How To Talk About A Money Conflict With Someone You Love

In my first three major romantic relationships I paid for things without discussing it with my partner.  I remember buying one x-girlfriend red pants from Club Monaco, taking another to Paris all expenses included, and picking up countless dinners and nights out.

This was a learned habit.  Uncles and mentors took me out to lunch as I started my career in business.  My father and mother took me on vacations abroad.  Loved ones helped me with rent when I lost a job in 2009.

I learned a specific script.  You help the people you love.  You don’t ask questions.  You don’t make financial plans.  You just act.

This approach has its benefits but also introduces challenges.  It avoids building a healthy dialogue about money.  Resentments have space to build up in the silence.  Then, as many caregivers have experienced, there is an intense discussion about money.

Since many families lack a honest dialogue about money I wanted to share some lessons learned.  A good place to start is with these two strategies.

But what do you do if there’s an argument?  How about a touchy topic where you know people will get angry?

Specific steps can relive a lot of the frustration and make for a productive conversation.  This post will focus on those steps.  I want to enable you to calmly and thoughtfully express your views.  I want to position you to have the best possible response from your loved one.  I want your relationship to remain intact.


#1 Mistake People Make

Several years ago I sat down with my x to discuss our weekend activities.  We were having fun going out to delicious dinners, seeing Broadway shows and taking classes at the local Y.  But the expense were adding up.

I wanted to talk about it.  So one Saturday afternoon while we were both sitting on my fold out murphy bed I jumped in.

JP:  “I think we’ve been spending a bit too much money going out.”

Her: “What do you mean?”

JP: “Well I noticed that we’ve spend several hundred dollars over the last few weeks.”

Her: “How much do you think we should spend?”

JP: “Well, less than we are spending now.  We should probably cut back on a couple dinners a month.  How much do you think?”

Her: “I don’t know.  You brought this up.”

JP: “Wait, you don’t have a budget?”

Her: (silence and burning eyes of anger)

Here is rule number one.  Don’t try to change someone’s underlying habits with money. 

There were so many things wrong with this situation.  Because I never budgeted in my romantic relationship we had zero history or trust built up of speaking about money together.

And then when I learned that she didn’t keep a budget (god forbid everyone isn’t as anal as I am) I became judgmental.

The conversation quickly devolved into an argument about our behaviors with money.  It was not good.

Avoid falling into the trap of trying to influence someone’s underlying behavior with money.  It’s too broad and deep for one conversation.

Strategy #1 – Focus On One Topic

One of my favorite activities each year with my mother is Savings Day!  It’s awesome.  We go through her budget with a goal of saving $1,000 the next year.  We call phone, cable and utility companies to negotiate rates.  It’s lots of fun.

But that is the only goal.  We don’t talk about retirement.  We don’t talk about jobs.  We focus on saving money.

It works.  It’s fun and keeps things light hearted.

For a family coordinator of care you may want to speak to your loved one about reimbursement for medications you picked up for example.  Or you may want to talk with a sister about helping with home caregiver costs.

Pick one topic and stick with it.

Strategy #2 – Write Down Your Goal For The Conversation

Get a pen and paper and write it down.  Then stand in front of a mirror and say it out loud three times.  Then write it down three more times.  Before you go and meet the person write it down another three times.

Here’s why.  When the conversation gets tense and voices raise you want your brain to remind you of what your goal is for the conversation.

99% of the time it will remind you to stay calm and not engage in a fight.  You will be able to sit calmly even when someone is getting angry at you.  Why?  Because you will know your goal.

If your loved one gets angry and it’s better to pick up the conversation another day you will suggest postponing.  If your loved one pushes one of your buttons you’ll know not to take it personally.

Strategy #3 – Define The Worst Case Scenario

Most people avoid financial discussions all together.  This allows for resentments to grow.

Take a pen and paper and define the worst case scenario in five sentences.  Define the impact to your relationship, your pocketbook and your peach of mind.

Then take a moment and accept that that worst case scenario is a possibility.  A highly unlikely possibility but a possibility nonetheless.

Then write down three things that you can do to mitigate the worst case scenario from happening.

In 2010 I wanted to talk to a loved one about some money I had been lent.  I had avoided this conversation for five years.  I thought he would get angry and yell at me.

The day finally came when I brought it up.  None of my worst nightmares came true.  The financial topic was never resolved fully but I didn’t lose a relationship with this person, no one yelled and my life proceeded just fine.

Define the worst case scenario.  Accept it.  Put in mitigating steps.

Strategy #4 – Talk

Schedule a time to chat with your loved one and have the conversation.  Just do it.  It will bring a freshness and honesty into your relationship.


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Published: October 8, 2015
By: JP Adams

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