How to Have a Conversation About Money

Quick Answer

To have a conversation about money, make a plan for what you want to address ahead of time. Then, be direct, stay on task, be sure to listen to the other person and write down the solutions you both come up with. Last, end the conversion on a positive note.

Two women sitting together and having a conversation about money.

Having a conversation about money can be stressful. People bring different emotions, beliefs and experiences surrounding money to the table. It's easy to become tense when you're discussing how you or the other person manages money―especially if your finances are entwined.

That's why the best way to approach a conversation about finances is with intention. Your goals are to work as a team to manage money better. That requires speaking directly and listening openly. That isn't always easy, but here are tips for how to pull it off.

1. Aim to Talk Before Issues Arise

Ideally, you'll lay down some groundwork before the onset of a financial relationship. That could mean before you sign a lease together, before you combine finances with your partner or before you provide financial support to a loved one. Then, you'll have periodic check-ins to collaborate on improving systems as you go, if necessary.

Maybe you've had these conversations, but now you need to adjust course. Or, maybe you didn't sit down for the talk with your roommate, partner or whomever it is before now, and you need to get some financial issues squared away.

2. Make a Plan Ahead of Time

When you need to talk money, it can help to make a plan for how you'll field the topic beforehand. If possible, schedule a specific time to have the talk, and come up with a plan for what you'll say. If you feel particularly nervous, you can even practice.

Jot down what you want to go over. That way, when you're in the moment and emotions are potentially running high, you'll be more equipped to stick to what you need to discuss.

3. Be Direct

Skirting around the topic can make everyone more confused or anxious. Once you're ready to transition into discussing money, try to come right out and say it: "I wanted to set aside a bit of time to discuss finances." This gives the other person the opportunity to get in the right frame of mind to listen and talk directly too.

4. Stay on Task

If the conversation you're having is prompted by a financial issue or disagreement about money management, it can be easy for emotions to run high. That's especially true if you have a specific complaint you need to discuss. To keep the conversation from veering into combative or blaming territory, focus on what you want to achieve through the conversation.

For instance, if you are talking to your partner, roommate or a loved one about money management, you can focus on how you want to change the way you manage money as a team, rather than the ways you think they have fallen short in the past.

Here are examples of how you could rephrase your grievances to be goal oriented:

Problem Rephrase
You haven't been letting me know before you make big purchases, and I'm worried about overdrawing our account. I have an idea for how we could get more organized about how we communicate about purchases over a certain amount—say, $50—so that we both know what's coming. What do you think?
I feel like I'm the only one paying for things we both use. Can we set up a system for how we split up who buys common items like toilet paper, cleaning spray and the like? Maybe we could have a spreadsheet or a shared notebook.
You always order in, even though we said we would cook our meals. I've been thinking of strategies for how we can prep on the weekends and come up with a meal plan for weekdays, because I want to try to stick with a food budget. Can we do it together?

Then, give the other person room to share their thoughts too. Work together to come up with a strategy that you both agree on.

5. Make Space for Differences

Regardless of how much you care for the person you're talking to, the fact remains that you may not see eye-to-eye on the financial obstacles you're contending with. And just because you come at these issues from a positive place doesn't mean the person you're talking to won't react negatively.

These conversations can be inherently tense, and one or both of you may feel accused, even if that isn't the other person's intention. That's why it's a strong strategy to try your best to focus on solutions, rather than past issues—and understand that you may not completely agree.

If the person you're speaking with disagrees with what you see as issues, do your best to really listen. Avoid interrupting. Ask them to do the same. You may not come away fully in agreement, but simply sharing the floor and validating the other person's experience can help you avoid defensiveness and stay in the right space to work as a team.

6. Write Everything Down

As you come up with a strategy for how you'll move forward, ask the person you're speaking with if you can write it down together. Having a plan down on paper gives you both something to reference and stick with. Whether it's a budget, some ground rules or a system for how you'll split bills, it's motivating and clarifying to have both of your expectations laid out for you.

7. End on a Positive Note

Communicating about a complicated topic can be uncomfortable, especially if you're navigating financial problems together or if you still don't fully agree on how to move forward. Whether you need to table the topic and come back to it later, or if you're able to come away from the conversation with the issue resolved, the ideal way to end the conversation is on a positive note.

If you don't anticipate things getting too tense, you could schedule your money talk right before you both go do something fun together, like share a meal or go on an outing. If you anticipate things may get a little tense, you can simply end the conversation by sharing some affirmations.

For example, you could say, "Thank you so much for talking this through with me. It's an awkward topic, but I feel so much better just being able to communicate as a team." Remember, it's you and them against the issue—not against each other.

The Bottom Line

Whether you need to discuss money management with your partner or are navigating a financial situation with a roommate, family member or other loved one, direct communication and goal-oriented thinking can help you talk about the subject at hand with success. Being kind, staying focused, leaving space for disagreement and writing down a plan for going forward can help you navigate this tricky topic and come away with an improved plan, and your relationship intact.