Dealing with money in a relationship is tricky. And weirdly—though it affects so much of a relationship—many of us are really good at ignoring the issue. We pretend it’s separate from the person or the relationship, even though it’s actually an integral part. So when it comes to talking about money, you should start doing it sooner rather than later—especially if you have concerns about your partner’s spending.
Because if a partner spends outside their means—whether it’s their own money or shared funds—it can be really distressing. “Dealing with an over-spender can be difficult because overspending usually comes from a place of overcompensation or insecurity,” Priya Malani, co-founder of Stash Wealth tells Brides. “Neither are easy emotions to navigate. Tell an over-spender to stop spending and you might be poking a sleeping bear.”
But just because your partner seems to be sensible with money doesn't mean that there can't be problems. The truth is, the other side of the spectrum can also be complicated. “Sounds crazy, but a lot of times clients come to us and one person in a relationship is being unnecessarily frugal,” Malani explains. “Yes, spending too little can be just as bad of a habit as spending too much! Both stem from a place of not accepting the reality of your situation.”
So whether they spend a lot—or not enough—it’s important to address the issue if you’re at that place in your relationship. “Are you in a serious relationship where your partner's decision may affect your long-term success as a couple or are you just wanting to impose your ways on them—effectively crossing a relationship boundary before the time is right?” Malani asks. But if you know you should be talking to them, here’s how Malani says you should get the ball rolling—because you want to stay as neutral as possible.
1. Identify the Issue—and How Serious It Is
First, don’t panic—make sure you assess the situation realistically. “Is the over-spender throwing money away constantly or occasionally? Is the under-spender compromising constantly or occasionally?” Malani asks. “Often, we see a few small behaviors (excessive spending) and jump to conclusions about how bad a situation is. Keeping perspective on the severity of the issue will help you gauge how far to push the conversation.” Once you decide how severe the situation is, you’ll be able to stay more grounded when you actually start talking about it—catastrophizing isn’t going to help anyone.
2. What’s Your Goal for This Conversation?
What do you want to get out of talking to your partner? “This could be as simple as: do not escalate the issue into an argument,” Malani explains. “Keep it a conversation and do not get accusatory or blame.” You may also think about what your agenda means—are you looking for an apology for a breach of trust? Are you looking to come up with a new spending game plan? Do you just want to touch base? Know where you want the conversation to lead. It may deviate—and that’s fine—but it helps to keep a goal in mind.
3. Come up With a Game Plan
How do you want to approach them? “I suggest creating a list of thought-provoking questions,” Malani explains. “Helping your partner come to their own realization about their spending patterns is usually much more effective then telling them what you think—which will end up sounding judgy, even if you don’t intend for it to.”
Malani suggests that you should start with easy questions and build up to more difficult ones and—no matter what—try to keep the tone neutral and non-judgmental, even if you’re finding the situation frustrating. She suggests questions like: “How do you think we are doing financially? How important do you think having a financial foundation should be to us? How do you feel about our current spending habits? Do you think our spending habits are jeopardizing any short or long term financial goals? What are some of your short-term (or long-term) goals for yourself and for us as a couple? Do you want to travel more?” Finally, address their needs and wants by asking something like, “Do you want to (insert something you know is important to them) more?”
4. Try to Keep It Relaxed
“Finally, try to have this conversation at a time when you and your partner are both relaxed and in a good mood,” Malani says. “ If they begin getting worked up, remind them that you’re excited about building a life with them and want to approach it as a team.” Try to keep the tempers down by focusing on the end goal—and all of the positive things about being in a serious relationship and combining your finances. Talking about your long-term goals can really help.
5. Think Big-Picture
The truth is, if you do everything you can to keep the tone light, if you’re making a reasonable request and your partner still resists or gets defensive, you might have bigger problems. Yes, money is a sensitive issue—but it’s also a representative of far more than just dollars and cents. If you can’t seem to meet in the middle—or even find the words to understand each other—there might be bigger compatibility issues at play. And you should never let someone threaten your security and happiness.
Talking about your partner’s spending can be hard—but it’s really important to have the conversation sooner rather than later. Once you start communicating about money, it will get easier and easier; you just have to take the first step.