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Talk About Money With Your Spouse or Partner

Discuss Long-Term Vision, Not Just Day-to-Day Bills

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Most couples don’t chat with each other – in depth – about money.

“Honey, have you paid the rent this month?”

“Hon, our credit card bill is due next Tuesday!”

“We need a new car, dear. This one is old, and the clutch needs to be replaced.”

“Let's get a dog!”

These conversations cover the day-to-day management of money, but they don’t address deeper money issues:

  • Where do you hope to be – financially – in 10 years? 20 years?
  • How much of each paycheck would you like to save?
  • How much of each paycheck should go towards your rent/mortgage?
  • What kind of retirement do you envision? Do you want to travel and join a golf club in your 60’s and beyond?
  • In what circumstances – if any – is it okay to go into debt? Are you willing to go into debt for a car? For your child’s college tuition?
  • What are your top priorities? Does your spending align with those priorities?
  • How much money – realistically – do you think each child will cost? How will you pay for their braces, their wisdom teeth extraction, their college? What are you willing to sacrifice (a less-expensive home, a cheaper car) to afford this?
  • Would you ever consider launching your own business? What sacrifices would you need from your spouse in order to support this?
  • What’s your investing style? Are you interested in real estate investing? Dividend investing? Picking individual stocks?

Sit down with your spouse or partner (or your potential-future-spouse) to discuss the deeper issues around money. Make sure this conversation happens at a time when there are no distractions: turn off the television, and make sure the kids are asleep or away.

The way a person spends money is symbolic of where they place their priorities, so you’ll find that a conversation about money quickly turns into a conversation about goals, dreams and values.

(Read the story of how one reader, Travis, discussed money with his wife -- and as a result they figured out how to afford a family vacation.)

Climb Out of Debt

If you’re in debt or financially struggling, avoid blame and finger-pointing when you’re having this discussion. Focus on solutions. Your talk will be much more constructive if you keep the focus on how to solve your problem, rather than focusing on why you got into the problem in the first place.

If you find your conversation veering into blame or finger-pointing, stop talking. Stop yourself mid-sentence, if necessary. Stay silent for a moment and take a deep breath while you ask yourself the question: “What can I do to solve this problem?” Take another deep breath, and then start discussing actionable and measurable ways to solve the problem.

(Read more: Budgeting for Beginners)

Goal-Setting

If you’re not in debt or in any other tough financial position, your conversation most likely won’t focus on problem-solving. You and your partner will probably focus on goal-setting.

Each of you should discuss your goals and prioritize which goals are most important. For example: you might decide that “buy a better car” is a goal, but “save $20,000 per year towards retirement” is an even higher priority.

Use this worksheet to plan for your short-term, mid-term and long-term goals.

Look at the numbers. It’s not enough to say: “I think I’ll be able to save enough for our wedding.” Calculate how much that wedding will cost (let’s assume $10,000) and then work backwards to figure out how much you need to save each month in order to afford that. ($500 per month for 20 months).

You'll probably quickly discover that you can't afford to save for ALL your goals -- but you can afford to save for the most important ones. You and your partner need to define which goals are most important -- and what current expenses you should cut so that you can reach those goals.

(Read more: 7 Reasons Why the Rich Should Budget, Too.)

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