How To Talk About Money

By Sunday, July 27, 2008 0 0

A major predictor of a person’s happiness is the number and quality of relationships in that person’s life. And money can be a make or break in any type of relationship — marital, parent-child, friend-to-friend, dating and courtship, roommates and discussion

I believe that when we put relationships and integrity first, money and healthy finances second, and buying new things (consumption) quite a bit further down on our list, we have more happiness, more security — and a more sustainable planet. (See my post on my own happy marriage.)

Decouple the topic of money from the topic of love. They are different things altogether, and getting them enmeshed makes for some tortured conversations (and poor decisions). If you’re talking about money, don’t mix ‘how much do you love me’ into the conversation, even subtly. If you’re talking about love, don’t mix ‘how much money for this or that’ into the conversation.

Make ‘I’ statements in relation to money. When we volunteer information about our financial habits or what we want, we open the door to calm conversations about money. Examples: “I’d prefer going to a less expensive restaurant tonight.” “To be honest, I’m not as disciplined about saving as I’d like to be.” “I really want to go back to school, and I’ll need to apply for student loans.” “While the trip you’re talking about sounds great, I need to pay off some debt before I could consider it.”

Cultivate curiousity and respect when talking about money. I find that people see money and the handling of it in such different ways that we need to take the role of investigative reporters about a third of the time. “Help me understand why it scares you so much to have $20 left in checking the day before payday” is an example of respectful curiosity. Money can be emotional; we can respect emotions without being ruled by them.

Before having a ‘planning’ conversation, do a little homework to gather needed information. Clarity feeds healthy finances and healthy conversations. Vagueness and confusion feed the opposite. What is total monthly income? How much money is currently on hand? What are approximate monthly expenses? Knowing such things can lead to a productive conversation.

Get clear about what you really want concerning money. I’ve learned that when I think out loud in front of people (“maybe this idea, but no wait, maybe that idea”) it tends to confuse them. If I take the time to figure out in writing what I want — often a ‘vision’ of one paragraph to one page — I am prepared for a good talk that can actually go somewhere.

Avoid ‘you’ statements in relation to money. Statements like “You spend too much!” or “You seem to have trouble with overdrafts,” or “That was a poor choice on your part,” are unproductive. They put people on the defensive, and ‘I’ statements are more rigorously honest. You could instead say: “I feel uncomfortable with your spending.” “I’ve noticed two overdrafts this month in the checking account.” ” I wish we’d discussed that choice beforehand.”

Praise in public; criticize in private. “Wow, Thor made a great stock pick this year!” is something I might say at a party if the topic of investments came up. Any questioning, negotiating or expressing my discomfort happen only when I am alone with my husband. And I actually have stopped criticizing him even in private concerning money — criticism is too painful to him, or maybe to anybody. Also, I praise him in private, not just in public i.e., “Honey, thanks for doing such a great job of planning our IRA deposits.” I use the phrase above only because it’s easy to remember.

Keep all commitments made around money. Any good relationship hinges on us keeping any promise we make to another person. If a money-conversation is going badly, ask yourself if you’ve broken a commitment somewhere. Did you say you’d pay a bill and then forget to, or indicate you’d draft your will and neglect to follow through? No verbal skills can compensate for lack of action. Make promises very carefully and follow through promptly. If you find you cannot, say so promptly.

If you are wanting to ask your spouse, etc., to read this article, the most tactful approach might be to say, “Which of the pieces of advice in here would make the most difference to you if I were to follow it?” A little humility goes a long way in any relationship :).

photo courtesy of jenn_jenn

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