How to talk money with your spouse

How to talk money with your spouse

My wife and I are cut from a different cloth when it comes to decision-making. After a quick assessment, she’s able to make snap calls that leave me wondering, “How did she just do that?” I feel obligated to carefully weigh all the variables, options and second-order effects before making the call. Truth be known, I’m a bit of a waffler. However, when it comes to big money decisions, there’s beauty in both our approaches. 

How do you and your spouse make big financial decisions? Here are six tips that might help you better navigate the next big decision you face:

Do it together. In marriage, success hinges on good communication. If something big is under consideration – a job change, house purchase, major investment – the process should be a joint endeavor. Nothing has the potential to elicit hard feelings, resentment and blame like one spouse taking matters into his or her own hands.

Define what “big” means. Is $50 big? $500? $5,000? Depending on where you are in your relationship and your financial life, the number can be very different. Defining the “big threshold” as a couple will give you guardrails and the freedom to act independently without worrying about repercussions. Early in our marriage, big was little, and there were lots of conversations on purchases we would make today without a second thought. The other day, I bought another golf club; years ago, that would have required a huddle.

Take emotion out of the mix. Anyone who has been through some sort of sales training understands that emotion is a salesperson’s friend. Find a way to tap the buyer’s emotion, and you’re on the brink of a sale. As a couple, emotional decisions are your enemy. Establish a strategy that will blunt the emotional impact of a big decision. It could be a weeklong cooling-off period before a big purchase, a meticulous look at your budget or any technique that helps you focus clearly on the benefits and drawbacks of the decision at hand.  

Crunch the numbers. Big financial decisions can have a major effect – good or bad – on your day-to-day budget, your ability to save and invest and, of course, your debt picture. Don’t make any move without honestly assessing the effect of that decision on your balance sheet and cash-flow statement. 

Keep the big picture in mind. I hope you have your own set of short, medium and long-term financial goals. If you don’t, that should be your first order of business. That list of prioritized goals can be the ammunition you need to combat a poor financial decision. Just ask yourself a simple question: Will this move jeopardize the attainment of our goals?

Create your decision matrix. By no means sexy, your decision matrix can incorporate many of these tips on a single notecard. By taking the time to evaluate all the criteria related to your decision, you could be eliminating much of the emotion around a decision, creating a time buffer and, of course, keeping your goals front and center. 

Over the years, my wife and I have been able to mesh my tendency to overanalyze with her desire to make things happen quickly, and we’ve found a sweet spot in our decision making. Following these tips, I feel confident you and your partner will be able to work together to hit your stride, too. 


J.J. Montanaro is a certified financial planner with USAA, The American Legion’s preferred provider of financial services. Submit questions for him online.