How to be Successful in Conversations About Money

This Wednesday I will be taking part in a panel discussion titled "Yours, Mine, and Ours - Money and Relationships." The panel is presented by Barnard College's Young Alumnae Committee Office of Financial Fluency (don't you just love it?). I'll be presenting with my colleagues and friends, MP Dunleavey and Galia Gichon. Here's the text of the handout I'll be giving to attendees entitled "How to be Successful in Conversations about Money."

Start from a clear place.
It’s easier to communicate about money if you’ve already done your own homework, have your own goals, and have completed your own budget.

Be direct.
If you have a financial issue with another person, treat that issue (and the relationship) with respect by giving the subject your attention. Yes, it may feel uncomfortable to bring up a topic as sensitive as money. But it comes off as insincere to treat the subject casually, bring it up on your way out the door, or introduce it with, “Oh, by the way…”

Be concrete.
When trying to come to a consensus, make sure you’re both being concrete about goals, amounts, and time lines. This includes defining terms. For example, “You say it’s important to you that I be more responsible with money. What does it mean to be ‘responsible?’” “It means being able to pay for your lifestyle with cash. It means not having any credit card debt. [etc.]”

Just tell the truth.
You always have a right to your feelings and your point of view. Simply say, “I’m not comfortable with [spending $x on dinner right now].” Let the other person be responsible for how s/he chooses to respond.

Notice when it’s not about the money.
People use money in all kinds of interpersonal ways: to express love, to exert power and control, to punish, and to betray. Sometimes financial behavior becomes a way of saying something about what is happening in the relationship.

Money beliefs run deep.
Money connects with our most basic sense of security. Thus when someone feels financially threatened they may lash out (in an effort to self-protect) with an intensity that appears irrational to others. When you’re faced with a situation like this – someone is being overly aggressive, defensive, or resistant – rely heavily on Be Concrete and Just Tell the Truth.

Make consensus the goal.
Money is highly subjective and the other party has his/her own beliefs. Seek consensus instead of affirmation that your point of view is correct. Many friendships, relationships, and marriages have ended because each partner tries to make the other person agree that s/he is “right” about money.