Money Talk: How to Take It from Terrifying to Piece of Cake

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Money Talk



  • Envelopes left unopened in a pile on a counter or table, usually near the front or back door.
  • Heavy silence over dinner on the day that a big (undiscussed) expense shows up on the online statement of the family credit card.
  • Phone numbers that appear over and over again on the Caller ID, usually 800 or 888 numbers that have no recognizable name attached to them.
  • Expensive sports packages that show up miraculously on the cable system that no one ordered.
  • Price tags and labels that get cut off before a new piece of clothing even makes it into the closet.

These are just a few of the limitless signs of dysfunction around money.  Whether they reflect out-of-control impulse spending, good old deception or fear of facing your partner or yourself, they can all be resolved by a simple (but often gut-wrenching) step:  talking about money.

Why is Money Talk So Difficult?

The resistance comes from the fact that too few of us deal with money as “just numbers.”  Instead, money is loaded with emotion for reasons we don’t even understand.  Because we don’t understand where those emotions come from and how to get them under control, we overreact to everything that touches money.  We hide from it, we push it away, we spend it, we worship it, we hoard it … we do everything but respect it and use it strategically.  And we certainly don’t talk about it.

And if we do talk about it within a couple, it’s typically when someone did something that really upset the other person.  With emotions running high, it’s the least logical time to try to talk about what is already a touchy topic.

What about our money conversation with ourselves?  That one usually takes place when the month isn’t finished but the money in the bank account is.  And the inner dialog is rarely productive.  Emotions ricochet from self recrimination to blaming others for not paying us enough—and sometimes on to denial and magical thinking.  What else can be expected when bills are due, funds are low and debt is climbing silently in the background?

What’s the Best Time for Money Talk?

The best time for money talk is when emotions are at their minimum.  Not when an incident has arisen.  And not when it’s bill-paying day.

As hard as it is, as a couple it is critical to come up with shared money expectations and a shared spending plan.  Without those, money will always be tinder for a fire, ready to flare.

How can we ever get from silence to discussion?  Whether single or part of a couple, one of the best things we can do is pick a specific date and time for a monthly one-hour conversation.  Make it an official appointment.  And force yourself or each other to keep it.

Before we can ever talk about money as “just numbers,” there is probably some ice-breaking needed.  Depending on the emotional baggage we have wrapped around the topic of money, we might have to go back to Square One.  And Square One brings with it vulnerability.  Yet without facing that vulnerability, money can’t lose the false power we have given it.

To crack the door on our feelings about money, here are five questions we can address, moving through them as fast as our baggage allows us to:

1.    What do I most fear about money?
2.    What do I most like about money?
3.    What am I least proud about regarding money?
4.    What am I most proud about regarding money?
5.    How was money handled in my home growing up?

It takes courage to have these open conversations, whether with a partner or with ourselves.  But they will start to show us where money trips us up and why.  Only with that knowledge can we ever take back our power over money.  And we each need to own that power.

Let us know in the Comments section below if you have any other methods or tactics that have worked for you to be able to talk openly – and comfortably—about money.


Bio: Sharon O’Day fixes financial lives. She is a tell-it-like-it-is money expert with a successful career in global finance, plus an MBA from the Wharton School. Today she specializes in getting entrepreneurial women over 50 back on their game so they can have more money, less stress and more joy. With her “Over Fifty and Financially Free” strategies, they take actions that lead to their ultimate goal: financial peace of mind.

  • Your comment about discussing money when the emotions aren’t running high is such good advice Sharon. And I also like your idea of a regular meeting to discuss finances. Being upfront and honest about bills and expenses really helps our household stick with our budget. Hidden finances will always emerge at some point!

    • Because it is often an “avoided” topic, few think to create “normalcy” by talking about it casually … and unemotionally, Carolyn. We know it has no hold over us when we can make a comment or have a conversation about money without it raising anybody’s blood pressure. 😉

  • Wow, another powerful article about taking control of our fears and ideas about money. One thing I realized as I read this one is that “I” have a “control” issue surrounding money. Shame on me. Today that comes to a halt. Thanks Sharon for helping me peel back the layers of the onion known as my “feelings about money”.

    • We all deal with that onion, Carla. After all the research and mentoring I’ve done on the topic, occasionally I get a new “aha” when I see an unusual reaction or long-forgotten behavior of my own. Fortunately, those reactions or behaviors have less and less power … because the big issues have been handled.

  • Powerful five questions, Sharon, I really like this post and will copy it into my journal for further contemplation and discussion.

    You really had my full attention (you always have that!) when I read your tweet starting with “What could be worse than talking about money?” and immediately I thought: “not talking about it”. That would be the answer to question #5.

    Thanks so much, Sharon, and have a wonderful week.

    • We never stop growing or discovering things about ourselves, Barbara, no matter how wise we think we are … 😉 That’s the great joy in life, right?

  • Susan Schiller

    “Taking back control of our money,” is what hits me the hardest today. It’s been many years since I gave away my power regarding money, and all is well now, regarding that… but I recall so many times wanting to speak heart-to-heart with my (ex)husband about money. It was always a bad time for him. Until finally, I realized he was never going to talk. A few months later all bills, accounts, statements, etc were removed from the house and kept in a location where I would never had access to or knowledge of.

    I often wonder what I could have done, to have prevented that… or averted the disaster. Our church supported his actions, as the head of our home. There was no internet, at that time… no opportunity to learn from someone like you. My dad died when I was a teen, and my mom didn’t like to talk about marriage issues.

    Maybe there is no good answer for that time… maybe you choose the least of two evils, as sometimes is necessary. It does give me all the more appreciation for the Internet and websites such as yours, Sharon, and the selfless service you provide to us! It also makes me appreciate all the more that taking control of our financial decisions and habits gives us power. It empowers us… and that is important!

    • Things do change with time, in terms of access and availability of knowledge. Think of how much more limited our mothers’ worlds were in terms of access. From what you’ve told me, Sue, there was probably not much else you could have done dealing with your ex-husband if you did not have the tools to refuse to be so disempowered. We learn. We can only fight with what we’ve been given and what we’ve learned. I don’t know why you had to go through that. But I’m thrilled at how you’ve taken control and attracted a life that has given you a chance at SO much more!

  • Wingate Wyndham Sulphur

    Great tips to overcoming your fears with money. I usually just talk about it as it is not going to go away. And, in talking about it with my spouse, we can often find a way to resolve the stress and together overcome whatever hurdle is in our way. Great article as if you do not deal with it, it will always haunt you.

    • You’re right, if there’s a problem, it doesn’t go away. (And the stress just makes it worse.) Your solution of discussing it openly with your spouse means you now have two people working towards a solution … much better!

  • Great tips Sharon, while it is never pleasant it is a necessary conversation to have so find the time and be civil and have compassion and empathy while doing it

    • Carly, if we can get all emotion out of how we perceive money, the only reason a conversation would be unpleasant is if it reflects a difficult moment in your finances. But it’s not the money itself, it’s the situation it’s reflecting … 😉

  • Alexandra McAllister

    Excellent tips, especially when to talk about money….definitely not when emotions are high. Thank you, Sharon, for always sharing such priceless info. Oh, today I listened instead of reading. WOW! What a beautiful voice. 🙂

    • So glad you discovered the recordings, Alexandra! I had to skip doing them for 2-3 weeks because my computer was going through overhauls, but I’m so glad to be recording again. I write, then read. Guess it shows to what extent I write like I talk, doesn’t it? 😉

  • Kung Phoo

    My wife and i are very open about money, spending, or saving.. we just need it all to work out..

    • It will all work out, Rob, if I read your attitude, willingness and clarity of purpose right. Especially if both of you are pulling in the same direction!

  • Roz

    Everyone should, yes SHOULD read your posts, especially this one before they get married and in the first few years of marriage while working things out. I’m fortunate that my hubby & I are mostly on the same page and I apply your tips wherever possible.

  • Carmen

    Great post Sharon. I agree, money is a very emotional topic for many. When I was a child it was something very secretive and naughty to discuss. Thank you for the tips.

  • Deanna

    Great post, Sharon. Having these types of open discussion is crucial. Love the “listen here.”

  • MeliLovesCards

    Thanks for the great post Sharon with excellent ideas how to address the issue. I’ve heard money is probably the #1 reason why people divorce. Communication is essential for any relationship. I’ve recently been learning about gender communication and feel that understanding this can greatly enhance our issues concerning money.

  • Yep Sharon money is a touchy subject. It’s because we identify it with success and lack of money therefore equals failure. I know, it’s not a correct or healthy mindset but it seems a lot of us are stuck in this place. Realizing money is an energy exchange really helped me. Plus, it’s tied to our self worth so it’s our self worth that needs attention and our money issues will fade in my opinion. Thanks for your great post – Gaynor

  • Ernestine King

    A very educational money article. Thank you!

  • It’s so true. I remember my parents hiding things from each other, and I always wondered why it was that way. I’m so thankful that I didn’t “inherit” their attitude about money. My boyfriend and I don’t have scheduled dates to talk about money, but we do talk openly about whenever we need to.

  • Paudie Callaghan

    Hi Sharon, Excellent article. Money is certainly a very touchy subject to be in conversion with a lot of people nowadays. You have shared some excellent ideas with us here in the article on how to address the issue. Thanks for sharing 😉

  • Tina Ashburn

    This is a great article. I’ve printed it and I’m going to give it to one of our delivery drivers because she and her boyfriend are having these issues.

  • Norma Doiron

    Valuable information here Sharon, so many people struggle with the proper handling of money. It is vital to have the courage to come to grips with this money issue, being fed the right information and having the right support will surely lead to the right results.

  • Real Sisters

    Many marriages fail for this one reason alone. Great tips for helping with this issue.