1. Set aside time alone together for a “money huddle”
Meet weekly or monthly with your spouse to discuss finances, suggest Bethany and Scott Palmer, founders of TheMoneyCouple.com and coauthors of First Comes Love, Then Comes Money. This should be a time when both of you can focus, free from distractions, children, and work.
For a financial relationship to be successful, one party can’t abdicate all responsibility. “Don’t allow one person to be the ‘money person’ and carry all the financial stress on her shoulders,” says Bethany Palmer. Managing your finances should be a shared duty, and each of you should have your own specific roles.
In addition to short-term plans, it helps to make a list of shared goals for the long term, say the Palmers. Think beyond just paying off immediate credit card debt and brainstorm future plans for your home, children, and retirement.
Keep meeting times and subjects regular and planned so the huddle can develop into a comfortable routine. Bethany Palmer suggests meeting every week for the first 90 days, then shifting to once a month once you’re on the same wavelength. Combining the huddle with something fun—like a nice bottle of wine—will help to turn it into a ritual and keep you motivated, says Manisha Thakor, author of Get Financially Naked: How to Talk Money With Your Honey.
When couples are planning expenses together, many make the mistake of discussing only large items such as mortgages, car payments, and tuition. But, says Bethany Palmer, “the financial relationship encompasses all the decisions you make as a couple, including small, daily choices like which groceries to get and what type of gas to put in the car.”
6. Don’t discuss finances outside the designated huddle
Except in an emergency, it’s usually better to postpone money talk till your formal meeting, says Bethany Palmer. If you’re a saver, you can then trust that the conversation will actually happen later and avoid feeling the need to nag. If you’re a spender, you’ll have a time to present your proposal calmly instead of springing it on your spouse.
“A saver will never wake up one day and be a spender, and a spender will never be a saver,” says Bethany Palmer. As a spender, you should learn to present your spouse with detailed pros and cons. As a saver, learn to quantify your spending goals with numbers that your spouse will understand.
The number of accounts that you and your spouse decide to have is as personal as the number of children to raise, says Thakor. Separate accounts are a perfectly acceptable practice among couples today as long as there’s consistent communication and transparency about spending. With joint accounts, Thakor suggests that you set a dollar amount that each of you can spend monthly, no questions asked. After that, consult each other for any further spending.
9. Make your children your primary concern in a blended family
If you’ve remarried, talk with your spouse about how to help both sets of children. But your first priority needs to be your own children, says Scott Palmer. After both of you have established how to financially handle all your children, if they’re old enough take them aside and be honest with them about who will be handling which finances and how.
10. Make a blueprint for your blended family’s expenses
Making the transition to a blended family typically involves a lot of emotions. To make conversations about finances pragmatic rather than fraught, consider enlisting a financial planner, says Thakor. Once your core financial decisions are established, she says, “it won’t be as difficult to make new decisions.”
While it’s important to have some transparency about money with your children, they don’t need to know everything. If you’re really struggling, avoid frightening them with details, while still giving some idea about how money is tight. “There’s a fine line between sheer terror and awareness,” says Thakor.