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5 Conversation Starters for a Financially Irresponsible Significant Other

Last updated by on January 12, 2015

I am thoroughly convinced that financial compatibility is one of the biggest determining factors of relationship success.

After all, it all starts right from the beginning with the debatable “who should pay for the first date?” and “how much should you spend on the first date? questions.

Why is it so important?

How we spend is very closely tied to our values and goals.

Value and goal incompatibility in a relationship? That’s usually a bad thing. In fact, recent data shows that high wedding expenses can lead to lower marriage success rates.

Resentment that results from differing spending values:

  • the financially responsible half resents the over-spending and perceived selfishness of their partner
  • the financially irresponsible half resents the nagging and perceived cheapness of their partner
  • if both partners are financially irresponsible, that opens up an entirely different set of problems

But don’t just take it from me, take it from divorce attorney, John Thyden, who says, “Financial issues are the primary reason for 90% of divorce cases I handle.”

Thyden went on to say, “It isn’t necessarily the amount of money a couple has that tends to trip them up. It’s the differences in their spending habits and especially their lack of communication.”

Whether you’re married or not, communication (or lack of) around finances is essential.

The fact that you are here right now reading this article while your significant other is not – we’ll just assume you are the more financially responsible half of the relationship. And you probably need a bit of help.

So here are 5 questions to start the financial conversation with your partner:

financial conversations

1. “Where do you see us (or “yourself”) in 5, 10, 20 years, financially?”

When it comes to financial goals, what are the things many of us want? A home, an education, the ability to work less, financial independence, to get rid of debt, and to have more money.

Is irresponsible spending going to get you and your significant other closer to those goals? (hypothetical question for you, of course, but also a good follow-up question for your significant other)

Be constructive here. If you can agree on the long-term vision, curbing daily poor decisions and keeping each other on task, becomes much easier.

2. “At what age would you like to reach financial independence (or retirement)?”

If you know your significant other plans to work the rest of their life, probably not a constructive question to ask.

But, if they are like most human beings, they don’t.

And this question starts the conversation to get them to start thinking realistically about their working relationship to money.

Take it a step further by proposing to calculate the numbers with them, based on their personal savings rate and desired independence date, as an exercise.

3. “Would you buy this if you had to wait a month to get it?

Delayed gratification is an extremely powerful tool. Once you get a taste of it, it tends to become habitual.

I’ve highlighted a method on how to control impulsive buying. Try asking your significant other if they are willing to take the challenge with you.

Be open about your failures with each other, and celebrate the successes.

4. “What makes you the happiest?”

Ideally, non-material, warm and fuzzy idealistic things make this list. If any of them are material, you’ll need to specify you meant non-material.

There are dozens of things that are better than money – love, time, freedom, family, friends, health, etc.

BUT, money is a huge enabler in allowing you to enjoy more of these things. Spending money irresponsibly is rarely an enabler.

5. “Would you rather have this or work X, Y, Z hours?”

Knowing your significant other’s after-tax hourly take-home pay – calculate how many hours the thing they are proposing buying would actually cost them (or you).

I’ve used this trick on myself a number of times.

We tend to value our time much more than we value our money (especially if we hate our jobs).

Suppose spending an extra $10K on a shinier car or a kitchen renovation equates to an extra year or more of time spent at work… the choice should be painfully obvious.

Financial Conversations Discussion:

  • What questions or discussions helped your relationship with your significant other?
  • Have you had to end relationships due to differences in financial values?

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About the Author
I am G.E. Miller, & this is my story. My goal is financial independence ASAP. If you share that goal, join me & 10,000+ others by getting FREE email updates. You can also explore every post I have written, in order.

  • Kyle @ Student Loan Killer says:

    Oh boy, I know how this goes. I have $75k in student loan debt and my fiance has no debt whatsoever. It leads to a lot of problems sometimes when I’m conscious of how every purchase will affect my ability to make loan payments, and she can’t relate to it. I’m really looking forward to using these convo starters and hopefully we’ll work out our financial differences. Thanks!

  • FutureLibrarian says:

    I don’t have a financially irresponsible significant other, (or any significant other), but I’m probably going to use a few of these when I visit my parents this weekend. Both of them are ridiculously irresponsible when it comes to finances. Both my older sister and I have sat down and talked with them about it, made budgets for them, etc. They never listen.

    But after hearing my mom cry yet again about how they don’t have enough money for food at the end of the month, I agreed to look at their bills and see if I could find a way to trim down their expenses. I already know my main suggestion, cutting the $100+ cable with all the fancy channels, is going to be ignored. Apparently I’m a glutton for punishment.

    Thanks for the post! Maybe something will get through their heads.

    • G.E. Miller says:

      Good point. This doesn’t haven’t to be for a significant other. Family (especially parents!) sometimes need a little chat as well.

    • Nick says:

      I had a similar experience trying to help my mom after her split from my dad. The first thing I noticed was her $130 cox plan (bundled internet, cable tv, and home phone).

      But it seems once she was used to a certain style of living, she wasn’t able (read: willing) to go back.

      Her financial situation was never too dire, luckily, but instead of cutting back her lifestyle she has friends/co workers rent out her spare bedrooms.

      What I learned, while I’m still young, is to keep my lifestyle simple and frugal now, because it’s extremely hard to cut back once you are used to a certain standard of living.

  • Good advice indeed. I’ve just now begun the journey and I’ve already run into this issue. Though I plan on using some of this, I’m not sure how much of it will work.

    At the end of the day, I may resort to simply demonstrating by example in hopes that it rubs off. Getting her on board by painting attractive pictures of the future or asking strategic questions is asking for trouble.

    Every FI blog seems to touch on this very important topic (and I learned some great fresh info above..thank you), but I’ve yet see one that offers a strategy for those who have to make peace with a situation in which there is a significant other with an opposite or apathetic viewpoint on spending.

    (I even threw my hat in here


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