Family and Finances: How to Deal with Awkward Money Chats

Today we’re going to look at three common and awkward money chats families have around money  and how you can tackle them together! 

How to Come Together with Awkward Money Chats

Marriage and money isn't always easy. Chances are the two of you have different personalities and approaches to finances.

Those differences can be a wonderful thing as the two of you can lean on each other's strengths and shore up your weaknesses, but finding your financial footing as a couple isn't automatic. If you don't have some way to work on it these arguments can hurt your marriage and money.

One of the first things you need to realize about why couples fight and argue over money is how frequently it's actually not about the money.


From personal experience, writing and speaking about this for over a decade, the most common reasons couples fight about money is that they're not in sync with each other in either their:

  • expectations,
  • values, or
  • priorities

Usually it's a combo of them.

While the two of you, aren't always going to see eye to eye on everything –again, those differences can be fantastic -there are some ways you can work as a team to use those differences to your advantage.

Today, we're going to talk about how you can take that knowledge and untangle some awkward money conversations that can come up when you're married.

In this episode, we're going to get into situations like:

  • loaning money to your in-laws,
  • figuring out what counts as a big purchase so you don't sabotage your budget, and
  • coming clean about any secret debts that you carry.

We got a lot to cover today, so let's get started!

Resources to Build Up Your Family Finances Together

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What Counts as a Big Purchase?

Let's start off with a conversation couples should have fairly early on as they're creating their family financial plan and budget.

How much money do either of you have to spend before you consider that a big purchase.? And, what kind of purchase counts as something you should run by one another?

These may seem like fairly basic questions. But they're important in establishing what you expect. Out of your spinning plan and what you want from it, as well as understanding your priorities and values.

This is not about micromanaging your budget. That does not work. Actually, this is the opposite where you're open and upfront about your expectations. You are understanding where you both feel comfortable spending money on and where you would prefer to have a conversation.

One source of tension with couples is that the conflict comes from purchases that the other wasn't expecting because they felt like they had already established different priorities.

or example, if the two of you have thought of buying a house down the line, but you haven't had that conversation of how soon.

One of you could be spending more money, eating out. Making some extra purchases while the other is thinking, no, we need to be more aggressive with our savings. Because we're going to be buying a house within this timeframe.

This is why I feel so strongly that when you do your money dates and you're having these conversations. Yes, you're going to be talking about the numbers with your monthly budgets. And what to expect in the near future, but you should also look at the big picture and be clear about certain priorities.

For example, going back to buying a house. Is that something you're thinking about in the next five years or less? Or is that something down the line?

Are you thinking of starting a family, starting a business, travel financial independence.

Talk about these goals and the timelines you were thinking of having them in.

You may discover that your spouse has a different timeframe or different goals. That's normal. This is about working together to create a plan that you're both happy with.

For many of the couples I've interviewed where they achieved their goals, a big part of this was being very clear about the timelines and the goals they wanted and what those particular goals look like for them .

Your idea of a retirement, the home you want to live in, how many kids you have can vary. So knowing that on both sides allows you to create a plan that makes sense to you.

If you haven't already have these conversations with one another, because these are the building blocks that will allow you to deal with much more complicated in sometimes awkward conversations.

Should We Loan Money to Family?

Lending money to family can be an especially tough situation. No matter how objective you think you are, or you want to be emotions can run high and that's normal.

I would say in our community. That most of us would want to help. If we sought that there was an immediate or dire need. And many of us probably had to step up with the financial fallout from COVID helping our loved ones.

Sometimes, though, things are a bit… messier

What if there's a situation where you want to help but you're just at the beginning of your financial journey? You're not in a great spot yourself.

What if you have a relative, a loved one, who just isn't good with their finances and emergencies keep popping up. And you feel like you're constantly bailing them out. What do you do there? You care for them?

And at the same time, things are not clicking on the financial side. These are the types of situations where we can really stress over and if we're not on the same page, get into arguments.

This awkward situation of when to step in and loan money to family with something that Jen Hemphill had to deal with. She's an accredited financial counselor author, and the host of her dinero matters.

She discovered early on in her marriage that her husband and her had different expectations when it came to helping family out with money.

So the first time I'm like, okay, then we didn't see the money. I'm like, they haven't paid back the money. He's like, oh, I wasn't expecting that. I'm like, wait, wait a minute, wait a minute.

So that was tough. And then it happened again and our emergency savings would be depleted. And so I was having issues with that because one, we were still trying to figure out, you know, our finances and it just wasn't working.

She's not alone for most couples. This is a conversation they don't have until a family member asks for money.

So, how do you prepare for that as a couple? Here's where I think it's important to have conversations about expectations and do it in a less stressful way.

One thing that's been helpful for quite a few couples in our community he is running through these. What if scenarios?

Discuss, what would you do if you had a loved one, ask for money. Maybe it was an emergency or maybe it's a situation where they're having some financial struggles that keep coming up. What would you do then? And then also talk, what are your expectations if you loan the money out? Do you think you'll be getting it back? Are you expecting it to come back?

Or do you think that once that money is gone, it's gone.

Having these conversations before this scenario comes up. Allows you to have a less stressful, less emotional conversation. And instead gives you a clearer idea of your expectations, values, and priorities.

You can then work out a system that makes the most sense for you and your family.

After some deep heart to hearts and Jen and her husband found a plan that they were both comfortable with and supportive of.

We decided, we can set money aside on a monthly basis. We separate in a separate account. I'm such a big proponent of separate accounts.

That's the pot of money that and when because it has happened there's a need, I don't feel bad this time is giving the money because it doesn't interfere with our bills or other expenses or what we want, we're trying to achieve.

Jen Hemphill, Her Dinero Matter Creator/Host

Your decisions and plans may look very different than Jen's and that's fine. The key is that the two of you are happy with the plan that you came up with together.

Coming Clean About Secret Debts

We've discussed some pretty stressful and awkward conversations that have to be had.

Dealing with family and finances is important and you want to be on the same page for sure about that as well as your spending limits and when you need to check in with each other. With your shared goals, we want to make sure that you're reaching them together.

But there's one last situation that is very stressful and scary on both sides. It's when one of you is carrying a debt that the other doesn't know about.

It could be a debt you or they had before you got married. Or it could have started off as something small, but then snowballed into something much bigger.

Either way. It occurs more often than you think.

According to one survey by TD bank, over 40% of Americans are hiding some kind of credit card debt.

This is not only a significant problem financially, but also with your marriage. It might not seem this way. But it's a form of financial infidelity.

For the purpose of this episode, we're going to define financial infidelity as a situation where one spouse is keeping the other in the dark about finances.

Here's the tricky part. First of all, yes, there are people who are going behind their partner's backs, hiding money or sabotaging their family's finances for their own selfish purpose.

For those cases, I definitely recommend getting professional help with your situation.

You want someone with this experience to guide you through both the financial side of things? And the root of the problem, which may be something serious and significant, like a spending addiction.

However many in our community who have discovered financial infidelity in their marriage. Also find out that the root of it. Is it something malicious or sinister, but rather a breakdown of communication and their financial system.

Hopefully you seen that this beam has been playing out. We have to be clear. And transparent about our expectations, our priorities and values with one another.

I have written many times about couples and their different financial situations and how they handle their accounts. But the gist of it, I want to highlight for this episode is even if you do have a separate account, maybe it's your fun money spending account. Separate doesn't mean secret.

I believe that couples should have room in their budget so they each one of you can spend on the things that matter to you.

Talking about and acknowledging those different expenses helps your relationship and finances.

On your relationship side, you're getting a better understanding of what matters to your spouse. On the financial side, having a second pair of eyes to make sure that you're not overspending. Is also very helpful.

If you haven't already include these as a part of your money dates. Don't just talk about the family shared goals, but get to know each other better. What projects are you working on? What are some of your hobbies? This can be a great help with your marriage.

Many times, one of the biggest culprits where things get out of control is carrying credit card debt.

That's because you have this mix of ease of access for payments, separation if you have your own credit card, and the fact that they typically have higher interest rates. You put those together and it could be a recipe for a mess.

So what if you two are dealing with that situation? How can you, first of all, come clean with one another about the debts that you have? Then second, start rebuilding that trust and create a financial system together that you both feel comfortable with?

Years ago, right before they got married, Tai and Talaat from His and Her Money had to deal with this situation.

I spoke with him on an earlier episode and they were kind enough to share their story, but here's how they initially felt and reacted.

I was at the point where I was ashamed of. All of the debt that I had acquired. And here I am about to embark on a marriage, a new life, and I didn't want to bring these old bad decisions that I made into the marriage. So my thinking. Well, I just got to hustle up and try to figure out how to get rid of the debt.

And I can't tell her this because she'll look at me differently. She won't think I'm the guy that I built myself up to be. You know, when we were having these money talks, now that we're engaged, you know, I meant what I was saying. I was starting to understand money a little bit better, but the problem was I was still had to deal with my past mistakes.

They were still right there in front of me. There were still bills and bill collectors that I'm dealing with, that all that was there. Because of the decisions that I had made previously. So my thought, which was an incorrect thought was I can't tell her because she won't, she won't look at me and say, she might not marry me

Talaat McNeely

Just about three months prior to getting married, I discovered financial fidelity. I discovered that he wasn't as transparent as he should have been in, before we got married about his finances, because he was trying to handle it all.

He was trying to pay it off, pay down his entire debt before we got married.

I felt like my role came down, came crashing. You know, I felt like trust, like, oh wow. Can I trust him? Because here it is, he was not completely honest with me. I just had a lot of emotions going on.

Hey, there is debt. I didn't know about what else is going on.

Tai McNeely

Their reactions, definitely capture what a lot of couples go through when there's that realization of financial infidelity.

With Talaat, you can see that shame was a huge reason why he didn't want to come to Tai sooner and a lot of people experience that.

When we were first engaged and we shared the numbers with one another, I could see immediately that I had a lot more debt than my soon to be husband had and I did feel quite a bit of shame.

Now if you're the spouse who is just finding out about this secret debt, you may not relate, understand, or agree with what Talat is saying, but many times shame does hold us back from talking about openly our finances, especially when we feel like we could've done a better job.

So, what do you do if you're in this situation?

If you're the one that's carrying this debt and you still don't feel comfortable enough speaking with your spouse about it. Let me make a suggestion, have someone who is a neutral but respected third party joined in the conversation.

It could be a mentor that both of you respect. A financial planner who has experience working with married couples. Or now this is a new development in the financial planning field having a financial therapist who can navigate both the relationship side and the communication. As well as the numbers to help alleviate a bit of that tension and stress and give you a form for you to dispute to one another in a productive setting.

Please keep in mind if you're the one opening up about this debt is that you have to give your spouse the space and time to process this and that very well may include a period where they're angry or upset with you.

You can't skip over that part.

Going forward. It's important that you give each other that space so the two of you can work together and hopefully find a way to reconnect and reestablish that trust.

Here are a few things and choices that tie into lot made as a couple to improve their marriage and their money.

I realized, Hey, he's a good man. His money issues had nothing to do with how he treated me. He treated me like a queen like my father always taught me. So I knew that as long as we came together on one accord that, Hey, we can do this.

And if it wasn't for the fact that, as I mentioned, that I saw determination and my husband, I saw that he was willing to change. I saw habits and PAs changing. He was reading different financial books and stuff like that. It was very encouraging.

So we had a long talk and we had to lay all our cards out. We had to be completely honest with each other now, um, Some of the financial infidelity was uncovered. He had to tell me everything about his past financially sold and I had to do the same.

So once we maintain that, then we were able to work together and come up with a plan on how we can handle our finances.

I'm the one that goes through our bank accounts, whether it's daily or every other day and things like that but we both sit down and we both do the budget. We have meetings, financial meetings together. We talk about expenses that are coming up that need to get paid but far as the one that's going to the bank handling like the different transactions.

I do. One of the most important things that we did was we decided that we were in this together.

This was for sure, not an overnight process. It took seeking outside help, having regular conversations, Talaatcompletely opening up about his financial state and having a system that was transparent to both of them and they had to change their mindset and work as a team.

I want to mention that tie into law are now completely debt-free including their mortgage and they're happily running a business together.

I'll include a link in the show notes to that original interview where we go into more detail. With their process of sinking up their values and their finances.

If you haven't already please add their podcast, his and her money to your playlist, they have fantastic stories. Of their marriage, but other families as well who are building up their finances together.

Investing in your marriage definitely takes time but it is well worth it and will pay off in dividends

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