A finance date may be just what you need to get on the same (spreadsheet) page with your spouse. Here’s how the Frugalwoods handle money talks.

When my husband and I got married seven years ago, we simply threw our meager savings accounts together and called our finances “joint.” But as our assets increased and took on layers of complexity over the years, we realized we should probably discuss what was happening with our funds on a regular basis. And what better way to talk spreadsheets and 401ks than over a dinner date? Oh yes, this is where romance and money collide, and thus began our ritual of finance dates.

Why Discuss Money So Often?

What my husband and I discovered is that how we choose to spend our money is the clearest indicator of our priorities and hence, the very direction of our lives. This might sound a bit extreme until you consider that fighting over money is the top predictor of divorce. Clearly, money has a profound impact on our relationships.

To set the stage for a productive conversation, we agree in advance to actually have a finance date. This truly is step one because springing the idea on an unsuspecting partner is a recipe for disaster. No one wants to feel blindsided by a tête-à-tête about money. This approach goes a long way towards fostering a judgment-free zone, which is a crucial element of a successful money dialogue.

Next, we create a relaxing environment for our date—it is a date, after all, and I find it’s wise to take that aspect seriously (makes it more fun, plus I get to have a glass of wine). Over dinner at home is our preferred venue, since we can simultaneously eat, unwind, and chat without fear of being overheard. (Plus, it might be a tad awkward to pull out our bank statements at a restaurant.)

In addition to appropriately preparing ourselves, we adhere to the below outline for our conversations, which I find helps keep us topical and civil (always important).

Finance Date Conversation Outline:

  1. Discuss our objectives for the conversation. Are we trying to make a specific decision about a large purchase or a recurring bill, or is this a general financial check-in? Either approach is totally valid and valuable.
  2. Take turns sharing our thoughts. I find that this step ensures we’re both able to articulate our opinions and get them out there for the other person to hear. This is a point at which we remind each other that it’s a judgment-free zone and that each person’s ideas are legitimate.
  3. Compliment each other. Don’t laugh; this is a good thing to do! We praise one another for something awesome we observed, such as: “I want to thank you for taking your lunch to work every day this week—that saved us $50!” Acknowledging these financial accomplishments, no matter how small, goes a long way towards making us both feel like winners.
  4. Offer constructive criticism. This is the most challenging component of the date, which is why it comes directly after the fluffy compliments. It’s at this juncture that we broach serious or pressing issues. Sometimes it’s a joint concern, which is easier to tackle, and other times, it’s a critique of the other person. In these instances, we do as follows:
    • First, introduce the topic in a straightforward, non-critical manner. Instead of “I hate how you buy coffee every morning, you’re so dumb to waste that money!”, try “I notice you’re buying your coffee every morning and I’d like to ask if you’d be willing to instead make coffee at home so that we could save that $20 every week. What do you think?”
    • Next, get to the root of the problem. Is it really about buying coffee? Or is there a deeper complication that should be addressed?
    • Listen carefully and allow the other person to fully examine their feelings about the situation.
    • Determine, and write down, the next steps or plan of action you’ve mutually agreed upon. The coffee scenario is real, by the way. I was the perpetrator of buying coffee every morning and we solved it by deciding that my husband would make our coffee daily and put mine in a thermos to go. It seems absurd that we had to deliberate about this, but we did and I’m glad we figured out a solution. Turns out, my husband is happy to make the coffee and would rather do so than have me spend the money. A win-win!
  5. Goals for the future. This is where we dream big and identify our long-term aspirations. For years, our goal was to buy a home. We talked about it all the time, which helped us stay focused on saving for a down payment and, ultimately, led to the actual purchase of our house. Keeping our goals at the forefront of these discussions ensures that we’re communicating about what we want to do with our money and our lives.

Shared Money, Shared Dreams

Incorporating a regular routine of finance dates enables my husband and I to feel like equal partners in our financial decisions, which is vital since all of our accounts are jointly held. Mr. Frugalwoods and I have navigated a number of major financial maneuvers together—including our current plan to retire at 33 to a homestead in the woods—and found that being on the same page financially aligns us with what we feel constitutes the proverbial good life.

Our formula for communicating about our money is very much the underpinning of how we communicate about all issues in our marriage. So while it might sound unromantic to go on a finance date, it’s how we’ve managed to align our overarching goals and dreams, which is actually quite romantic after all.

Grownups, what are your suggestions for discussing money with your partner? Share your advice in the comments section below!

Mrs. Frugalwoods writes at frugalwoods.com
about her journey to financial independence by age 33
and a homestead in the woods with her husband, daughter,
and greyhound Frugal Hound.

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