Beginning a conversation

Portrait on a White Background of a Maori Woman With a Face Tattoo or Moko

Now that you are prepared for a financial conversation, let’s talk about how to get started.

The question many couples struggle with is how to start? – experience tells most of us that saying “we need to talk,” rarely goes well. This way of starting a conversation can imply things are not good, brings up feelings of uncertainty and concern and creates fear-based responses.

If you know your partner well then you will have some ideas about what has worked well in the past for sensitive conversations – consider those ideas when looking at the examples below. For the first conversation avoid heavy emotion-filled topics like debt and start with something lighter. 

If you haven’t already looked at setting the scene you may want to consider timing, location mood etc. before making a start. 

If you want to arrange and plan a time to have the conversation, you could start by saying you want to talk about your future; financial goals or plans.

Acknowledge that the topic is sensitive and there are likely to be different perspectives but it’s important to you.

Some examples you could use to start a conversation:

These examples may seem simple, but that doesn’t mean the conversation will necessarily be smooth or easy, so be prepared to work through difficulties as they arise and know that this is just a starting place.

Potential conversation scripts

It is useful to think about discussing money with your partner in terms of an area that needs to be managed or strengthened, rather than trying to solve your money problems.

There are probably a lot of money matters to be discussed, so it is most helpful to understand finances as an ongoing topic.

A good way to start your conversations is by sharing how you view and feel about money – including what you learnt from the section on your relationship with money

Share your emotional relationship with money with your partner, including the messages about money that you recall from your childhood. 

By having this conversation, you will both have a better understanding of what money means to each of you personally. 

Once you have shared your history, give your partner an opportunity to share theirs.

  • My parents handled their money like…
  • My childhood financial memories are…
  • From my family I received the message that money…
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Tip: Don’t try and cover everything at once. 

Take your time and tackle one thing at a time

Below are a few conversation starters:

This is how my parents...
spent money, saved money, talked about money
These are some of my childhood financial memories...
of my parents/siblings/other significant person
From my family I think I received the message that money...
equals happiness/power/love/greed
  • “This is how my parents … “ (spent money, saved money, talked about money)
  • “These are some of my childhood financial memories … ” (of my parents/siblings/other significant person)
  • “From my family I think I received the message that money …” (equals happiness/power/love/greed etc.)
  • Thoughts that may come up from these conversations starters:

Thoughts that may come up from these conversations starters:

"I worry about debt all the time because my family had so much."
"I don't want to deal with money because I associate it with stress."
"I feel insecure because I don't think we have enough money."
"I feel powerless with money because I identify with my mother, who was never involved in the family finances."
"I am just like my father in that way."
"I never want to be like my aunty in that way."
  • “I worry about debt all the time because my family had so much.”
  • “I don’t want to deal with money because I associate it with stress.”
  • “I feel insecure because I don’t think we have enough money.”
  • “I feel powerless with money because I identify with my mother, who was never involved in the family finances.”
  • “I am just like my father in that way.”
  • “I never want to be like my aunty in that way.”

Understanding each other's money personalities

The next step will be to discuss your understandings of each other’s money personality.

Each person will bring with them into the relationship their own financial style. Sometimes these styles will align, but often they will be different. 

For example:

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You pay the bills as soon as you receive them.
Your partner pays the bills right before the deadline.
You regularly check your bank balance.
Your partner has a rough idea of how much is in the account.
You pay the minimum amount into your KiwiSaver
Your partner contributes the maximum amount

Here are some conversation starters to get a sense of your partner’s money style:

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"How much do you have in your savings?"
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"Would you say you're more of a spender or saver? Why?"
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"What's your credit rating?"
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"What are your thoughts on debt?"

Using the $100,000 question

What would you do with $100,000?

Answering this question with your partner is an excellent gateway to having better conversations about money. 

Most of us will never have a spare $100,000 lying around and for this reason, it is an easy, low-­pressure and even fun question.

The answers to this question will help you build a foundation for future money conversations.

When you answer this with your partner, you are basically telling each other what you value. You can talk about your differences and discuss how your priorities can blend to form common goals.

It is also good practice for spending real money. 

When you practice spending fake money with your partner, and have all the conversations that come along with it, it makes having real conversations easier because there are far fewer emotions attached to pretend money.

Think of talking about money like working out a muscle, the more you talk about money-related issues, the easier it becomes, and the really important issues become less daunting.

It may feel like the issue of money is just too difficult, or too big, but money does not have to be complex or intimidating. 

Finances only feel difficult because of underlying tensions, values and emotions tied to it. 

Making the decision to talk about these issues, and acting on that decision, is a crucial step in bringing you closer with your partner.

© Good Shepherd NZ and AUT, 2021

Good Shepherd NZ has built this toolkit in collaboration with Dr Ayesha Scott of AUT’s Finance Department.