After Valentine's Day, It's Time to Talk to Your Loved One About Money


Chances are that a least a few of you out there have put off or just outright avoided talking to your partner about money. I know because I see a lot of you come into my office after this has become a problem. But a few recent studies show there are more Americans that you might think who are hoping a little avoidance might keep the tensions down.

In a survey last January, 6% of respondents admitted to having a secret account or credit card, and far more, about 20%, said that they had spent $500 or more without telling their financial partners. Obviously, most of us won't go so far as to resort to secrecy. Instead we reach an unspoken agreement not to talk about things with our partners. We know it's not a great solution, so why do we do it?

Like the other decisions we make together in a household, financial decisions bring out the differences in our styles, tastes, and priorities. She's happy to spend more on hiking trips; her partner would cut down on the travel to get a better car. Neither position is wrong, anyway. This is simply a matter of preference, and in any healthy relationship, the two will find some sort of compromise. But compromise doesn't work as well when our sense of survival kicks in. And that's precisely what tends to happen when financial discussions turn heated.

Not a few of us are prone to a particularly strong belief that the world is unpredictable, that fate is capricious and that disasters can happen to anyone. When these sort of beliefs simmer in the back of your mind, you are often quick to make the leap from an apparently mundane financial decision to a sense of looming danger and vulnerability. Job losses, medical emergencies, housing emergencies and other far more amorphous dangers float in the back of your mind. And a perfectly innocent partner can trigger those fears by suggesting you take $800 out of the savings account this month to replace the old refrigerator. Those of you with financially anxious partners will recognize this moment and roll your eyes.

But before you get too smug about your ability to keep that $800 fridge in perspective, make sure you aren't one of those partners who spend money in the same spirit of anxiety. People who seem unconcerned about the consequences of their spending may also be living with the sense that catastrophe could strike. For them, hoarding does no good—the best strategy is to secure anything they really want or needs before it all gets taken way.

Not everyone is anticipating a financial crisis, of course, and I haven't got room in this one post to cover all of the other deep-seated emotions, desires, and fears that tangle our financial decisions. But if either of these situations sounds familiar, then those household discussions about everything from grocery bills and vacations to retirement contributions and job changes are going to demand a little extra care and a little extra understanding. As I routinely explain to planning clients, I can give you all of the financial options and the math behind them, but the right choice in the end will be the one you can live with.