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How to talk about money with your partner: 5 tips for better communication

Couple in the living room of their home together looking at a laptop
Delmaine Donson/Getty Images

What’s your first memory of money? It might not be a pleasant one. And if that’s the case, you’re not alone. A recent Family Financial Foundations survey by Thrivent* found that for many U.S. adults, open discussions about money rarely—if ever—happened while they were growing up. And when they did, money was often a source of conflict or concern. Despite this, the majority of survey respondents still said that watching their parents or guardians manage money was how they learned to manage their own finances.

So how can you and your partner set a good example and help your family build a healthy relationship with money? Here’s how to flip the script and make constructive conversations the norm.

1. Get comfortable talking about money regularly

In a committed, long-term relationship, you and your partner should know basic financial information about each other. Healthy relationships include vulnerability. Be open to talking about each of your money strengths and weaknesses.

First, ask your partner basic questions like, “What's important to you in life?” Then, take it a step further and ask, “How will our money help us get there?” Here are other questions you could ask to help get the conversation started.

Foundational money questions to discuss with your partner

Start by talking with your spouse about important financial topics. These questions are important to ask, even if you have been with your partner for a long time. When you have fundamental conversations about your individual and shared goals, it helps prevent surprises later.

  • How much of my/your income would you like to save for our financial goals?
  • What are some problems that we have when managing finances?
  • How much debt are you comfortable with us having?
  • What does retirement look like to you?
  • What types of improvements do we want to make on our home? Or will we want a different one?

What you and your partner earn, save and spend can change over time and could impact your goals. Add a yearly reminder to your phone or calendar to check in. For example, June might be a great time of year for a mid-year conversation.

2. Be honest with your spouse & yourself

Financial honesty begins by being honest with yourself. Once you know your own financial strengths and weaknesses, it may become easier to be honest with your partner.

“Open your soul. Look at your bank statements. Share everything you’re doing. Then you aren’t able to hide it from yourself,” said Mike Olinger, a Thrivent financial advisor with Quadrant Financial Advisors in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

In other words: Share your debts openly. Be transparent about big changes to what you earn, spend or save. Don’t hide information from each other. (Hiding information is sometimes called “financial cheating” or “financial infidelity.”)

Your partner or spouse may be able to help support you on your money journey—even if you struggled with money in the past. This type of honest conversation promotes trust. It paves the way for a discussion about how you will use money to support your goals moving forward.

Open your soul. Look at your bank statements. Share everything you’re doing. Then you aren’t able to hide it from yourself.
Mike Olinger, Thrivent financial advisor

Additional topics to discuss with your partner or spouse

  • Credit scores and credit history. If you have debts, you owe it to yourself and your partner to talk about it. How much do you owe? What are the terms of the loans?
  • Health insurance. Talk about what makes sense for your household. Will you keep separate health insurance plans, share one or switch to a new plan available through a public or private provider in the coming months? Remember that marriage or the birth of a child can be qualifying life events that allow you to change health benefits.
  • Legal documents. Create or update essential legal documents to help ensure your wishes are known. Start with a will and power of attorney, then consider medical directives, trusts and custody documents.
Illustration of a man drinking from a mug with a woman who is taking notes

How much money does a couple need to retire comfortably?

As a couple, you do daily life together—but you dream big dreams together, too. That often includes retirement. But making it a reality requires careful planning and saving. Check out these milestones to see if your retirement savings plan is on track.

Find out your joint retirement savings goal

3. Talk to your kids about money

Productive financial habits aren’t just for you—they can be for the whole family. You can teach your children to have a healthy relationship with money. When discussing a financial topic that might be good for your kids to hear about, consider saving that healthy discussion for a time they'll be present—like the dinner table, a car ride or by calling a family meeting. Age-appropriate conversations can be overwhelmingly positive. Small children can develop money skills from simple activities like earning an allowance. Teenagers can practice more complex skills like budgeting.

If you and your partner are having a money conversation that is likely to become heated, consider saving it for a private time and place. You can also consider meeting with a financial advisor if you or your partner feel stuck on a topic. A fresh, third-party perspective can help identify gaps and build consensus.

Small money lessons that can have a big impact on kids

Consider allowances, chores or jobs that can help kids feel empowered with their own money.

  • Teach them how to make wise decisions on money. And how to save.
  • Educate children on how to weigh wants vs. needs and why it’s important to sometimes say no.
  • Consider opening bank accounts or other custodial accounts for them.
  • Inform your children now to reduce the amount of self-teaching that you may have had to do for yourself while growing up.

4. Keep an open mind

Your mindset about money matters—a lot. And whether you like to plan ahead or go with the flow, sometimes the unpredictable happens. You can improve conversations about money with your partner by getting ready to adapt. Don’t hesitate to call an adults-only or all-family meeting after getting a tax refund, earning a bonus at work, losing a job or getting hit with unexpected financial news. Those big money moments are important ones.

When one of those moments happen, do this: Dedicate an hour to revisiting the goals you and your partner already have. Then, adjust your plan based on the new information. You may need to tweak your timeline to make sure you can reach your goal.

5. Consider talking with a financial advisor

If you and your partner have conversations that don’t go anywhere, or you simply want an expert’s perspective, consider contacting a financial advisor. You can draw from professional, third-party advice on options for reaching your goals. Your financial advisor may be able to help identify gaps or offer alternative suggestions. They may also be able to reframe the problem or ask questions you and your partner haven’t yet asked.

*This poll was conducted in August 2023 among a national sample of 2,214 adults. The interviews were conducted online, and the data were weighted to approximate a target sample of adults based on age, gender, educational attainment, race, and region. Results from the full survey have a margin of error of +/- 2%.

Thrivent and its financial advisors and professionals do not provide legal, accounting or tax advice. Consult your attorney or tax professional.