Envelopes left unopened in a pile on a counter or table, usually near the front or back door.
Heavy silence over dinner on the day that a big (undiscussed) expense shows up on the online statement of the family credit card.
Phone numbers that appear over and over again on the Caller ID, usually 800 or 888 numbers that have no recognizable name attached to them.
Expensive sports packages that show up miraculously on the cable system that no one ordered.
Price tags and labels that get cut off before a new piece of clothing even makes it into the closet.
These are just a few of the limitless signs of dysfunction around money. Whether they reflect out-of-control impulse spending, good old deception or fear of facing your partner or yourself, they can all be resolved by a simple (but often gut-wrenching) step: talking about money.
Why is Money Talk So Difficult?
The resistance comes from the fact that too few of us deal with money as “just numbers.” Instead, money is loaded with emotion for reasons we don’t even understand. Because we don’t understand where those emotions come from and how to get them under control, we overreact to everything that touches money. We hide from it, we push it away, we spend it, we worship it, we hoard it … we do everything but respect it and use it strategically. And we certainly don’t talk about it.
And if we do talk about it within a couple, it’s typically when someone did something that really upset the other person. With emotions running high, it’s the least logical time to try to talk about what is already a touchy topic.
What about our money conversation with ourselves? That one usually takes place when the month isn’t finished but the money in the bank account is. And the inner dialog is rarely productive. Emotions ricochet from self recrimination to blaming others for not paying us enough — and sometimes on to denial and magical thinking. What else can be expected when bills are due, funds are low and debt is climbing silently in the background?
What’s the Best Time for Money Talk?
The best time for money talk is when emotions are at their minimum. Not when an incident has arisen. And not when it’s bill-paying day.
As hard as it is, as a couple it is critical to come up with shared money expectations and a shared spending plan. Without those, money will always be tinder for a fire, ready to flare.
How can we ever get from silence to discussion? Whether single or part of a couple, one of the best things we can do is pick a specific date and time for a monthly one-hour conversation. Make it an official appointment. And force yourself or each other to keep it.
Before we can ever talk about money as “just numbers,” there is probably some ice-breaking needed. Depending on the emotional baggage we have wrapped around the topic of money, we might have to go back to Square One. And Square One brings with it vulnerability. Yet without facing that vulnerability, money can’t lose the false power we have given it.
To crack the door on our feelings about money, here are five questions we can address, moving through them as fast as our baggage allows us to:
1. What do I most fear about money?
2. What do I most like about money?
3. What am I least proud about regarding money?
4. What am I most proud about regarding money?
5. How was money handled in my home growing up?
It takes courage to have these open conversations, whether with a partner or with ourselves. But they will start to show us where money trips us up and why. Only with that knowledge can we ever take back our power over money. And we each need to own that power.