How to talk with your spouse about money

This article was written by Sierra Black, a long-time GRS reader and the author of ChildWild, a blog where she writes about frugality, sustainable living, and getting her kids to eat kale.

Talking about money is one of the great taboos of our culture. I know more about my friends’ sex lives than I do about their bank statements. Many of us find it hard to discuss finances under the best circumstances. When we’re stressed about money, we tend to clam up even more.

If you’re married (or living with a partner), you don’t have that luxury. Financial success is not a private affair. You need to talk to your spouse or partner about your money. This is vital for both the health of your relationship and the health of your bank balance.

You don’t have to take my word for this. This week, I had the pleasure of interviewing Lou Scatigna, a.k.a. The Financial Physician. An entire chapter of his new book is devoted to “lack of spousal communication”.

How big a problem is failing to talk to your spouse about money? “If you have money conflict, your marriage is doomed,” Scatigna says.

OUCH! My husband and I have our share of differences when it comes to handling our dollars, and I’d like to stay married. In addition to genuinely liking the guy I married, divorce is expensive.

The Monthly Family Finance Meeting

Scatigna’s prescription for this ailment? Have a monthly family finance meeting. Scatigna says its vital for both partners to sit down together once a month and pay all their bills together. Even if you’ve automated many of your monthly bills with an electronic bill pay system, you need to be looking at them each month. Doing this together has a lot of advantages:

  • You both know the real cost of living in your household. When only one partner handles the finances, the other can be genuinely unaware of how much credit card debt your family is carrying, or how high the winter heating bills are. This is information you both need to have.
  • You can hold each other accountable to shared financial goals. It’s harder to justify an extra latte when you know you have to own up to your spending at the end of the month.
  • Working together can make it fun. Instead of a tiresome chore, handling the finances can become something you do together. Finding ways to save can become something of a game, and as you get better at it you’ll both reap the rewards.
  • Having both partners fully up to speed on the household management protects you both from being left in the lurch should the other suddenly not be available. People die or suffer sudden illnesses, and the business of life goes on. You don’t want to have to learn how to pay your home’s monthly bills while you’re handling a family crisis.

I’m a long-standing believer in the theory of a monthly household finance meeting, but I also know it’s a lot harder to practice than it is to theorize about. Scatigna says it’s the rare couple that actually sits down and talks about finances every month.

Making the Time to Talk

Managing finances together sounds simple, but there are a lot of stumbling blocks. People are busy. You’ve got a career, a family, maybe kids of your own, plus friends and hobbies. Spending an evening a month on a boring chore can seem like a lot to ask.

Plus, money pushes a lot of buttons for people. It brings up fear, anxiety, guilt, anger. A lot of negative emotions most of us like to avoid. So we avoid talking about money with our spouses until it explodes in a financial disaster or a relationship meltdown.

Even when we do sit down to talk, it can be hard to make good use of the time. Should you discuss long-term goals or just go over this month’s bills? How can you avoid spiraling into a fight?

My husband and I have been in a groove with this lately. To get started, we sat down and worked out a master list of financial goals. We also made a huge spreadsheet of our fixed and flexible expenses. We use these as guides when we’re looking at how cash flowed in and out during the month.

Here’s a list of do’s and don’ts that are working for us:

  • Don’t spring a big money talk on your spouse by surprise.

While cooking dinner or getting ready for work is not the time to have this conversation.

  • Don’t talk about it when you’re already angry. Just got a surprise overdue notice for that parking ticket your honey forgot to tell you about? Don’t call her up at work to complain about it.
  • Don’t talk about it after midnight. My husband and I tend to leave money talks for the end of the day, and wind up trying to deal with it when we’re both exhausted and edgy.
  • Do set a specific time to sit down and discuss your finances. If you expect the conversation to be difficult, try scheduling two dates at once: one to talk about money, and another one a few days later to do something fun you both enjoy.
  • Do have an agenda. We’ve wasted many household money talks staring at each other over a pile of bills and not knowing what to do. Now we have a pretty clear routine: go over each spending category on our spreadsheet, look at how much we spent, figure out if we can cut back on it at all in the coming month, and check in about how that fits into our big-picture money goals.
  • Do be gentle with each other. Scatigna warns that in households where one spouse pays the bills, that partner can become resentful for having to carry all the weight. That was certainly the case in our house, but once I learned to control my temper about it, my husband became much more willing to come to the table and get involved.

Talking about money really has eased tensions between us. It’s also helped with our cash flow. We’re on the same page a lot more often. We’re both paying more attention to the kinds of details that used to cost us a lot in mistakes or careless spending. We feel like a real team, and we’re actually saving money.

Previously at Get Rich Slowly, Sierra told us about sweating the big stuff, described the pitfalls of buying in bulk, and made an argument for a secular tithe. As you might guess, I like her writing.

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There are 74 comments to "How to talk with your spouse about money".

  1. Writer's Coin says 26 January 2010 at 05:41

    My wife and I have a budget run through twice a month. One halfway through to see how we’re stacking up and one at the end to see if we’ve met our saving goals.

    But a co-worker of mine does something even more important: once a month he shows his wife how to log into every account and shows her where all the money is, how they’re doing, what’s happened, etc.

    His wife isn’t interested in the details, but once a month they sit down and run through it anyway so she has a general sense of what’s going on and in case anything happens to him she knows how to access all the accounts.

    A very forward looking idea.

  2. trb says 26 January 2010 at 06:40

    Yes, we’re on this train! We do a quarterly, 2-3 hour long update, and after a few years we’ve developed a nice rhythm. Here’s our basic agenda:
    1. Philosophy – “How are you feeling about our money situation and our financial life?” (I realized this one was important to start with, to get my spouse engaged on an emotional level, before crunching numbers)
    2. Goals – “Why is our money important to us?” We discuss our long-term financial goals, and our upcoming plans next few months, including any travel or big gifts we need to be aware of.
    3. Current status – “What’s the state of our financial life?” We maintain a master spreadsheet that has our income, debt, monthly bills, etc. We both come prepared with the balances for the accounts we manage, and update the whole thing. We look for trends and any big changes.
    4. Equity – “Are we each contributing the right amount toward the household?” Since we keep separate finances, we make sure the bills/savings/etc we pay are proportional to our incomes. We’ve tried a few things over the past decade, but this one works for us, so we make sure to keep it up to date and adjust for raises, new expenses, etc.
    5. Budgets – “Does anything need to change?” We create our individual budgets at this time, using each other for advice and ideas of how to maximize enjoyment and thrift. This gives us a level of accountability, too – if my spouse knows I have $10/month budgeted for books, she has the right to question me if there’s a thick stack from the bookstore on the table.
    6. Planning ahead – “Should we do anything differently for next meeting?” This gives us a chance to talk about how we felt as we went through the day, and if there are other things we need to cover. It’s the ‘plus-delta’ exercise that you might be familiar with from work conferences and such.
    7. Wine and romance – we like to finish this up by making dinner and making out! Family finance can be sexy, really.

  3. Jason says 26 January 2010 at 06:43

    When we started doing the Total Money Makeover, one of the main tenets is a monthly budget meeting. What it does is force you to talk about money every month, which is a great thing. You stop having big money arguments because you have to talk about things once a month, and they can’t fester for months or years.

    This article could also be very easily made into a sex advice column, since many of the same points are very applicable to that realm, as well! Ditto for child rearing and household chores!

  4. Alexandra says 26 January 2010 at 06:47

    My husbands finances are so complicated compared to mine – he likes to have separate accounts for business, separate accounts for real estate, etc. while I have just one for savings and one for every day stuff. I asked him to write down all of his accounts so that if something should happen to him, I know where everything is.

    We don’t have a formal sit down talk once a month to talk about money. We had a talk a long time ago, and then each time we have moved or anything major has happened, we have re-evaluated the situation. We estimated based on yearly averages and then split all our bills, and I write a cheque to him every month to cover my half. We discuss things if anything changes. With the understanding that we both max our RRSPs and our TFSA, we save independantly. We also spend independantly, on our own credit cards. No need to account to the other, and no need to hide spending or feel guilty – we have already paid the bills and paid ourselves.

    So far this has worked very well. I don’t see a need for a monthly conversation about our finances – ours would go like this: “Anything new?” “Nope.” “Okay, we’ll talk about this again next month.”

  5. Hannah says 26 January 2010 at 07:09

    This article seemed very shallow to me. It presumed that all couples fight about money (which isn’t true).

    I would argue that if you have to walk on eggshells and schedule the monthly meeting (with your own spouse?) at a time when neither of you are cranky, then the meetings aren’t solving anything. If you don’t share the same goals, then meetings about your finances aren’t going to fix the tension, because you’re not really fighting about the money.

    “It’s harder to justify an extra latte when you know you have to own up to your spending at the end of the month.” I don’t care for the assumption that a spouse has to “own up” to their purchases once a month. How about, if you are in control of your finances and communicating well, you do not need to have any guilt about buying a latte (or much bigger purchases!).

  6. Roblynn says 26 January 2010 at 07:25

    I have to agree with Alexandra. After 30 years we have found that a split, I pay mine you pay yours is much better for us. We tried all the meetings, dates, locking hubby in the office to pay bills, etc. and it did not work for us. It seemed to breed more resentment for both of us having to be accountable to anyone for the money we were making and spending. If anything big comes up we talk and decide what to do about it and do it.

  7. Mike says 26 January 2010 at 07:41

    As I read over some of these comments, I agree and disagree with a lot of them. Comment 4 seems like you are living 2 separate lives. I understand keeping things separate, but writing your husband a check every month? That just seems like you are almost paying him rent or something. Almost like you have a business relationship moreso than a marriage. Comment 5, I don’t think the author was presuming that at all, but it is a fact that couples fight most about money. It is nearly impossible in the daily hustle if both people are working and there are kids involved to even remember what you did financially that day. Family finances need to be talked about, plain and simple.

    I handle the finances in the house. My wife has always been a little bit uncomfotable with money. We have all shared accounts. We talk about our goals and the ways we can achieve them. We don’t keep any secrets and I make her pay the bills and login to the accounts every so often so she knows how to take care of it in the event that I can’t. We also have setup a master password list. We keep it in the safe. It has all out account information…from mortgage to credit cards and all the IDs and passwords needed to access the accounts. It works for us, keeps us on track, and keep our lines of communication open and honest.

  8. Jackie says 26 January 2010 at 07:53

    My husband and I don’t schedule monthly talks about money, but we do talk about it regularly — probably more often than once a month. We talk about goals, our progress, suggest ideas, etc. I think a lot of it has to do with personality, interests, and outlook, but for us talking about money is as normal as say talking about our plans for the weekend.

  9. Kate says 26 January 2010 at 07:58

    As a newlywed, we’re still transitioning from co-habitators (where he wrote me a check each month for his half of household expenses and I paid all bills) to a system where we have both individual and a joint account.

    While this article isn’t ground-breaking, it’s a good reminder for me to do the following : 1. make sure my husband and I continue having regular conversations about our long term goals and short term strategies; 2. make sure that we have all our account information in a shared location just in case.

  10. Shalom says 26 January 2010 at 08:07

    We get by a lot more casually than this post recommends, and I think what we do works just fine. I keep a monthly net worth sheet, and once I’ve updated it I print it out and show it to hubby. If there’s anything weird in it, we may say a couple or three sentences about it (“Hey, look, our retirement fund went up a lot! Hooray, the market!” or “Credit card charges were really high this month, but that was the car repair and the tuition bill, and I moved money out of short-term savings to cover it”).

    We also have the “what-if-you’re-hit-by-a-beer-truck-tomorrow” document that we call the “money map.” It has all the financial accounts, locations, customer service phone numbers, passwords, etc. on it. It includes everything from the mortgage to our cable bill.

    And we usually talk before making a major purchase, or if some other question comes up. That’s it.

    Maybe the regularly meetings and agendas and all that are useful if you’ve not talked well about money before; but for us it would be making money into a big, difficult deal. It would feel like a business mindset is intruding into our marriage, like we were turning ourselves into a Six Sigma project.

    We would hardly consider having formal meetings about our health, relationship, parenting, career or anything else; why would money be different? We just talk when we need to. We’re not a business partnership.

  11. Dustin | Engaged Marriage says 26 January 2010 at 08:08

    As you might imagine, this is a favorite topic of mine. Not only am I a financial geek who is married to a free-spirited spender type of gal, but I write about marriage on a regular basis. In our house, I handle the details and keep my wife informed and seek her input on major decisions. While we don’t have a “lock down” time, this conversation does occur on a monthly basis when I create a new budget for us to talk about.

    One thing I have found fascinating is how almost every article I’ve written or read about marriage and money generates comments that turn into a debate about joint vs. separate accounts. We use a joint account and see it as both practical and symbolic of the unity in our marriage and finances. I also see some valid points from many who have different account arrangements, and the conversation around this issue is always interesting.

    I have to write a post about this issue very soon!

  12. Kim says 26 January 2010 at 08:16

    Sierra, another GREAT post! Your writing is a pleasure to read, and this is chock-full of applicable information.

    This one goes into the permanent file.


  13. GayleRN says 26 January 2010 at 08:26

    I also recommend including teenagers in this conversation at some point when they are mature enough not to inform all their friends about your situation. It is amazing to them to see just how much you have to pay out in bills. Our children quit asking for so much stuff when they saw how much we were spending on just feeding them. They also get much more realistic ideas on stuff like colleges and how much it costs to live on their own. They get a big dose of reality from this exercise.

  14. Shara says 26 January 2010 at 08:40

    Yeah, talking about money is not a problem for us. In fact some days I feel like I talk about money TOO much. I will consciously avoid talking about money for a week or something just to change things up a little.

    I think the most interesting thing about this article was that as a society we are more comfortable talking about sex than money. I mean what does that say about us? I am the complete opposite. I still don’t share a lot of specifics about my financial life, but I share a lot more than I do details about the rest of my life. I know my friends aren’t that interested.

    But I like knowing people’s stats, not to compare them to each other, but because decisions make a lot more sense in context.

  15. Edward - Entry Level Dilemma says 26 January 2010 at 08:54

    When we first got married, our finances were almost undoing. I moved into the apartment she already had, so she was already aware of all the bills and the cash flow and I was completely in the dark.

    Now I keep track of our finances with Quicken (I had used MS Money in the past, but I wanted to jump ship before Microsoft pulled the plug. RIP Money. You’re cash-flow analysis was much better than Quicken’s). This way, we are both away of how much money is coming in and going out.

    Each week, we sit down and review the upcoming bills for the next two.

  16. HollyP says 26 January 2010 at 08:55

    I enjoyed this post, even though my husband and I don’t fight about money. It is a great idea, and I”ll be e-mailing him the article to see what he thinks about monthly meetings.

  17. Meg says 26 January 2010 at 09:02

    I like the idea of both of us sitting down and knowing how to access each other’s accounts. It’s not a pleasant thought, but Writer’s Coin (#1) is right – what if something happens to you? Your spouse needs to know where the money is.

    I think having both halves looking over the acount keeps you both accountable, and creates a sort of “checks and balances.” You can – and should – question each other on expenses – “What was this expense?” “When did you pay the mortgage, again?”

  18. Sean O'Dwyer says 26 January 2010 at 09:10

    Married 14 years and only in the last year or so have we learned to discuss finances in a calm and productive way. Such a relief. We settled our 2010 budget over two meetings, both of which were amicable and, more importantly, SHORT!

    The above guidelines are excellent. If I could make one suggestion it would be that monthly meetings may not be enough, especially if you’re just starting to pull yourself out of trouble. Even just for a while, it can be helpful to meet once or twice a week, especially if you need to get on top of issues and report back on something. A month can be too long to wait, and new pressures can come up in the meantime.

    We’ve found that more frequent, shorter meetings, early in the evening, work well for us.

  19. Tazdollars says 26 January 2010 at 09:11

    My wife and I have everything on Mint and we each look at it daily. We always have casual conversations like “we’re doing great sticking to our eating out budget this month” or “we’ve got to get our grocery bill under control.” We sat down and created the budget jointly and since everything we do is transparent, there are no secrets or guilt about how each of us spend money.

    The only thing we have that is separate are my “Blow Money” account and her “Blow Money” account which is budgeted every month. If either of stay under our budgeted amount, the excess gets put into that person’s “Blow Money” ING account to save up for bigger indulgences. If either of us goes over, then the difference is pulled out of the “Blow Money” ING account.

  20. Steve says 26 January 2010 at 09:31

    I talk with my wife about our finances when needed. She leaves it to me to handle the details – she’s just not that interested. We have more than enough income to meet our needs and save for the future, so we don’t have to fight or be stressed about money.

    The biggest hole is what would happen if something happened to me. I keep meaning to make a list of our accounts so she would at least know what banks/brokerages/etc to contact to start looking information up.

  21. kaitlyn says 26 January 2010 at 09:37

    The good thing about my fiance getting laid off is it forced us to have one of these conversations. We’ve kinda-sorta had them before in a general sense, but this was the first time we’ve pulled our cc statements and worked out the numbers.

    Let me tell you, that was an eye-opener. “You spend HOW MUCH on going out to lunch?!” “That card was paid off! How come it has $1500 on it now??” Plus we learned that even budgeting $400/mo for food, we still have $800 left over that we have no idea where it goes. Oi.

  22. Debbie M says 26 January 2010 at 09:41

    Knowing how to access accounts is even more important now that many times you do not get statements in the mail.

    I also agree with the idea of including your children. Even if you don’t get into specifics, just talking about whether the finances are going well or not and what changes in spending you’re going to try in response to changes in income.

    Even if you just got laid off and are genuinely scared, I would think that talking to your kids could help because in reassuring them, you are reassuring yourself. Plus kids, especially little kids, really like to help, even doing crazy, drastic things like volunteering to sell their toys.

  23. Debbie M says 26 January 2010 at 09:49

    One strategy that can help with early talks is to just show off some of your own financial information. When you reach a new milestone–good or bad–talk about that. Or when you’re thinking of making a change like stop making charges to a credit card or start investing or paying down the mortgage. And do it some place where you can get to your data (credit card statements or your financial spreadsheets or your budget) in case you want to go into more detail.

    Your partner may or may not volunteer information right away, to show you “Well, this is how I’M doing it,” but it could happen later.

  24. Sam says 26 January 2010 at 09:53

    When we first got married and decided to pay off all our debt (except the mortgage) we had a big annual meeting to come up with a plan for the year, we met every month and we talked about finances just about every other day. We also had a big annual meeting to prepare our taxes. Mr. Sam created the Excel spreadsheet to track our debt snowball and I sent it to him twice a month. Mr. Sam did not sit down with me twice a month to watch me pay the bills, balance the check book and tweak the spending plan (our form of the budget). In my mind that would have been a waste of time. Plus I normally pay the bills at my office.

    The next year, 2008, we had a big annual meeting to create our spending plan and to determine our saving goals (since we had paid off all our debt). We also had a big mtg. to prepare our tax documents. We had a couple of meetings during the rest of the year and I sent Mr. Sam the Excel savings chart twice a month.

    2009 was pretty much a duplicate of 2008 and I expect 2010 to be similar.

    I prepare a spending plan, meet with Mr. Sam and go over it, tweak it. We spend time preparing our taxes early in the year (this year we’ve also been preparing for our audit – joy, joy). I pay all the bills, balance the various accounts, allocate savings, etc. I also do most of the investing for us, although I’d like Mr. Sam to share in that effort since he has the MBA. I don’t involve Mr. Sam with the nitty-gritty but we do have a $300 agreement, anything over $300 has to be discussed and agreed and I give him heads up on big things. We also track our expenses in Quicken so he can always review that if he is interested.

    I keep all the passwords and log-ins for all our accounts in our safe deposit box, try to update that once a year.

    For us, it just doesn’t make sense to meet once a month for budget and bill paying but I agree it can be a helpful exercise, especially early on in a financial relationship or if there are issues in the finances.

  25. Tyler Karaszewski says 26 January 2010 at 10:20

    I do all the finances in our house. I give my wife an allowance of $150/week to do whatever she wants with. I pay all the bills. We set savings goals together, but I actually do the saving and keep her updated on its progress. If she needs more than her allowance any week, she can just ask and I’ll give her more. If we need to make any special plans (for instance, flying to see her sister) she can let me know in advance so I can plan on having enough set aside for plane tickets in a couple months.

    This works fine for us. I don’t mind being the one in charge of finances.

  26. MichaelM says 26 January 2010 at 10:21

    Google Docs and our our best friends.

    Docs keeps track of debt snowball, ideal monthly budget and savings goals keeps track of where our money is going (we use CCs almost exclusively — and pay them off each month, of course) and helps us keep tabs on all our accounts at once.

    We’re kind of at the long-slog stage of debt payoff and saving for goals so we don’t talk about things each month. Instead whenever something significant happens* I’ll show her on Mint or Google Docs and we discuss it as it happens.

    * eg. Odd spending, higher than normal bills, unexpected windfalls, etc.

  27. E says 26 January 2010 at 10:30

    Always a great topic.
    We’re one of those couples that fought about money, as we relate to it in completely different ways. Currently I make decent money and am building up some savings for us, while he is still struggling with old debt and uncontrolled spending. He rarely pays a bill on time, so I am in charge of the mortgage, utilities, and taxes. I always send him emails to keep him in the loop – conversations get emotionally charged so easily, and they’re harder to rememeber. He pays his own bills and gives me some money for the joint stuff. I don’t pester him about his spending or his debt, and he’s slowly coming around to a more sustainable way of managing money. His credit cards are nearly paid off and he’s starting to think about savings.
    It would be nice to get to a point where we can have regular meetings and shared goals, and I think we’ll get there. It’s one of those things you can’t force, and what we’re doing now is working for us for now.
    (oh and it’s sooooooooo much better than where we were at the beginning of the relationship!!!!! :D)

  28. E says 26 January 2010 at 10:33

    @ Debbie M, that’s what I did. I talked about paying off cc’s, starting my ira, how much bills were month to month etc., without making any demands on him. I think that has helped him come around. 🙂

  29. schmei says 26 January 2010 at 10:34

    My husband and I had a big sit-down meeting with an agenda and everything a few weeks after we got married, but since then I’d say our money conversations actually _do_ happen at times like when we’re making dinner, etc – however, they’re mostly little check-in chats, and we do this about once a week or so.

    We do our taxes together every year, though, and I’d say that is always the most formal finance meeting we have: we sit down with all our paperwork and talk through the whole process.

    This article does seem to presume that money discussions are always angry. They don’t have to be. When we talk about our savings goals I’d say it gives us a sense of shared purpose – we’re living on the cheap now because we have dreams for the future.

  30. Rosa says 26 January 2010 at 10:51

    I think it’s funny when people say “it’s like you have a business partnership, not a marriage.”

    Marriage is a legal contract where, instead of making a personalized commitment and signing on after reading all of it, you’re subject to the laws of the state you live in. LOTS of those laws are financial, and people need to keep that in mind – I know way too many people who discover secret debts they co-own, because they wanted to step out in trust or not have to worry about financial details.

    My partner has a lot of anxiety about money (not because of debt – his anxiety causes him to hoard up cash wear holey clothes rather than buy more).

    When I was a SAHM, I was doing all the bill-paying as part of picking up the household chores. We also were having a lot of conflict about money – he kept “forgetting” to change his paycheck distribution to cover me no longer working, or “forgetting” to make withdrawals for me to have cash for groceries, gas, clothes, etc.

    One afternoon, I was paying his credit card bill from the joint account and I thought, you know, he never looks at the account statements or the bills – I could just buy whatever I want and he’d probably never notice.

    So I started making him look at the statements and bills at least every other month. I also started making him do half the shopping – instead of complaining about how much I spend on clothes, food, and kid activities, he got the chance to see for himself how much things cost.

    It’s worked out pretty well – he now admits that jeans have risen in price (to $8 at our local thrift shop, when it was $5 10 years ago) and that my grocery spending was reasonable.

    (I also went back to work, pretty much as a treatment for his anxiety – he makes so much more money than I do, my entire paycheck goes to child care and my own retirement savings.)

  31. guinness416 says 26 January 2010 at 10:58

    I couldn’t agree more with Schmei and Shalom (six sigma, ha!). We do this fairly casually and on a while-getting-ready-for-bed or while-waiting-for-the-subway basis, even if it’s about renewing cellphone contracts or something. Almost everything’s automated anyway and I guess I’m one of the few who has a spouse who actually knows how to log into our accounts.

    Edited to note that obviously there are people who have massive debts hanging over their head or just lost a source of income or something which would make regular meetings more useful; but I don’t accept that everyone needs them.

  32. Ben says 26 January 2010 at 11:04

    I struggle with this one.

    I have tried to include my spouse in financial decisions but she is not interested and trust me to make the right decisions. On the whole, I am fine with this accept as it relates to estate planning.

    How do I talk to my wife about wills, advance directives, etc. when she becomes upset when this topic is brought up?

  33. E says 26 January 2010 at 11:25

    I’m a little creeped out by the guy who says he gives his wife an “allowance” and she asks him for more if she wants to go over her “allowance.” She’s your wife, not your child. It’s joint money, not your money that you dole out to her.

  34. says 26 January 2010 at 11:34

    Monthly may not be enough for some people and I would say a mid month check in is often desirable. One issue that happens is when you are doing really well and the assets are building up, there’s not much to talk about. The bills are all easily manageable and the only question is what to invest money in and whether you want to pay the mortgage off early or invest it.

    More attention gets paid when things are tighter and you have to decide which bills to pay and when and how to get them paid. So it’s different for different people.

    One thing that is very difficult for many couples is having a unified plan on the big goals. Paying bills and moving cash is one thing, but its quite another to have a annual plan that both people can agree upon that translates into long term goals.

  35. Ronnie says 26 January 2010 at 11:47

    Steve #19:

    PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE move from the “keep meaning to” to the “I’ve done it” phase of making a list. My father-in-law passed away so unexpectedly last year, and his wife had NO CLUE how to access the accounts, what bills were where, how much was in retirement, ANYTHING. My brother-in-law and I have spent the past year making sure that her finances are straight (hubby handles medical issues) and that she knows how to and can access her money. He left her so well provided for, but until she could find all the money, she was understandably hysterical.

  36. Tyler Karaszewski says 26 January 2010 at 11:59


    Ok, it’s not an “allowance” then. It’s $150/weekly that gets automatically transferred to her account. Be creeped out if you want, then come up with a better system and suggest it. We agreed mutually on the $150/week number, it’s not like she has no input in this system at all.

  37. E says 26 January 2010 at 12:08

    hey there are 2 E’s! This one has no allowance issues, my parents did the same thing. Mom was a sahm so dad transferred so much per week for groceries, kid stuff, and fun. I was never privy to their discussions but I don’t remember them EVER fighting about money.
    Now I kinda wish I had eavesdropped or something; it might have helped me discuss money with my husband. Mom was a spender like him and dad’s a worrier like me. 🙂

  38. J.D. says 26 January 2010 at 12:12

    Kris and I don’t do any sort of formal financial meetings. Once a year or so, we talk about our general direction, but that’s it. Because our finances are separate, we trust each other to take care of certain bailiwicks. That said, we both think things have gotten a little complicated lately, so we too intend to sit down and go over the Big Picture, share lists, and so on. Maybe once the book is published…

  39. Mrs. Money says 26 January 2010 at 12:49

    Funny story- before we got married I found this shoebox full of collections notices. I freaked out and thought that he was horrible with money and I couldn’t marry him. Needless to say, he ended up doing a 180 and we’ve bought a house and paid off all our debt except one car loan!

  40. Jaime Karaszewski says 26 January 2010 at 13:13


    I’m Tyler’s wife. Regarding the “allowance” issue – we’ve decided to call it a “stipend.” It works for us. It’s not degrading or offensive, it’s just our alternative to having a joint account.

    We don’t have monthly money talks – but we do talk about money when important financial issues arise, and I’m well aware of what gets spent each month. He takes care of setting up automatic monthly payments because his paycheck goes into his checking account, and I’m not currently working (though hopefully I will be soon).

    I think a lot of it comes down to trust and lifestyles – I don’t have a $500 purse obsession and he doesn’t have a gambling problem, and neither of us has a credit card. We have the same priorities (travel and food are important, clothes and TVs aren’t). Tyler trusted me to plan the details of our wedding within the roughly $2,500 budget we set – he knew I wouldn’t suddenly go out and spend $30K on a dress. I trust him to set aside money for emergencies. Maybe we’re just lucky that financial planning comes easily for us.

  41. Nicole says 26 January 2010 at 13:29

    Tyler K– In our household we call that, “My husband gives himself an allowance.” The wording seems to calm people down and not think I’m a horrible shrew. Though honestly I can’t say what his allowance is off the top of my head, so it really is him apportioning it out.

    Now that JD and others have admitted to not having monthly meetings, I feel comfortable saying we don’t either! We’re a lot like the other people above who don’t have or no longer have trouble with money. Money isn’t emotional with us, we have enough. We do big picture stuff and take inventory once a year around taxes. We chat small amounts but informally the rest of the year (and he checks his credit card bill for mistakes and I check mine). We talked and tracked a lot more when we had a lot less money because we had to, but now our time is more valuable and everything is on auto-pilot.

    Except really recently DH has gotten into the financial planning books as a hobby so he wants to make a chart for financial independence like in YMMYL. The idea of being able to live like we’re living this year (on a sabbatical from formal work) starting sometime in his 40s and for the rest of his life is appealing to him.

  42. Natalie says 26 January 2010 at 13:37

    We don’t have monthly meetings but we often have weekly email checkins — “hey, did you see this come out, is that reimbursement check in yet,” etc.

    I would rather talk about it — but I am realizing that our time together is precious, so these email check ins work. And if it is something bigger, we’ll talk about it at home.

  43. Daphne says 26 January 2010 at 14:01

    It’s not just spouses either. I have been unable to discuss any finances/debts with my mother and when I’ve tried, she blows up and says that spending money is her only pleasure (even though she CONSTANTLY complains about her debts!) We’ve come to an “agreement” that “we” (I’m not the one with a problem discussing money) will not discuss money any more and I’ve come to the conclusion that her debts will most likely be settled when she dies.

    Dave Ramsey calls this the “powdered butt syndrome” – you absolutely cannot talk about money with anyone who has powdered your butt.

    I guess that can be applied to some spouses too. 😉

    All I can do is try to be a good financial role model, but she dismisses my financial gains as luck instead of strategy.

  44. Illsa says 26 January 2010 at 14:02

    It seems important for couples to find what works for them and not try to adhere to some cultural notion about what being married must mean or entail (unless of course, those notions work best for them). I learned in a prior relationship that keeping finances/expenses separate and independent is what works best for me. If there are big expenses (new appliances, etc.) then we go 50/50. The two benefits for me from this system is that 1) I maintain my financial independence and 2) we do not fight about money.

  45. Sam says 26 January 2010 at 14:05

    We use an allowance system in our house for both of us. We each get the same amount each pay period even though I earn more than my husband. The allowance goes for day to day expenses which for us covers grocery shopping, eating out, entertainment, gas, dry-cleaning, etc. If you are good with your allowance you can save a bit of it up for some cool shoes, in my case, or car parts, in his case.

    The allowance system works pretty well for us and yes we call it an allowance.

  46. Shara says 26 January 2010 at 14:31

    I don’t mind the term ‘allowance’. I mind when DH’s stupid friends and coworkers say I put him on one, so to avoid complaints like the one here we call it ‘lunch money’, ‘personal money’, or simply ‘cash’ because that’s primarily what it is.

    This post kinda dovetails with a question I asked previously of those of you that have separate finances: What do you do with a spouse that is awful with money? Not just now to talk to them, but how do you structure your life so that the other person doesn’t endanger your financial well being? Do you do anything to be a safety net for your significant other?

  47. Kelley says 26 January 2010 at 14:39

    You want to know what’s worse than fighting about money…not fighting about it. For years my mother enabled my father’s spending to keep him pacified. She paid bills as best as she could but nothing ever got through to him and she allowed it to continue. So they filed bankruptcy, and seven years later ended up back in the same place. Finally after being introduced to Dave Ramsey through me 😉 (there’s still hope Daphne) they have started discussing their finances. 30 years they have been married and they finally figured it out. Anyhow, my husband and I do the exact opposite. Once a month budget meetings and I do most of the tweaking through the month. However, the first seven years of our marriage I handled everything and it felt like a burden. After all, that’s how I grew up! Thank God for Dave Ramsey and GRS.

  48. AB says 26 January 2010 at 14:39

    We don’t have monthly meetings either. We talk about money whenever one of us feels that there’s something to discuss, usually around the time my husband gets paid and we’re divvying up money to various bills and accounts. He makes the money, but really hates dealing with it, so I run all the finances that aren’t automated (I set up most things to automate so that neither of us has to deal with it).

    I do give myself an allowance. Until I start bringing in regular income, it’s just easier that way.

  49. TosaJen says 26 January 2010 at 15:15

    I could see the planning being helpful if a couple needs to start talking productively about money. I know we borrowed some ideas from YMOYL and a few other personal finance experts when we decided to start accumulating money instead of spending it all and more.

    We’ve been married 16+ years, and have been out of debt for quite a while (aside from mortgages), so we don’t plan regular talks about money. Most of our discussions come up spontaneously during our limited time alone and awake together when:
    — we notice a pattern that’s not working well
    — we see an opportunity we want to talk about
    — we make or endure a life change that affects our finances
    — an unexpected windfall or expense comes up.

    Given that we have two growing kids and foresee career changes coming, we talk about money pretty regularly right now whenever one of us starts worrying or just wants to get consensus.

  50. STL Mom says 26 January 2010 at 16:16

    My husband and I don’t have meetings. We dated for seven years before we got married, so we knew our attitudes towards money were similar — and obviously neither of us is impulsive.

  51. Sam says 26 January 2010 at 16:48

    @Shara, That’s why we use an allowance system and Mr. Sam doesn’t have a credit card. Its not that Mr. Sam is a spendthrift or that he is bad with #s (in fact he has the MBA) its just that managing personal finances is not his interest. He hates to pay bills, doesn’t balance a check book, didn’t have a savings account until he met me, didn’t have an IRA until he met me, he had a 401k but didn’t max it out, and he had a big fat student loan and lots of other debts.

    Thankfully, we agreed that it would be best if I managed the money and he would help with investing (still working on that one) and he agreed that since he wasn’t going to pay attention to his spending the allowance system would work best. And for fairness I’m on the same allownace. I could care less what people think about us, and our financial quirks, as Dave Ramsey would say, I don’t want to be normal, normal is broke and stupid.

  52. chacha1 says 26 January 2010 at 17:35

    @Sam, LOL “normal is broke and stupid” oh, I hope not! And yet I fear so!

    DH and I don’t do meetings either. We have mostly separate finances although each of us has access rights on the others’ bank accounts (this is “just in case”).

    Basically we always divvied up the household expenses based on who is making more, with each of us responsible for our own debts. That wasn’t working so well after a while so we changed things around so that my smaller income all goes to “financial future” – insurance, paying off my debt, and retirement savings – and his (larger but variable) goes to “financial present” – rent & utilities, and his debt.

    Once our debt is gone for good, I would like to handle ALL the regular payments, mostly because it’s easy for me (online billpay!) and I kind of get a kick out of it. He still writes checks (caveman!) and carries his bills around in his work bag, which makes me crazy but I don’t mention it. 🙂

    We have never fought about anything, but the one time we came close it was about money, so we always know the possibility is there. Trust, the golden rule, and good will are essential.

  53. Jan says 26 January 2010 at 17:46

    My brother and his wife NEVER did this. They are now divorcing after 21 years. She is amazed that they have NO money. They have spent all of the equity in their home, financed cars and lived high. His salary was good- until last year. She thought that she was going to get a big check walking out the door (her choice)- but is finding that her new nurse’s salary may be supporting the family. Talk about shock!
    I prefer ALWAYS talking about money:>) The more open the better. I just HATE secrets. I have helped several friends and family members learn how to discuss money with spouses.
    Ah- the day of the “mom at home and knowing nothing about the money” still exists in the fifty and up group!
    Great article. Well written and important. I like the last thing on the list the best!

  54. Not My Mother says 26 January 2010 at 18:38

    E @33, I wanted to comment about the allowance. My husband and I both have allowances. We get $300 each a fortnight and out of that we pay for lunches, coffees, books, clothes – anything that is our personal spending. He buys a lot of computer games. I like to get facials. Anything that’s joint, like going to the movies or to dinner, or things for the house, comes out of the appropriate budget bucket.

    It’s a great way for us to have some independence in what we’re spending and so that he in particular doesn’t have to answer for his personal spending when I’m reconciling the budget.

    And it’s not at all degrading to either of us. He does joke to his friends that he only gets paid $300 a fortnight but really he feels very comfortable with our finances and the freedom he gets.

  55. Ace of Wealth says 26 January 2010 at 18:46

    What a great post. This is equally important for couples that aren’t married yet, but are serious about each other. It is much better to deal with this sort of thing upfront, rather than letting it become an issue further down the road.

  56. elisabeth says 26 January 2010 at 19:23

    I’m surprised that this article didn’t suggest that at some point it’s good to have a 3-way discussion with a professional. That has helped us when we’ve had specific money questions (especially retirement planning).
    But, generally, I’m another person in a very happy, very long term (more than 30 years now…) relationship where we don’t need monthly meetings or lots of talk about how each of us is managing our money. This has been true even during those times when only one of us was earning, and the other had to take on many more financial responsibilities. If there’s trust — and enough money! — then there won’t be fights. We don’t have children, and we haven’t had to take on parent or other dependent care, either, so I do recognize that we’ve been lucky.

  57. David/Yourfinances101 says 26 January 2010 at 19:39

    Even more important is to have have the “talk” BEFORE your spouse becomes your spouse.

    If your differences are that great, it can have a serious effect on your marriage

  58. treec00l says 26 January 2010 at 19:54


    I’m from Malaysia. Have been following GRS since last year, but only as a silent reader. But this time, I would like to share my own experience 🙂

    Eventhough we r geographically and culturally different, the bottom line of financial management still remain the same 🙂

    I’ve been married for almost 2 years.

    I agreed that any issue involving money is not very easy to handle, and for some reason, each couple may have a different point of view and also applicable to each individu 😀

    Personally, for my partner & me, we have a very contra appetite in money management, since both of us got our own pay. But we agreed and implementing the “Delay Gratification” concept moderately in our life, but still willing to burn some money for fun (this help minimizing our stress actually).

    Considering this, we both agreed to manage our daily finance management separately but still share money for any joint-daily-expenses (expenses that will involve both of us).

    Plus, we share our ideas when it is involving investment & Goals.

    We use Boardgame “Cashflow 101” as a tool to understand each other investing style.

    2 heads is better than one. Normally, we will discuss our investment strategy together, to eliminate the greed factor and to minimize grey area. And also, we will discuss our strategy when we have something to buy, involving big money (this is what I meant by Goals).

    Briefly, our financial management system involving:
    a) tracking down our monthly expenses (not very detail to every pennies, just following budget set-up by ourself, separately).
    b) Saving is our priority, before doing anything.
    c) We apply envelope system for our savings & joint-daily-expenses.
    d) We set-up our Goals together, not separately.
    e) We discuss our investment strategy together. This is very important for us!
    f) For investing, I will read and get some info, before sharing with my wife, since she’s too busy 🙂
    g) My wife is an expert in finding bargain for our daily needs. This is a very big help.
    h) We normally have a ad-hoc meeting in a leisure, but sometimes we still quarrelling, hehehe.
    i) Delay Gratification is the best thing to describe our spending style and lifestyle 🙂

    Hope you guys can understand my writing 🙂


  59. John Steed says 26 January 2010 at 20:00

    My wife prefers to have me handle the finances, but we don’t find it necessary to meet every month, since most of our bills are paid automatically, and our cash spending tends to be fairly consistent from month to month.

    We do meet in January to agree on our goals for savings and charitable giving for the year. Also, for the few “discretionary” budget categories we have (such as travel, home furnishings, car repairs, clothing), we set a budget for the year for each category. (About the closest we come to having “allowances” is for clothing – we each have a budget for the year). Neither of us likes to shop, so overspending is usually not a problem for us.

    We will also meet twice a year to go over our net worth statement. We review the performance of our investments and decide how much to pay down on our line of credit for the next six months. Normally we prefer to be debt-free except for our mortgage, but because we can borrow money at low rates, we have decided borrow to buy stocks in companies with high dividend yields. So far this has worked out quite well, but we still try to pay off some of the line of credit each month, and our total borrowings are a fairly small fraction of our net worth.

    We like to follow the KIS principle (keep it simple) in most areas of our life, including our finances. By focusing on a few key variables (savings, charitable giving, a small number of discretionary expenses) and trying to be content with what we have, we find that we are able to stay on track without a lot of effort.


  60. Bytta @ 151 Days Off says 26 January 2010 at 20:18

    @Not My Mother #54:
    We do the same thing too. Allocating equal amount of allowance has eliminated resentment between us. After all, I don’t need to know what my husband is spending on his discretionary money and vice versa. As long as I know that he’s not blowing his money recklessly while I’m scrimping dollars, I’ll be ok.
    As for the other 90% of our money, we budget and save it together.

    Btw, it’s nice to see another Aussie in here 🙂

  61. Andrea says 27 January 2010 at 02:21

    I pay all the bills in our house but my husband and I don’t have formal meetings- we talk about money as and when it comes up, and I usually update him about our general situation in passing conversation every week or so. Even though he barely looks at our bank accounts he knows our general situation and we have shared goals, which I think is the important part.

    Regarding allowances- theoretically I like the idea of us both getting a set amount of money per week or per month and we have tried to do that in the past, but I found that we needed to be a bit more flexible with our cashflow while we build savings/pay off debt so instead of a set number, we kind of play it by ear- I monitor how much money we have left, we check with each other on purchases over about £15-20 or so, and make adjustments to spending as necessary. I like this because it gives us flexibility, although it’s only possible because we both have similar attitudes towards money (we’re not super frugal people by nature, but neither of us are big spenders either.)

  62. Siebrie says 27 January 2010 at 04:41

    We discuss finances every month when my paycheck comes in and we pay the bills. We prefer to pay them that same day, even though some are not due for another two weeks. We each get $70 ‘allowance’, and we discuss what the money in our savings account will be used for. Usually the savings are ‘1 month’s rent, I would like to have 3 month’s rent in there, honey. Shall I add $100 to what we save this month?’. And I will send dh the occasional email from work with my new bright idea on money management.

    Dh has no experience with money management, because he grew up without any money (really, as in: 1 meal per day, 2 if he was lucky), so I have to take it slowly and make sure there are eye-openers, rewards, ‘unexpected’ (for him) windfalls, etc to show him money management is useful and can be fun!

  63. Carey says 27 January 2010 at 12:27

    This will sound crazy.

    We have a method that takes a lot of angst out of the process: we hold our financial discussions in the oversize bathtub. If my husband starts getting hardheaded about an issue, I splash him or put bubbles on my head, and the absurdity breaks the tension. There’s no “business attire” to give a subconscious sense of power-tripping, we’re privately sequestered and don’t need to worry about the kids overhearing, warm water helps the body to relax… It takes a bunch of stress out of the situation.

    We have a pack of kiddie “tub crayons” to jot notes or run numbers on the tiles by the tub. It’s harder to feel threatened by numbers when they’re written in “bubble pink” or “bathtub blue” and the nearest financial consultant is a rubber duckie.

  64. Crystal says 27 January 2010 at 14:13

    We love talking money, so my husband and I don’t have set monthly meetings or anything like that…it usually gets talked about a bunch anyway. We have joint accounts and joint goals.

    I keep track of our spending and savings in an Excel sheet that we both have access to and we both know all our account numbers and passwords. We set our goals together so we both know what we’re saving towards (early retirement, graduate school for him, vacations, etc). When one goal is reached, we discuss what to do with the money that is opened up.

    For general “fun/luxury” purchases, we both get $75 a month…if we want something more expensive, we simply run it by the other person to make sure it doesn’t mess with any of our larger financial goals. If we know we want to buy something really expensive, like our 47″ LCD TV, we save up for it in advance.

  65. E says 28 January 2010 at 11:03

    @63 Carey, that is genius. Genius.

    Humor does help when things get tense. The hard part is remembering that in a tense moment. Next time my husband gets all worked up about his taxes, I will see if I can remember to put some metaphorical bubbles on my head. Finances are important, but most of the time they’re not life and death.

    Thank you for sharing that! 😀

  66. RJ Weiss says 28 January 2010 at 12:00

    Having a monthly meeting is exactly what my wife and I do. At first it was a hard setting a meeting to discuss money. Now, it goes by in a breeze. We talk about our goals. We review our net worth.

    It was worked wonders for us. We both have a great understanding of where we are and where we want to go.

  67. Marie says 29 January 2010 at 12:20

    I cannot get my husband to pay attention long enough to get into our accounts or pay bills. I hate that he stopped taking his ADD meds!

    He is constantly having to ask me for passwords and things, and he complains that he can’t do it himself, but when I sit down to show him, he picks his nails or stares off into space.

  68. Lora Sasiela says 31 January 2010 at 02:47

    As a financial therapist and money coach, I think it is vital for couples to know about each others money history and ‘money type.’ This emotional and psychological awareness actually leads to less friction when discussing family finances. Understanding the context of each others’ beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors regarding money–often informed from messages we received from our families as children–helps each partner develop empathy for each other. It’s this mutual understanding that helps the couple feel like a team rather than adversaries. I would offer that some of these early couple ‘money dates’ include an exploration and discussion about this. It’s an incredibly valuable exercise.

  69. Dollars Not Debt says 02 February 2010 at 20:04

    My wife & I are totally different when it comes to spending. I don’t, she does! Over the past 15 years, money issues have definitely been the number one issue with us. It adds a little more spice to life.

  70. Preetam says 20 March 2010 at 07:33

    I have tried all this – setting up a specific time to discuss finance, trying to go over financial goals, prioritizing financial needs, planning for retirement … the whole works. Unfortunately I am yet to see a sense of fiscal responsibility from my spouse. What do I do in that case? Currently I am taking care of all financial aspects myself due to this lack of fiscal responsibility and a lack of willingness to understand and participate from my spouse. Does anyone have this situation where one spouse is disinterested in participation?

  71. mutuelle says 12 April 2010 at 06:34

    I totally agree,I just want to add a fact,which says :not all people can afford coaching sessions or even think about this , but I think treating financial stuffs should be done as we are going to treat psychological or social issues,because all those sides are mixed and formalize our personalties.

  72. Tammy says 17 August 2010 at 17:24

    I pay all the bills. Not just physically, literally. My (2nd) husband pays no household bills. His money is his money and all of my income goes toward what is takes to run a household. Becoming very resentful and wondering how to approach the subject.

  73. IMDad says 04 August 2014 at 05:52

    My wife and i never talk about finances issue, i worked abroad and sent to her amount which i believe is enough for her and my 2yr old daughter.

    I never ask her if she did have savings or no.
    I want to settle back home. But im worried if we will be financially ready.

    We were couple of 3years and i never saw and hear her about budget issue. I dont know how to approach her. Its like earning without nothing.

  74. Anna says 07 July 2016 at 08:00

    I like handling all the accounts, but it would be really helpful to be able to discuss finances with my husband. However, he literally gets angry if I try to talk about it and emphatically insists he does NOT want to know. Whenever I bring up money, retirement, or the future he insists he knows we have nothing, everything is crap, will never get better, and starts raising his voice if I try to tell him it’s not true. He’s a drinker and getting more negative as he gets older. Not sure what to do. I’ve tried for decades.

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