How Often Do I Need to Talk About Money With My Husband?
This post originally appeared on Redbook.com. I wrote it because I hate talking about money unless I’ve had several glasses of a full-bodied red wine. I don’t think I’m alone. So many of the women I’ve talked to all over the world have an aversion to talking about their personal finances with their spouse.
I hate talking about money.
OK, that’s a little bit of a lie. I like talking about money in an abstract way: I love comparing house prices and rent in ridiculous places like New York and San Francisco. I always tell people when I find a bargain at TJ Maxx and how much money I saved by buying a fake Hermes in a dingy back alley of Istanbul from a guy who looked like a pedophilic Tom Selleck.
Maybe I just hate having serious talks about my money.
Oops, our money.
Discussing money, finances, and debt becomes unavoidable when you get married. It’s so inescapable there should be more real estate dedicated to it in the traditional wedding vows. I promise to love you in sickness and in health and through credit card debt and when we get rejected for a mortgage and when you accidentally spend $500 on shoes.
Soon after I got married, a friend of mine who works as a financial advisor casually asked me over a glass of sangria, “Have you two gotten financially naked yet?”
I leaned in with serious interest. “No. Not yet. Is that something you saw in porn?”
It wasn’t something she saw in porn. She was referring to whether or not my new husband and I had talked about all of financial baggage — our debt, our spending habits, our financial goals. The truth is that we had done these things and, thankfully, we were on the same page about almost everything. We both pay our credit card balances on time and believe in saving for a rainy day. It was a good talk. I still hated it. The only thing that made it somewhat palatable is that we finished off an entire bottle of nice — but not too expensive — red wine.
“I promise to love you in sickness and in health and through credit card debt and when we get rejected for a mortgage and when you accidentally spend $500 on shoes.”
But once you’re married, how often do you actually need to talk about your finances? Is it a weekly check-in, a monthly one, once a year? And is there anything you can do to make it a little more palatable, a little less icky-seeming. My husband is someone who now knows almost everything about me. He’s seen me pee with the door open. He knows that I can’t remember all the Supreme Court justices without Google. And yet having constant check-ins about the state of our finances feels intrusive.
Bobbi Rebell, the author of How to Be a Financial Grownup, advises making it a part of our daily lives. “Integrate it into your day-to-day relationship, but also know when to have intimate, focused talks about big financial decisions,” Rebell told me. “It shouldn’t be any different from being affectionate and casually saying ‘I love you’ on a regular basis.”
It is different, though. That’s why the wine helped.
But apparently, money conversations in a marriage are most productive when they aren’t spontaneous, or fueled by Chianti. I learned this from Jean Chatzky, the financial journalist and money guru who gives practical financial advice on the Today show while wearing smart dresses and the perfect shade of nude lipstick. First, she counseled me to set up times to talk about money with Nick when we were both sober. She wanted me to make an actual appointment and put it on the calendar.
“My husband and I set ground rules before we start talking about money, so that we won’t fight,” Chatzky, who chats about these things on her podcast “HerMoney with Jean Chatzky,” told me. “This isn’t fun for anyone! It also helps to come in with a list of questions, because when you get in the thick of it, you can never remember what you wanted to talk about.”
Rebell, with all the intensity of my high school lacrosse coach, was insistent that we set ourselves up for success. “Winning is fun. So set yourselves up to win. Choose some very achievable goals. Don’t make it something like ‘let’s see who can spend the least.’ That’s stressful and boring. The most important thing is to be aware of what is going on with your finances and making deliberate decisions. It can be as simple as choosing a new money-related app and learning to use it. Or deciding that if you get your taxes done by the first deadline.”
And if we met those goals, Rebell said we should give ourselves a prize.
“Wine!” I said.
“Yes, then wine,” she agreed.