Sara and Joe married in June. They dated for 5 years prior to marriage but never lived together. They briefly talked about money before marriage but had no serious discussion about spending and saving. Now that the wedding is behind them and they are adjusting to life as husband and wife how do they begin discussing money?

It’s better to begin discussions BEFORE a major disagreement on spending. But in reality, it’s usually a disagreement that triggers action. Most couples postpone talking about money because it’s never easy. But here are 5 steps to take now to start the conversation.

1. Identify Wants
To make this step fun use imaginary money – reach beyond what you currently have or pretend you won the lottery. Ask your spouse, “if we had 20 million dollars (or whatever amount you determine), how would you spend it?” Grab a pen and paper and start writing down your wants and your spouse’s wants — buy a bigger house, pay for children’s college, travel when kids go off to college, buy a beach home etc.

Remember, this activity is brainstorming — refrain from criticizing.


2. Be Real
Now, it’s time to be serious. There’s no imaginary money. This time when you review the list of wants, think about how much money you really have available. Cross off the wants that are unrealistic. For example, you may have listed a convertible Lamborghini; but realistically, there is no way you could afford spending over $400,000 on a car … well at least not at this juncture in time.


3. Identify Shared Wants
Once you’ve shortened your list, review each item and identify which wants are shared by both of you. These wants are what you have in common. Also, take time to add to the list any wants you may have overlooked. For example, paying off debt or establishing an emergency reserve.


4. Prioritize Wants
Make two copies of your realistic shared wants, one for yourself the other one for your spouse. Each person then ranks each want, with “1” being the top priority. Now compare your list. You’ll see easily where you and your spouse differ in spending money. For example, your spouse may rank paying for kids’ college education as #3; whereas, you rank it as #5.


5. Select Top 5
Your objective in this step is to have the same top 5 wants as your spouse – you don’t have to have the same priority order for each want but your top 5 should include the same wants as your spouse’s top 5.

To get to this point, you’ll need to discuss your rationale for ranking your wants. Look at the purpose of each want, the amount and how long it would take to save for it.

In order to succeed in this step, set ground rules for your discussion to include but not be limited to the following:

→ Allow each person to voice their opinion without interruption and truly listen to each other (remember, you’re in this relationship for the long-term).

→ Add humor when possible (humor has a way of diffusing tension).

→ Take a break from the discussion if it gets unproductive (i.e., if the discussion gets too heated).


If you successfully achieve the above steps – and I recognize #5 will take the most effort – then you and your spouse will have a shared vision on how to spend money. You will share the same top 5 wants (or financial goals). With a shared vision, now you’re ready to develop a plan to achieve those goals.


Niv PersaudNiv Persaud, CFP®, CDFA™, CRPC®, is the Founder of Transition Planning & Guidance, LLC. Her firm bridges the gap between financial planning and coaching. As a Transition Consultant, she offers sage advice in all aspects of life – financial, personal and professional. Niv does not manage money and does not sell financial products. Her services include spending plan development, divorce financial review, life strategy and professional progression. Niv actively gives back to her community through her volunteer efforts. She believes in living life to the fullest by cherishing friendships, enjoying the beauty of nature and laughing often — even at herself. Her favorite quote is by Erma Bombeck, “When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left and could say ‘I used everything you gave me’.”