The Surprising Late-Night Conversations That Keep Couples Together

Illustrated by Jasmin Valcourt.
By Cathie Ericson

The dishes are done. The work emails have petered out. And, the kids are (gasp!) asleep.

Now that there's some peace and quiet, it's the perfect time to snuggle up to your sweetie and… talk finances?

Although that may seem like the least romantic thing to do when you and your partner finally have some alone time, it's actually a good way to build financial intimacy, says Jeff Motske, a CFP® and author of The Couple’s Guide to Financial Compatibility: Avoid Fights about Spending and Saving—and Build a Happy and Secure Future Together.

"The bedroom can be a good spot for a financial discussion, as long as it's a comfortable environment where both can be transparent," Motske says. "We know pillow talk is usually reserved for your most personal conversations — so this fits right in."

In fact, bedtime may be an opportune time to talk money, in light of a National Foundation for Credit Counseling survey that shows 80% of people say their personal finances keep them up at night.

So, if you and your partner can rest a little easier by dealing head-on with some of those financial fears together, why not take advantage of this time to build communication and trust?

To give you some inspiration, we've rounded up real money conversations couples have tackled in bed, from child care to career changes to tight budgets.
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Illustrated by Jasmin Valcourt.
The "We Need Work-Life Balance" Talk

"For the past 16 years, our evening financial talks have revolved around Tim's career. Even though he had had a lucrative job as a banker, it involved a lot of international travel, late nights, and stress. He felt like the job was killing him.

"I had left my own banking job to stay home with the kids, so I got to be a part of their lives, but he was gone so much that they were surprised when he was home.

"Tim's dream was always to start his own company, not only for work-life balance, but also because he wanted more control over his career. It was stressful to think about putting our savings into a start-up.

"But, we kept talking about it a little bit each evening, which allowed us to really put thought into how launching a business would affect our finances. Eventually, we decided to go for it.

"That was nine years ago. The software company Tim started with a business partner has turned a corner and is doing well. He loves being his own boss, and he is home for dinner, coaches the kids' athletics, and attends school events.

"We still have our late-night financial talks, but now they're about how I can help with the business. Replenishing our savings has also been a key goal — and we are well on our way.

"But, more than that, we realized that money wasn't everything."

— Deanne, 46, and Tim Rainier*, 46, San Francisco

*Names have been changed.

RELATED: Money Mic: I Conquered Work-Life Balance—By Hacking My Weekends
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Illustrated by Jasmin Valcourt.
The "What Can We Afford?" Talk

"I find the evening is one of the only times my husband, Lew, and I aren't focused on the baby, prepping for the next day, or getting distracted by electronic devices. In fact, we have a 'no devices in bed' rule, and we don't have a TV in the bedroom — so this is the time when I feel like we can both focus.

"One of the biggest things we had to tackle recently was how to handle part-time child care for our daughter after I returned to work this past September. We started our nanny search in August and found two people we liked, but one nanny's rate was significantly higher than the other's.

"Over several nights we discussed the pros and cons of each candidate — in bed —and whether we could afford to pay the extra money. In the end, we decided to go with the less-expensive nanny. Otherwise, my whole salary would have basically gone toward child care.

"Our nanny turned out to be great, but she is leaving us to work full-time with her other family — which means more nighttime conversations as we start another search. Now that we've been through it once, though, we're more savvy about the process, our needs, and the compromises we're willing to make."

— Sandy Chung, 39, and Lew Gleason, 41, New York City
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Illustrated by Jasmin Valcourt.
The "What's Our Financial Plan B?" Talk

"In August, my fiancée, Michelle, and I became first-time parents. While we were dealing with the day-to-day trials of being new parents, we both unexpectedly lost our jobs as professional swimming coaches with the same company.

"Obviously, we were in shock.

"While in bed one night, we started talking about what to do next. There weren't other employers in our industry locally, yet we didn't want to move permanently because we both have a parent who is battling cancer. But, we knew that we wouldn't be able to sustain our lifestyle too much longer.

"We were throwing out options and I mentioned that we might be able to save money by spending time abroad and taking advantage of favorable exchange rates.

"We did the research and found that $2,800 a month in Spain could get us the same quality of life that $3,500 a month would get in Arizona.

"We've already hired a property management company to rent out our house. And, I'm building an online business selling affordable standing desks, along with taking on other online freelancing gigs, so I can work on my own schedule while abroad.

"That nighttime conversation we had helped spark this plan — and we're looking forward to taking a trip of a lifetime that won't cost us more than living at home."

—Kyle Tek, 26, and Michelle Ramirez, 23, Tucson, Ariz.

RELATED: Money Mic: I Moved To The Middle East To Pay Off $70,000 Of Debt
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Illustrated by Jasmin Valcourt.
The "How Will We Make Ends Meet?" Talk

"My wife, Rickele, and I have had many money pillow talks over the years, but especially so after I was laid off from my financial industry job in 2009. Rather than look for a new gig right away, we decided that I would be a stay-at-home dad while Rickele continued working as an ambulatory coordinator for a hospital.

"This freed up almost $500 in day care costs. To further save, we cut out fast food, planned our meals, shopped with a list to avoid impulse purchases, and negotiated with the credit card companies for more affordable monthly payments.

"In fact, the set of financial principles and rules I created for our household — I called it 'Wingonomics,' after our last name — came out of our pillow talks. We managed to pay off three credit cards and other debt in about five years by living by these rules.

"Rickele and I also talked a lot during that time about starting a business. While I was being 'Super Dad,' I also started to work from home as an insurance agent, which evolved into the financial and tax services company I run today.

"Now our pillow talks have switched from me sharing my vision to listening to my wife, who is pursuing her dreams of becoming a realtor and entrepreneur. I'm enjoying the shift in our conversations because, for years, my wife supported me. Now I can return the favor."

— Mark, 34, and Rickele Wingo, 31, Woodbury, Minn.
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Illustrated by Jasmin Valcourt.
The "Where's All the Financial Info?" Talk

"Life for me and my wife, Amber, changed in the blink of an eye in 2010 when I fell from the top of a telephone pole while working. I was not expected to live at first, and then I was expected to live in a facility for the rest of my life. But, with the help of intensive therapy, I recovered.

"A marriage could collapse under the strain of an accident like this, but ours didn't — and I credit that, in part, to the solid financial foundation we had built.

"We were lucky because I had our financial life mapped out in money management software, but I paid the bills and had the passwords to our accounts. While I was in a coma, Amber had a hard time trying to find all of that information.

"That made us realize we needed to share even more than we had been. So, we often talk about money around bedtime, discussing our account balances, refinancing our home, insurance, even where the important documents are in the filing cabinet.

"I've also planned an upcoming cross-country bike ride to raise awareness for traumatic brain injuries, so we've been discussing my expenditures for the road, and what she'll have to handle financially while I'm away.

"If I were to disappear tomorrow, my wife would know everything simply from our evening talks. Trust is the most important thing that keeps a relationship going — emotionally and financially."

— Daniel, 31, and Amber Mollino, 34, Ringwood, N.J.
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Illustrated by Jasmin Valcourt.
The "How Will We Pay for College?" Talk

"One of our most frequent pillow talk topics is how to pay for our two boys' educations. My college was paid for by my parents. My husband, Ed, however, relied largely on his athletic scholarship and student loans.

"Naturally, I thought my way was better — and he thought his was!

"Even so, we've always saved aggressively for the boys, and one evening Ed told me we had saved up $100,000 for our oldest son, Tanner. I thought that meant college was covered — except Ed quickly reminded me that out-of-state or private school would up the bill significantly.

"That's when we decided that we'd pay for the first $25,000 in tuition each year, and Tanner would be on the hook for the rest. He eventually chose an out-of-state university, but one that won't leave him drowning in debt.

"The majority of these conversations were worked out at night because that's when the kids were asleep. We didn't want them to hear our back and forth — we wanted to present a united front."

—Claudia, 48, and Ed Laine, 47, Seattle

RELATED: Calculating College ROI: How To Tell If You’re Getting The Best Bang For Your College Buck
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Illustrated by Jasmin Valcourt.
The "Is It Time to Go Back to Work?" Talk

"When Tracy and I got married almost 15 years ago, our goal was to have her stay home for at least a year when we had kids. Our talks centered around how to save and pay off debt, so that we could live off my teacher's salary when the day came.

"When our daughter, Ava, was born, Tracy realized she loved being a stay-at-home mom, so we decided to have her be one indefinitely. In 2007, we had our second child, Ella, and Tracy stayed home until she was in first grade — a total of nine years!

"We were able to do this on a moderate income through our frequent money pillow talks on how to keep our expenses low.

"In August 2013, Tracy went back to work as a teacher. This was in line with our plan for her to work two or three years in order to build up some savings before she became a stay-at-home mom again, ideally until Ava and Ella graduate high school.

"We are in year two of this plan, and now our nighttime conversations mostly concern whether she should continue teaching the next school year.

"We love our evening pillow talks. It's a better use of our time than watching TV — and it's a nice way to end the day together."

—Danny, 39, and Tracy Kofke, 42, Athens, Ga.


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