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How to talk to your partner about money: The Definitive Script

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Here’s the definitive script on how to talk to your partner about money — without nagging or making them feel defensive.

I’ve included the exact, word-for-word phrases to use, along with the exact information you need. Use this when you’re getting married, moving in with your partner, or getting serious about money.

Bonus: Notice the psychological strategies being employed in this script.

*      *     *

Remember how painful those “Define the Relationship” conversations were back in college?

Now imagine you have to sit down and talk about money while wishing you could use the sweat from your forehead to drown yourself. Sure, you and your boyfriend or girlfriend might have had an occasional chat about money. But when you’re getting serious—whether you’re recently engaged or moving in together or just at a point where your decisions start to really affect each other—it’s important to spend some time talking about your money and your financial goals. Talking about money with your partner might sound painful, but I promise you it doesn’t have to be awkward. As corny as it sounds, it can actually bring you closer together—if you know what to ask and stay calm. And if your girlfriend/boyfriend isn’t a nut job with $300,000 in credit card debt.

The specific tactics aren’t as important as your attitude going in. The key is to start by asking their advice. Yes, even if you don’t need it!

Bring the topic up lightly. “Hey, I’ve been trying to learn about money lately . . . What do you think about investing versus saving?” If you don’t get an answer, try this: “Okay, hey, I have another question . . . What do you think about my spending? Is there anything you think I should change?” I guarantee you they’ll have an opinion on that—and although you’re sacrificing yourself, at least it’ll get the conversation started.

After a few days, ask for their financial advice again: “What do you think—should I pay off my credit card or my student debt?” (Of course, you already know the answer from page 220.) Then, a few days later, tell them you’ve been doing some more research. “I picked up a book on personal finance and it had some really interesting stuff in it,” you can say. “What do you think about talking about our money together?”

(It is optional to add something like, “The book is by an amazing, weird, gracious author named Ramit Sethi, and I visit his website every day.”)

When you sit down to talk, once again start by asking your partner’s opinions: “I know you use cash to pay for everything, but this guy says we should use credit cards to build our credit and track spending. What do you think?” The goal of this meeting should be to agree that money is important to both of you, and that you want to work together to help each other with finances. That’s it!

If things go well during your first conversation, ask if your boyfriend or girlfriend would be willing to sit down again to go over both of your finances together. Remember, it’s not about criticizing or noting things that are being done wrong—it’s about figuring out ways to help each other so you can grow together. Some phrases you can use:

  • “You’re really good at [X] and I want you to help me with my finances.”
  • “We’re going to join our lives together, and I want money to be a part of that.”
  • “One plus one equals three,” which explains why you two can combine money smarts to create synergies. Note: Only MBAs or consultants can use this line with a straight face.

The Big Meeting
This is the big day when you both lay bare all your finances and work through them together. But remember, it’s not really such a dramatic step, since you’ve been slowly working toward this for weeks.

It should take about four or five hours to prepare for this meeting. You’ll each want to bring the following:

  • A list of your accounts and the amount in each
  • A list of debts and what the interest rates are in monthly expenses (see page 104 for details)
  • Your total income
  • Any money that is owed to you
  • A list of short-term and long-term financial goals

When you sit down, put the paper aside and start by talking about goals. From a financial perspective, what do you want? What kind of lifestyle do you expect? What about vacations in the next year? Does either of you need to support your parents?

Then look at your monthly spending. This will be a sensitive conversation because nobody wants to be judged. But remember, keep an open mind. Show yours first. Ask, “What do you think I could be doing better?” And then it’s your partner’s turn.

Spend some time talking about your attitudes toward money. How do you treat money? Do you spend more than you make? Why? How did your parents talk about money? (One of my friends has horrible money- management skills, which is confusing because she’s so disciplined and smart. After years of knowing her, one day she told me that her dad had declared bankruptcy twice, which helped me understand the irrational way she approached money.)

The most important goal of this conversation is to set up a plan to manage your money, including your credit cards, bank accounts, budget, and investment accounts. Essentially, you want to work through this book with your partner.

Your immediate goal should be to set up a few short- and long-term savings goals, such as a year-end trip and/or something a little more major like buying a car or putting a down payment on a house. At this point, it’s probably better not to run through all the numbers for a really large purchase because it can get overwhelming. Just set up a savings goal or two and set up an automatic monthly transfer for each of you. Longer term, you and your girlfriend/boyfriend should work together to get on the same page with your money attitudes. When you set a goal together (“We’re going to save enough to put a $30,000 down payment on a house”), you’ll both be able to commit to working toward it.

*      *     *

This is part of Chapter 9 of my book, I Will Teach You To Be Rich. Notice how this isn’t some abstract advice, it’s the exact steps to take so you don’t spend the next 30 years nagging each other about money.

If you’re interested in more word-for-word scripts, knowing where you should put your money, and specific recommendations on the best accounts so your money works for you, check out the book.

QUESTION: What psychological techniques did you notice in the above framework? Leave a comment here.

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  1. What you have presented to your readers is exactly the approach all couples should take. Like you, I am a proponent of asking questions to get the inside scoop of how one perceive’s money. The questions asked should not be personal. Asking for advice on money matters to your partner is the ideal approach to understanding the perspective about money and to open up a dialogue without being polarizing.

  2. This all sounds so quaint- what a difference when it’s a 2nd marriage with partners feeling territorial and one (me) who is rational and a husband who is delusional, in debt, and keeps spending. I’d love to see a script for that- (most obvious is, I will divorce you if things continue). I’ve only seen articles about prenups and premarital property, and about separate money management, but the fact is, any post-marital income is a marital asset, no matter how you split it up. And a lot of spending would be considered joint no matter how it came about. It’s great to be on the same page, but when you aren’t, I would strongly urge young people to think twice about planning a future with someone. Your partner has tremendous power to decimate your finances. And except for getting divorced, there’s not a lot you can do to protect yourself once you’re married.
    I really think your money values have to match. It is THAT fundamental.

    • I cover that exact script in my book. Btw, nice nickname.

    • Threatening divorce is a normal step in an escalating financial conflict.

      When you communicate with loved ones who have a different personality type than you (rational vs delusional in your example), you have options: Adapt (temporary), Adopt (permanent or situational) or Ignore (good luck with that).

      I’ll have to read Ramit’s script to see which approach he suggests. Perhaps I’ll write a post analyzing his tactics.

  3. I’m not to this point yet but I like your approach. One of my big concerns in life is that I will work really hard to stay debt free through college and then meet and want to marry a girl with a bunch of debt. Debt Free Dating site anyone?

  4. Techniques:
    1) Ask for, instead of giving, advice.
    2) Value the input from your partner, instead of criticizing.
    3) Once achieving an open atmosphere to discuss things, begin exploring values–without judgement.
    4) Drop hints about a valuable book that takes a psychological approach to money (Ramit’s of course!). I can verify that I have tried to get my husband involved in reading about finances (and/or discussing them) for over 24 years. He’ll take my advice, but he won’t do any reading/research/discussion of his own.

    “I Will Teach You to Be Rich” is the only book my husband ever read that had to do with finances. I think it may be because I read the blog daily and often discuss it (and associated comments) at dinner. Maybe jealousy (hey, Ramit is a hot, much younger guy) or maybe curiosity made it happen, but my husband picked up the book and actually followed its instructions step by step. (Of course, I left the book prominently displayed on my husband’s nightstand, which made it easy to see and remember, so maybe my husband just read it because it was there.) Whatever—it worked!

    Thanks for the great script you’ve us, Ramit. I will be sure to pass it on to other couples struggling with these issues. (And these days, aren’t most of us?)

  5. […] The Definitive Script: How to talk to your partner about money is a post from: I Will Teach You To Be Rich […]

  6. Ramit, I really like this script/whole approach. It’s a scary thing to talk about money with a significant other and as a female, I don’t want to come off as a gold-digger (’cause I’m not). This approach breaks it down and makes it look less intimidating.

    I do have to say, in my last relationship, I could have really used something specific like this. I gently tried to bring up money all the time, but it always ended up in a fight – mainly because I wanted a committed relationship and he didn’t. Part of that commitment is learning about each other financially.

    To answer your question – I think one of the biggest psychological techniques this approach employs is that it almost feels like the person who is starting the conversation is giving power to their partner. It’s not necessarily power at all, it just gives the other person a chance to be the first one to critique rather than be critiqued. I think that has the potential to break down a lot of barriers. Of course, the not-so-subtle flattery doesn’t hurt either 🙂

    I am actually curious to hear your opinion on this – this guy I dated thought we could be married and never mingle our finances (meaning not even telling each other how much we made). I can make a few guesses as to why he was so insecure, but I know that this has been the case with all of his former girlfriends….which is at least one of the reasons why we’re all former I guess…

    Anyway, do you think it’s possible to have a serious relationship/marriage/domestic partnership (especially one that involves kids) and keep money totally separate to each individual?

    • BTW, I realize how retarded that question sounds, but apparently at least some people think it can be done…which is why I ask. And, I guess the more important question is why would someone be so scared to mix finances and how can we appease their doubts (if their ideas/doubts are deeper and more internalized than what this script can deal with).

    • I have had a 24 year marriage with no mingling of funds. We do know how much each of us makes, though. Our separation is in financial accounts, credit cards, and investments. We do talk about who pays for what, and each assume payment for assigned items.

      Why? Our value systems on finances are so very different, we could find no comfortable middle ground AND my first marriage left me paying off my partner’s debt for years, so I started out a very doubting Thomasina.
      In my first marriage, we did mingle funds and discussed finances but he lied throughout (gambling debts, loan debts, etc).

      I would trust my current husband to mingle funds if we could agree on any area of finance–level of risk (his=none, mine=some), timeliness of paying bills (his=whenever (until he read Ramit’s book), mine=within terms that confer no interest or penalty charges), what to spend money on (his=name brand items only, lots of electronics, new stuff only, mine=high quality (even if from consignment store or secondhand), paper and pencil tracking, lots of pets), (his=charitable contributions are only time, mine=charitable contributions are time and money), (his=never balance his checkbook, mine=balance my checkbook the day the bank statement arrives), etc.

      I do trust my husband. It’s just that separate finances keep us both happy, satisfied with purchases, and all the bills get paid.

      So am I insecure? Yes. But that’s not the whole story.

    • Susan, your response gave me some real perspective. I’ve actually never known anyone to do things that way – so it was good to hear what you do financially share with your partner even though you don’t mingle money. I think one of the biggest problems with the ex-boyfriend I’m referring to here is that he didn’t want to communicate about anything regarding finances. My only knowledge of his financial state is through observation. The other half of this is that with kids, I want to at least be a part-time stay at home mom for a few years. That would mean I wouldn’t be bringing in too much money and I would be kind of dependent on my partner. If I don’t know anything about the state of our finances, I’d be totally insecure doing that. I think we all have at least some insecurities around money.

      Thanks for the response! Nice to hear it from the other side.

  7. Really excellent stuff. Proceeding via baby steps, demonstrating openness to feedback/change via open-ended questions, avoiding blame, negativity, criticism and judgment – all communicate that the agenda is ultimately to develop a shared financial vision of a future that benefits both.

    Crucial Conversations (Patterson, et al.) is another terrific resource for potentially volatile conversations such as this one. Based on sound psychological principles, it explains how to say what you want without having to beat around the bush or trigger an argument. Psychologist-approved and part of Josh Kaufman’s Personal MBA list as well.

  8. I agree with what you say here. I also agree that there is a “right time” in a relationship to have this discussion, namely, if the significant others spending habits will affect you (as Ramit says). Definitely not a time to be judgmental, rather solution-based if there is a problem.

  9. The main point is synergy, the words we and together are the most prominent part of the conversation.

  10. Ramit your advice usually rules but I think this time it might be overcomplicated.

    I’ve had really good results understanding a person’s use of money, their level of debt, and what kind of psychological problems they have with money by asking them this one question (this tested well, too):

    If you won the lottery, how would you spend it?

    1. It takes the pressure off the situation (makes it fun!) so people volunteer tons of information.

    2. Confessions of debt happen when you ask this (“First thing I’d do is pay off my credit cards”).

    3. If they would spend their money on stupid shit you’ll see that, in great detail.

    4.You can lead from there to other conversations without having to risk/burden the relationship to learn more.