Having the “Talk” With Your Spouse

In today’s household most couples are working. Each has their own paycheck and often they have separate checking and savings accounts, yet most of the bill paying is done by one person. When the financial responsibility for the day-to-day family expenses falls to a single person,  we have found that in many cases the spouse who is not responsible for the finances is totally unaware of how difficult the finances truly are.   This lack of knowledge starts out with small issues, and, as issues become worse, the bill-paying spouse is afraid to tell the truth about the circumstances.

If that is the case in your household, it may be time for the “Talk.”

It may sound archaic, but when the man pays the bills, it is still common for a newly divorced or widowed woman to have absolutely no idea as to the state of the family finances.

We get into the habit of doing something a certain way and the effort it might take to explain things to your spouse or the potential conflict that might ensue, can be so stressful that we avoid the conversation altogether.  But if one spouse is not involved he or she may be spending beyond their means and not even know it.

Frequently, that spouse would be willing to curtail spending to avoid a financial crisis.  If your goal is a healthy budget with money saved for retirement, the sooner you can sit down and have an honest conversation the better.

15 Tips for a Successful Family Talk about Finances

1.    Set aside a time and place where you won’t be disturbed. Send the kids to the neighbors, turn off your cell phone and prepare to be focused on the discussion.
2.    Put aside any expectations. Come to the conversation with an open mind. You may have been doing all the bill paying but your significant other may have some ideas for doing things differently that could be beneficial.
3.    Come prepared with all of the bills, the total amount due, the monthly amount you pay and the day it is due. Have calculators for both of you and a calendar so that you can visualize due dates.
4.    Be patient. If you have been doing the entire bill paying, it comes natural to you, but the number of bills and the amount you owe may be a surprise to your spouse. So be prepared to explain things more than once, including how you came to owe the amount that you owe.
5.    Set aside any finger pointing, blame, condescension or anger. These emotions have no constructive place in the conversation and will actually cause more harm than good.
6.    Take it slow. Make sure you both understand each financial obligation before moving on to the next.
7.    Separate out those bills that are monthly necessities like rent/mortgage, utilities, car payment and insurance from nice-to-haves like cable, gym memberships, and the weekly night out with friends.
8.    Look for ways to trim the budget. In some cases you may receive a discount by paying your bill automatically from your checking account. Look for little ways to save money.
9.    Periodically take a moment to reassure each other that you can make this work. Together you can conquer the world and your family budget.
10.    Be totally honest with each other. If you have a private credit card bill or she has a department store credit card, make sure you each disclose all of your debt. You can’t create an actual budget if some of the information is missing.
11.    Check your credit scores. Make note of where you are individually today and set a goal of where you would like to be.
12.    Review the information on your credit report and look for errors or items that you can clear up to help improve your score.
13.    Begin to create your monthly budget. What do you each make and what do you owe? When are the bills due? How much do you need for an allowance to pay for gas and incidentals?
14.    Make a commitment to each other that you will be firm with your budget for one month.
15.    Schedule a follow up time to meet and see how you did. Make adjustments as necessary.

Although you may still decide to have one person responsible for the bill payments, it is important for a healthy relationship and a healthy budget that you both understand the financial obligations.

Work together to achieve your short and long term financial goals. If you need help in the process, the experts at Bankruptcy Advocates are here to help.