It's no secret that deployment and money are both very stressful issues. So having to talk about money with a spouse during deployment can lead to compounded stress under the best circumstances.
According to the 2011 APA Stress in America report, money, work and the economy are already the leading causes of stress for Americans. Adding the distance of active duty makes the situation even more complicated. How do deployed service members and their spouses have a successful financial conversation when they are in different countries?
Although difficult, it can be done. Here are practical ways to avoid money-related stress and have a profitable and headache-free chat about money matters on the phone.
Having a plan will make the conversation much smoother and more efficient especially when you can't physically see the other person. Planning includes making orderly lists of issues that need discussing, gathering appropriate financial documents that support these issues and keeping all information organized.
According to the 2010 FINRA National Financial Capability Study, financial areas in which most military families struggle are planning ahead for emergencies and credit card debt resulting in fees and increased interest. If either of these applies to you, be sure to include them in your preparation.
Definitely let your spouse know in advance that you would like to talk about family finances. Set aside a date and time for the conversation that both of you agree on so you're not springing a stressful subject on your spouse. If your deployed spouse has email access, consider first sending an email detailing the topics you want to discuss, especially if the topics are heavy in nature, according to Dr. Bridget C. Cantrell, CEO of Hearts Toward Home International, PTSD expert, licensed mental health counselor and certified trauma specialist.
One step that will relieve stress beforehand is going over talking points to yourself. It may sound ridiculous, but talking about the issues to yourself will get rid of jitters. If you have a well-trusted friend, consider practicing the conversation with that person.
Get some exercise the day before or day of the conversation, and be sure to get a good night's sleep. Going on a run, taking a bike ride, doing yoga or other forms of exercise will lower levels of stress naturally, making you better equipped to handle talking about money. This article from LearnVest shows how a little exercise can go a long way to reduce stress.
Remaining calm while talking to your spouse is key. You both are already dealing with your own stresses of being in active duty and managing life at home, so do your best not to let a financial conversation get your emotions worked up. Keeping the conversation upbeat will lead to its success. Aim for "communication without volatility and emotional backlash," Dr. Cantrell said. "Be gentle, not bombarding."
When your spouse is talking, listen to what he or she is saying and stay engaged. It can be tempting to only want to promote your view on the issue, but actively listening can prevent miscommunications and shorten the conversation. Because you are talking over the phone, listening and engaging with the other person is even more important.
If you hit a roadblock and can't agree on a certain point, change to a different topic and come back to it. Nothing is more frustrating than circling around the same argument. Moving on from a difficult subject and returning to it will help you keep your cool and provide a fresh perspective.
If you think you might need outside financial help, don't be afraid to suggest financial help resources or centers for the military. It's better to explore all possibilities and make progress than to remain in trouble.
After you've covered all the issues necessary with your spouse, talk about various methods of managing expenditures. What are practical ways you both can cut costs and make your financial situation easier? Are all your current consumptions vital to your well-being? If not, suggest areas you as a couple can use your money more wisely.
Formulate a revised budget. Look at ways to reallocate your finances that will be helpful in the long run. Thinking about your financial lives in the long run rather than short run will automatically solve some problems.
Come to an overarching conclusion and develop specific action items. Having a cohesive goal with specific to-dos that support your goal will help you stay focused on your plan. But make your goals realistic. Setting the bar too low won't help you make progress, and setting the bar too high will leave you feeling like you can never attain your goals.
Last but not least, stay encouraging as you end your conversation. Remind each other that by working together, you can accomplish what you are setting out to do. Keep the encouragement flowing post-conversation when you are putting your conversation into practice.
The prospect of talking about money when you or your spouse is deployed is a stressful one, but the conversation itself doesn't have to be. These tips for having a successful conversation about finances will make your lives easier and, hopefully, your wallets fuller.
By Christiana Nielson
As a content contributor at Veterans United Network, Christiana Nielson writes about the unique challenges faced by military spouses and their families.
She also writes personal finance and housing tips for current and prospective homeowners.