderful time to join my year-long program, The Art of Money.

Learn what The Art of Money 2020 can help you and your sweetie create together right here.

Cheering you both on,

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