“My spatula broke and I need to buy a new one (pauses; frowns). Is that OK with you?” -Mr. Frugalwoods
“Oh the blue spatula? Sad (pauses; frowns for empathy)! Yes of course, get yourself a new one.” -Mrs. Frugalwoods
This is a verbatim transcript of a conversation I had with my husband a few weeks ago. I know you’re riveted with jealousy over how exciting our lives are. As the cook of our household, Mr. FW sometimes requires new kitchen utensils and, yes, we discuss each one (along with everything else we buy).
This conversation might seem ridiculous or overboard or, frankly, dull; although hey! we did discuss the color of the spatula, so more intrigue there! However, this exchange is a perfect example of how my husband and I communicate about our money and the shared responsibility we have for ensuring that our finances are in order. Granted, a spatula (he bought this one, by the way, since I’m sure you’re wondering… ) does not constitute a significant purchase, but it’s illustrative of the way in which we consider our money to be shared and our decision-making to be similarly shared.
As it’s Valentine’s Day week, it only feels right to delve into the steamy, thorny topic of relationships and money!! Everyone’s favorite, am I right? Yes indeed, I specialize in bringing up THE MOST controversial issues and then combining them all into one post. Hooray! And I’ve done it many times before! I’m incorrigible. Check out my past relationships-and-money musings for even more hotly debated topics:
- How We’ve Enjoyed Nine Years Of Marriage With Frugality As The Backbone
- Reader Suggestions On: How To Convince Your Husband Or Wife To Be Frugal
- The Curious Parallels Between Frugality and 7 Years of Marriage
- A Married Person’s Guide To Love And Frugality
- How Insourcing Strengthened Our Marriage
- A Frugal Weirdo’s Anti-Valentine’s Day Manifesto
- Behind the Scenes of a Happy Frugal Marriage
Arguments Over Money: Leading Cause of Divorce!
Eek! Really, Mrs. Frugalwoods? Yes, really! Terrible way to start off this section, I agree, but I figured we should begin with the bad news. If you have a partner or a spouse, you have GOT to find a way to get on the same financial page. Not to be overdramatic here, but how you spend your money is how you spend your life. And the way in which we manage, or don’t manage, our money will dictate the type of life we have.
Life is not all about money, but life is largely facilitated and made possible through judicious use of money. When we set longterm life goals, such a buying a house, or going on vacation, or moving to a new town, or having children, or pursuing a career we’re passionate about, we’re really setting goals for how we want to use our money. With a partner/spouse, these goals are magnified in the sense that now two people must buy in and two people must be aligned in how their spending and savings will make these dreams reality. Financial and life goals aren’t accomplished by accident, people.
I want to note here that I’m not necessarily talking about combining finances with your partner/spouse–plenty of couples are very happy to keep ’em separated. No problem with that at all. How your bank accounts shake out is merely the technical, spreadsheet-y (aka the easy, math-based) side of your money. The core challenge–the cause of all those divorces, ruptures, and resentments–is how we think about and utilize our money.
Would you tell your partner you love them only at tax time or only after you’ve over-drafted your account? Methinks not. At least, not if you want to stay together. Discussing money should be part of your normal, routine conversations as a couple. It doesn’t have to be a mega, formal, spreadsheet-backed discussion every week, but checking in about where you are with your goals and your projections is a must. If you feel like you need to start at the very, very beginning with your partner, sign-up to take my free Uber Frugal Month Challenge together. That’ll get you talking about money in a non-confrontational, productive way.
You’ve Got To Talk Money Together. Often.
I’m not the only one who thinks this, either! The New York Times has an article, 13 Questions To Ask Before Getting Married, and a whopping THREE of these thirteen questions relate (in some way) to MONEY! I was not at all surprised when I read this, although I would’ve added a few more money questions.
Then I remembered that I write a blog and could do so right here! HAH! Since I find “before getting married” too narrow a scope, what I propose (see what I did there?) is a list of FUN! financially-related questions to ponder with your significant other, no matter where you are in your relationship.
I plan to pin down my own husband on all of these questions (even though I already know his answers, I love hearing him talk… ) because I think that no matter where you are in a relationship (although probs not on the first date) and even if you’ve been married for almost ten years like my husband and I have been and even if you run a financial blog together, discussing your finances is something you should do on the regular. Plus, I promised they’d be FUN! All caps, people, all caps.
8 Money Questions To Ask (And Answer) With Your Partner
Approach these questions without judgement, without preconceived notions, and at a mutually convenient, agreed-upon time. Don’t be springing these on your partner as you dash out the door in the morning or after they’ve had a horrific day involving a confrontation with a porcupine (happened recently to friends of ours… ). Keep in mind that there are no right or wrong answers to any of these questions. The goal isn’t to “win” this questionnaire or to always align with your partner. The goal is to gain deeper insight into how you relate to money and the ways in which your approach shares similarities with, and differs from, your partner’s approach.
1) Where do you want to be in ten years and in twenty years in terms of our finances, our family/lifestyle, and our careers?
Ok I realize we started off with a whopper here, but it’s crucial for the two of you lovebirds to know where you’re headed in life. There’s basically no point in creating a savings/investing/debt repayment strategy if you don’t have a clearly articulated destination.
And let me be clear: your destination might be “doing what we’re doing today!” How great would that be! The key is to discover what the other person thinks and feels and how you’ll craft a life plan together.
Don’t be afraid of divergent answers. A number of years ago, Mr. FW’s response was “living in the woods” and mine was “buying a house in the city.” We ended up doing both, so don’t despair! The goal is not perfect unison, but rather an opening to explore your deeply held hopes for the future. Be precise in your goal-setting and be brutally honest with each other. A post for inspiration if you’re struggling with how to discern your goals: How I Figured Out What I Want To Do With My Life (And How You Can Too!)
2) How did your family manage money while you were growing up? Did you grow up feeling financially secure, constantly worried about money, or totally unaware of its role in your life?
Over the years of working with many of you through Frugalwoods, and reading lots of behavioral economics theory, I’ve come to understand the profound role our upbringings play in shaping how we view money. Growing up in a financially insecure home–whether due to low income or irresponsible money management or both–sets us up as adults for a different relationship with our money than someone who grew up in a financially stable home environment.
We often discuss the preeminence of loving homes for children, but too often we overlook the importance of instilling positive financial lessons in our kids from very young ages. Delve into your past and discuss how your early exposure to (or ignorance of) money shapes how you view your finances today. I’ve found that, very often, a divergent money philosophy within a couple is the result of two radically different financial upbringings. See if you can get at the root of your relationship with money through this question.
3) What does money mean to you?
Is it a source of security? Something you stress out about and fear? How do you think about your money? Often, folks fall into one of two categories:
Identifying which camp you fall into, and how that relates to your partner’s natural inclination, can be pivotal in reckoning divergent approaches to money. Being a saver or a spender isn’t a life sentence to always being in debt or always living like a miser, but your inherent tendencies are likely to guide your decision-making. Having this awareness will give you insight into your potentially visceral reactions to the opposing camp.
4) How can I best demonstrate my love for you? Do you enjoy receiving material gifts from me? Or do you prefer other types of gifts?
For some folks, receiving a gift–such as a necklace or a book–is a crucial element of feeling loved and of reciprocating love in a relationship. Do not stop buying gifts for each other if this is the genuine case!!! However, my husband and I discovered that neither of us cares much for material gifts and we were buying them for each other (for birthdays, Christmas, yes even the dreaded Valentine’s Day) because we thought we should.
We felt we were supposed to give gifts and so we did. Once we actually discussed it, however, we came to realize that both of us find shopping for gifts very stressful and receiving gifts equally stressful because then we have to DO something with this new thing, which we probably didn’t even want in the first place (torture for us quasi-minimalists)! Plus, total waste of money. Hence, we made the joint decision a few years back to cease all material gift giving to each other.
You will note that I said “material gift giving.” Mr. FW and I still give “gifts” to each other all the time, they’re just not bought in a store. In responding to this question, I told Mr. FW that what I want from him are gifts of service. I need him to do things for me. And he does! As a gift, he picks up toys every night after Babywoods goes to bed. As a gift, he cooks breakfast and dinner for me every single day. As a gift, he builds up fires in our wood stove. And the list goes on and on and on. I do the same for him when I do his laundry every week and clean the house. In this way, we are always demonstrating our love for each other, but with a recognition of the most meaningful way to do so.
If instead of cooking dinner, Mr. FW presented me with a diamond necklace, I’d be like, “what do I need a diamond necklace for? I live on a homestead!” It would be a total disconnect from what I need and want from him. Hence, I encourage you to have this potentially awkward conversation with your partner and find out how they want you to “gift” to them. More of my thoughts on this are enshrined here: A Frugal Valentine’s Day: Do Instead Of Buy as well as I Need A Gift For My Anniversary Like Frugal Hound Needs A Bicycle
5) What do you most enjoy spending money on?
This one is a great entré to exploring how you both view needs, wants, luxuries, and fulfillment. It’s also an opportunity to identify areas where you’re spending money in ways that don’t deliver a high return on your investment. If neither of you really cares about having cable, for example, here’s your chance to cancel cable and instead put that (whopping) dollar amount towards saving up for the trip to Iceland that you both want to take.
Identify what you both value most and consider eliminating any expenses that don’t make it onto either of your lists. Why spend money on things that aren’t ultimately fulfilling or important to either of you? Conversely, respect what the other person values and have an understanding for why they want to keep their CrossFit membership or monthly dinner out with their friends. Seek to understand, with empathy and an open mind, why your partner spends on things that you don’t personally value.
6) What do you think about charitable giving? Where would you like to donate money? How do you see this fitting into our longterm plans?
I am a huge fan of strategic charitable giving, which starts with a conversation about how you both view philanthropy and its role in your life. Determining how–and if–you want to donate to charity is a wonderful way to expand on your values and insights. More than just a financial consideration, setting giving priorities as a couple allows you to create goals beyond your family unit and that encompass your broader worldview. For guidance on how Mr. FW and I handle our charitable donations, check out:
- How We Donate To Charities Like Billionaires
- How We Make Meaningful And Tax Efficient Charitable Donations
7) Is our money shared? Is your debt my debt and vice versa? Do we want to combine our finances? If our money is already combined, do we both have access, control, and an understanding of how to manage this money?
Addressing the technicalities of how you manage your money may provide a window into how you each perceive the role of money in your relationship. One person may naturally be the money manager, which is totally fine, but does the other person feel as though they understand the system for how your money is taken care of? Are there any underlying resentments in how shared money is spent and saved?
Every couple will chart a different methodology for how money is handled, but it’s important that both parties at the very least:
- Know about and have access to all accounts, including: checking, savings, credit cards, retirement, and investments.
- Understand how and when bills are paid.
- Be aware of your complete net worth, including any debts.
- Know your investing and retirement savings strategies.
- Understand your longterm financial goals.
Demonstrate respect for one another in how you handle your money. One person shouldn’t dole out “allowances” to the other or scrutinize spending or otherwise harass based on financial decisions. Make it a shared conversation and an opportunity to collaborate and learn from one another. Enshrine respect in how you discuss your money, just as you would in conversations on any other topic.
8) What would you like to tell me about how I handle money that you think might upset me? What bothers you about how I manage money?
I saved the best for last! This is what I like to call the hot button question–it’s designed to be a tad controversial because the intention is to expose any underlying resentments or issues surrounding money in your relationship. None of us is 100% happy with how our partner does everything and money is no exception. The goal of this question isn’t to reform the other person, but rather, to open up a dialogue in the hopes of avoiding longterm grudges or rifts to develop.
By having an awareness of what bothers your partner, you’ll have insight into how you might broach the issue in the future. For example, if it irks you that they sigh loudly every time an Amazon box is delivered, ask them what’s underneath that frustration. Be honest without being mean and explore how you might resolve these differences. Or, mutually acknowledge that you will learn to live with, and accept, whatever this particular habit is that you don’t care for.
Commit To Each Other
You owe it to your relationship to talk about money. Not once a year, not just when I harp on you to do so, but on a regular, repeated basis. Mr. FW and I don’t have formal finance dates anymore, but we used to. We’d sit down side by side at our Craigslist-sourced wooden dining room table, open up our accounts, our spreadsheets, and chat. We’d review our expenses (which we track using Personal Capital–a free system that I highly recommend), discuss upcoming big purchases, and generally talk about all things money.
Over time, our finance dates have become a bit less informal, but no less important. As the spatula conversation illustrates, we check in with each other about all of our purchases. It helps that we don’t buy much and ensures that we’re always on the same page about what we need and want to bring into our lives.
I know couples who–I am not kidding–communicate about their finances via email. It works best for them to each take the time to put their thoughts in writing and then allow their partner to review and respond at a time that’s convenient. Other folks like to sit down over dinner or chat while taking a walk. There’s no correct venue for these conversations, they just need to happen.
Since money is the leading cause of divorce in our country, it’s clearly an issue that’s underrepresented in conversations between partners. Although most of us construct our lives around something other than money, it’s undeniable that money is the undercurrent of our lives. It’s how we achieve major goals, create stability for ourselves and our families, and ultimately, how we free ourselves from–well–needing to worry about money. Money can be a source of pain and friction, or it can facilitate the life you want to live. Let it be the latter and start this conversation with your partner today.