Many of us know that it’s important to talk about money with a partner. Whether you are having “the money talk” for the first time as you prepare to move in together or marry, or whether you have combined your finances and you just checking in regularly, it helps to choose the right time to have your money talk.
“Research shows that money is the number one issue causing stress in relationships,” says Syble Solomon, an expert on financial behavior with Money Habitudes. If you want to keep the money stress out of your relationship — or at least reduce it significantly — you need to talk about money.
Don’t Talk About Money If You Are HALT
Solomon identifies 4 times that you shouldn’t talk about money. She refers to these four times as HALT. Any time your present situation is qualified by one or more of the following characteristics, it’s not a good time for your money talk:
We all feel these things throughout any given day. Trying to have any sort of conversation at these times can be a recipe for relationship disaster. My husband and I don’t even so much as talk about his day until after he’s eaten upon arriving home. Hunger puts him in a bad mood, and he’s much easier to talk to after he’s taken care of that physical need. I often have a hard time focusing when I’m tired. I’m also much more irritable. Often, a quick nap or meditation can help me refresh myself. But it’s better if I don’t have conversations — especially about fraught topics like money — when I’m tired.
“Have a good, non-threatening conversation about money,” says Solomon. In order to do this, you need to make sure that you try to create ideal conditions to talk about a subject that can be difficult to tackle. Solomon recommends scheduling a time that you know you will not be HALT.
If you plan ahead, you and your partner can both make sure that you are well-rested, fed, and in a good frame of mind. You don’t want to be feeling angry or lonely, either. If something happens before your scheduled money talk, and you are out of sorts as a result, consider rescheduling. My husband and I were planning on talking about a major decision once, and, just before, I had an argument with my son over his chores. I needed to calm down before talking, so I asked if we could talk about it later. We changed the time, I sorted out my issues with my son, and things went better than they probably would have otherwise.
It’s important to be aware of your mindset, and of things that could irritate you while you are having the money talk. Any time you are hungry, angry, lonely, or tired, it’s not the time to tackle anything complex — especially something with as many emotional complications as money has.
Don’t Start Talking Numbers
Once you have figured out when you can talk about money, Solomon suggests that you avoid starting with numbers. “Try a conversation starter like, ‘What was the first big thing you bought with your own money?'” she suggests.
You can also start by talking about your shared goals as a couple, and acknowledging that you have made good progress toward them. While you will have to get down to brass tacks on the numbers, starting out with other items related to money can put you in a good conversational mood, as well as remind you that you have things in common and that you are working together.
With a little planning, you can pick a good time to talk about money, and reduce the chances that your money talk will end in a fight.