How to talk to your partner about money

One of the most difficult parts of talking about money is knowing what to say. That’s one reason why money conversations get emotional very quickly. We don’t know what to say, so we get frustrated with ourselves and with each other, and we resort to words and phrases that can be hurtful. 

I recommend being intentional at every step — from setting up the conversation to choosing your words carefully. 

In this guide, we’ll take a closer look at how to do this.

But first, a little bit about your teacher

ramit sethi

Hi, I’m Ramit Sethi. You might know me as the author of the New York Times bestseller I Will Teach You To Be Rich and host of the I Will Teach You To Be Rich podcast.

Or you might have seen me in a 6-page Fortune profile or as a regular guest on the Tim Ferriss Podcast. For more on me and how IWT can help you, check out this page.

I’ve been helping people use money to build and enjoy their Rich Life for over 15 years. I’m excited to help you get started on your own Rich Life journey.

So, how can you set the stage for a productive conversation?

Talking about money doesn’t need to be grounds for a fight. What if, at the end of each conversation, you felt more connected, on the same page, and confident about the life you’re building together? That’s the kind of conversation you should be having. Let’s go into how you can do this and what to avoid.

First, set aside a time and place to proactively talk about money. 

I call this your “Rich Life Review.” Yes, it might feel odd to have a routine agenda set up — but I encourage you to have regular time scheduled to talk about money together. 

You should do this once a month, at a place you feel relaxed, and it should be just the two of you if possible. You want to avoid one partner getting caught off guard. Creating a proactive, calm place to have this conversation is the first step. 

Next, make it fun! 

So many people only talk about money when something bad happens. And they start off by saying something like, “I can’t believe you spent that!” We don’t want that. 

Come up with a structured agenda of what you want to talk about, but START with something you appreciate about the other person. 

Maybe your spouse is great at finding deals when booking flights for your family. Start by telling them how much you appreciate that! Take turns doing this. 

Here are 4 simple rules for keeping the conversation on track:

  • Pace yourself. In the first month, don’t use words like “compound interest” or “tax advantaged.” And don’t use “4% Rule,” “SWR,” or “Trinity study” for the first year (Sorry, FIRE nerds).
  • Build each other up. Don’t minimize each other’s dreams. Nothing puts out a fire faster than saying something like, “Do we really need to vacation that long?” Replace it with something like: “What would it take to make that possible?” or “YES! What could we do with the extra time in Maui?”
  • Be curious. Ask each other questions: “Where do you think that money fear came from?” or “What is your Rich Life?”
  • Don’t ever use the words “budget” and “overspend.” Ever. But don’t forget to use words like “Rich Life,” “exciting,” “love,” and “together” as much as possible.

Word-for-word scripts for navigating difficult topics 

The guidelines above should set you up for having a great conversation about money with your partner. 

But as you start having these talks, different feelings and dynamics might come up that are hard to navigate. If they do, here are some word-for-word scripts you can use to keep the conversation positive and productive. 

Q: “You don’t care enough during these conversations.” 

Script: “I realize that in the past, I haven’t cared in the way that you need me to care. I’m here now. I want to understand how you need me to show up, because I love you and I want to do that.”

Q: My partner keeps saying I’m “controlling” during these conversations, but I just want to solve this.

Script: “I’m realizing that the way that I’ve been communicating has not been working. That’s why I’m here. I know that I need help. And I know that I want to change for us.”

Q: “You keep saying I get defensive. I don’t know how not to be defensive.” 

Script: “I want to stop being defensive because I know you don’t like it. What’s something that you wish I would stop staying? … From now on, I promise to not say that phrase again. If I do, I want you to remind me. Yell ‘Truck!’” 

Q: I get told I “always walk away” from these conversations because they’re too hard. But I just can’t talk about it anymore. 

Script: “Sometimes I need to take 5 minutes for myself. I realize that I need to speak up when I need that time to myself. I would ask that we both come up with a phrase where if we need a few minutes to ourselves, to recover or to think about things, we can take it — judgment free.”

Q: I want to spend more, but my partner is frugal. 

Script: “One of the things I love about you is that you’re so thoughtful with our money. And I want to keep doing that. I love you for that. I want to add something new to the way that we talk about money — adventure, experience, etc. We have done such a great job saving money, thanks to you. Now I want to turn the chapter to add on this new thing. We should still be thoughtful about our money. But I need your help so that we can move into the next chapter of our lives together. We will stop before we ever get out of control. I promise you that.” 

Q: I’m frugal, but my partner wants to spend more. 

Script: “I have to tell you that it scares me to think about spending more money. I’ve always saved more because we didn’t have a lot of money. I saved more because I had to save it in case something bad happened. Now I save it because it’s a habit. So I know when you say that you want to spend more, you think that I’m frugal or cheap. But I’m scared of spending more money because I’m worried we might lose it.”

Need more help to get on the same financial page? 

There’s no denying that talking about money can be uncomfortable. But as you have more and more of these conversations, you’ll grow closer. At the end of each one, don’t forget to look your partner in the eye, say “I love you” and give them a kiss. 

You two are a team, and every conversation is progress towards living your Rich Life together.

If you’ve started having better conversations about money with your partner and you’re wondering what’s next, try listening to an episode of my podcast together and discussing it. You’ll be surprised at what you learn. 

And if you’re still struggling to talk about money with your partner, you can apply to receive free financial coaching through my podcast. It’s 100% free and I may be able to finally help you resolve your financial challenges as a couple. 

How to build your Rich Life

Now that you’ve identified your Rich Life Archetype, I’d like to help you go deeper into what your whole Rich Life looks like… and how to make it real.

Introducing… Money Coaching with Ramit Sethi, my brand new subscription program that will help you:

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