Right now I'm in Phoenix, but I'm thinking about a time at home, about two weeks ago, when B approached me after breakfast. "I have something to ask you," she said. "It's a little awkward."
"Okay," I replied, wondering if anything was wrong. "What is it?"
"You have to leave the house tomorrow. Between 12 and 1 p.m."
"Uh, okay." Now I was really puzzled. "Why is that?"
"Melanie is coming over."
"She's from the fabric store. We're going to talk about recovering those two chairs in the living room."
"Ah," I said, suddenly understanding. We've been talking about those two chairs for at least a year. They seem fine to me. But B says they don't fit into our decor, and they have to be either recovered or replaced. I don't see the point. Recovering old chairs? It costs hundreds of dollars, for each chair! We certainly have better things to spend our money on than recovering perfectly good chairs that we hardly ever use.
Which is why B is asking me -- no, telling me -- to get out of the house, and out of her way. She doesn't want me skulking around and harrumphing about how it costs too much and we don't need to do it anyway. .
Still . . . "I have to be out of the house?" I pursued. "I can't just go upstairs, and stay there and not show my face?"
"No. Out of the house." Clearly, she has heard enough from me. And no matter what I say, she is doing this.
And so I went out for the afternoon. I went to the mall and bought myself a new Ping Pong paddle and had lunch in the food court. And with this scenario in mind, I thought I'd bring you some advice on how not to argue about money. Goodness knows . . . not from me. But from Jeremy Kisner, my go-to financial adviser at Surevest Wealth Management in Phoenix (which is maybe why I thought of this).
Here's what he says. And it occurs to me that his approach might extend beyond money issues and be helpful for any kind of communication with a friend or loved one:
Money is a hot-button issue in many relationships. It's common for partners to have different spending and savings priorities, and this often leads to conflict. Usually, one partner is more focused on the present and places a higher priority on using money to have fun, buy nice things, be generous, or engage in "retail therapy" to escape stress or anxiety. The other may be more focused on the future, feeling that the most important use of money is to provide security so they will be financially independent.
Partners often try to convince each other that their priorities are the correct way of looking at things. But this usually doesn't go well. Discussions about money often lead to arguments or uncomfortable silences. Furthermore, financial distress is often cited as the #1 cause of divorce. So instead of avoiding financial discussions, try to follow these seven tips for better outcomes:
Start with questions. Your first instinct is probably to "tell" your partner what you want, why your priority is important. That is the opposite of how you should approach these conversations. Instead, ask a question that might start a productive dialogue. What do you think has been your best, and your worst, financial decision? What spending decisions have brought you good memories? What was money like in your household when you were growing up? The answers show you why people think the way they do, and help you better understand their financial mindset.
Don't focus on what you are going to say. Instead, focus on listening. Good listening is a learned behavior that doesn't come naturally for most people. It entails more than waiting your turn to talk. Good listening means asking clarifying questions, even when you think you know what the other person means. Learn to pause before speaking and repeat back what you've heard.
Find goals you both agree on. Each of you should make a list of the goals you'd like to reach. Then find common goals and agree to work toward them. Each of you needs to be willing to make sacrifices to reach the goals, and if you're initiating the conversation, you should be the first one to offer up something. Do you need to cut down on the Starbucks visits, Botox treatments, dog grooming, poker nights?
Do not be judgmental. You may find yourself thinking, Wow, it is really stupid to spend so much on XYZ. It is completely normal to have different spending priorities, but if you're judgmental, you're going to poison the well and kill any chance of progress.
Admit your own mistakes and regrets. The best way to prepare for this discussion is not by gathering evidence of what your spouse has done wrong. Instead, evaluate your own spending and figure out which of your own decisions turned out to be mistakes, and what changes you can make. Then you might ask if your partner has any spending habits or decisions they would be willing to change.
Be appreciative. If your partner admits to overspending, don't pounce. Instead, be understanding, even sympathetic, and ask more questions such as: What do you think would be more reasonable? Then appreciate their answer, their honesty, and their willingness to work together.
Agree to revisit periodically. You and your partner should meet to discuss your household budget on a regular basis, perhaps once a month. This is an ideal time to reaffirm priorities and talk about financial goals. Of course, it's always easier to avoid these conversations. But as I like to say, "A lazy man works twice as hard." In other words, a little discipline prevents a lot of future headache. Good luck with your money conversations!