How to Talk To Your Partner About Debt
By Liz Weston
Adapted from The 10 Commandments of Money by Liz Weston
Here’s a profoundly unromantic idea for a date: sit together at a computer and review your credit reports.
I know a lot of people who wish they had taken this step earlier in their marriage, or even before their marriage, instead of getting blindsided too late by their partner’s debts. Even if you aren’t technically responsible for the debt, it will affect your life together and how much money you have for other things, so you need to know about it and discuss how to tackle it if you want your financial partnership to be as strong as it can be.
Creating a debt repayment plan will require that you first find out how much you spend and then determine a realistic budget for future spending. This is a joint effort, not something either one of you can do alone.
Some ways you can get on the same page:
Understand where your partner is coming from. Talk about how your families dealt with money growing up. Share your first memories of having or spending money, discuss each of your parents’ attitudes about money and talk about what you wish had been done differently in your family. Chances are you’ll gain valuable insights into your partner’s current approach to finances (and probably into your own, as well).
Appreciate your partner’s strengths. Often spenders are “seize the day” kind of people who are spontaneous and fun. They can be an important counterweight to savers, who tend to value the future over the present.
Agree on goals. Talk about short-term goals, such as your next vacation, as well as longer-term plans like paying for the kids’ college and saving for retirement. People who live for today need to have something to look forward to in the near future; too much delayed gratification makes them grumpy and unwilling to cooperate with the longer-term plans.
Track where the money is going. Review at least three months’ worth of bank and other account statements so you both can see exactly how much income has come in and how much has been paid out. Sometimes this evidence is enough to get an overspending spouse to realize that changes need to be made.
Solicit solutions; don’t impose them. If your expenses exceed your income or you’re not saving enough for your goals, cuts will have to be made. But the spender should have an active role in deciding exactly where to cut.
Attack the problem, not each other. No one is blameless here. It takes two to create the dynamic that causes financial problems. Attacks and accusations are counterproductive, so focus on working as a team.
Tell the truth—always. Most of us understand that physical infidelity is devastating to a relationship. But many people don’t understand that financial infidelity is a big deal, too.
Liz’s columns run twice a week on MSN Money while her question-and-answer column “Money Talk” appears in newspapers throughout the country, including the Los Angeles Times, the Palm Beach Post, the Portland Oregonian, Stars & Stripes and others.
She also writes a money column, “My Two Cents,” for AARP the Magazine, the largest-circulation magazine in the world with 22 million subscribers.
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