When Finances Make Your Family Anxious, It’s Time to Build a Routine and Communicate

Allison Troutner


For young families, talking about finances (even thinking about finances) can feel overwhelming. Families across the United States are dealing with rising housing costs, astronomical daycare tuitions, and student debt. I don’t blame us for wanting to look the other way while giving a middle finger to our emptying bank accounts. But it doesn’t have to feel this way — you’ve got this.

My family did two things to take control of our financial anxiety:

  1. Learned to communicate about finances
  2. Created a financial routine

The first kept us calm and understanding when having conversations that were often emotional and opinionated; the second gave us the ability to put our money to work for us which meant less energy worrying about money and more energy enjoying our family.

Learn How to Communicate About Finances

My partner and I did not have a great history of having calm, productive conversations about our finances (shocker). Oftentimes I left a conversation feeling depleted, overwhelmed and that everything I had done up to that point was a failure. I came to the realization that if we were going to make our finances work, my partner and I had to keep a few things in mind:

Don’t take it personally

Don’t let past decisions or experiences about money define you. You are not your money. You are a complex person with intelligence, experience, and feelings. Your money works for you, not the other way around, although it can often feel that way. Knowing how to manage finances is not something we walk about of the womb knowing. It takes practice!

Be understanding

My feelings and information about finances were coming from my own personal experiences; the way I was raised, what I had learned through trial and error, my personal financial goals, and my insecurities. It’s the same with my husband. Finances are not as emotionally-charged for him, but the way he views finances come from his own experiences. We needed to actively listen to one another to understand why we held certain beliefs about our finances.

For example, when I found out how much my husband was contributing to his 401(k), I almost puked. But why? I knew retirement savings were so important to our goal. When we talked it out, I realized it was my fear of not having enough money to cover emergency expenses that caused my hesitation to put so much money into a 401(k). I knew it was important, our money would work harder for us in the long term and retirement was one of our top priorities. Once I acknowledged, and then articulated, that fear to my husband, we knew how to compromise. We’d make sure that we prioritized our emergency savings when we ranked our financial goals (I’ll get to that below), so I felt secure and we could still save for our retirement comfortably.

Use those “I feel…” Statements

When practicing these conversations (yes, takes practice and I promise you’ll both get better), consider listening actively by asking questions. If you disagree with your partner’s opinion on how to prioritize your money, ask for more information — and don’t forget to keep your tone neutral, too. “Try to be as gentle as possible and realize that the tone of your voice matters as much — if not more — than the words you use,” says personal growth guru, Tony Robbins.

“Can you tell me more about that?”

“I’m feeling a little confused about the purpose of this account?”

“I feel sad when we don’t plan for a vacation, could we set aside some savings for a trip?”

It was an “I feel” that started the conversation between me and my partner after the birth of our second child. I calmly told him, “I am feeling overwhelmed about finances. I don’t know where all of our money is going and I need to feel more secure. Could we please find a time to do this?” Even though he wasn’t as concerned as me, he respected my feelings and wanted me to feel secure, too. Yes, it will feel awkward at first, but we’ve found the more we fumble through the conversations together, the easier and more natural they feel later.

Reduce anxiety by planning for the worst, but not the catastrophic

I am notorious for not only assuming the worst, but assuming the absolutely unimaginable. In the book, The Art of Happiness, HH The Dalai Lama was asked what he would say to those who struggle with anxiety. His response has changed my perspective on much about life, especially how I plan for financial uncertainties.

“If the situation or problem is such that it can be remedied, then there is no need to worry about it. Alternatively, if there is no way out, no solution, no possibility of resolution, then there is also no point in being worried about it…” — HH The Dalai Lama in the Art of Happiness

Instead of talking about all of the “what ifs,” and allowing worries to direct my financial planning, we created a financial routine that sets aside money for emergencies. Now I am secure in knowing that we already have a fund for unexpected expenses and I rarely give it a second thought.

Create a Financial Routine

I was raised by a financial advisor, and then I married into a financial planning family. I’ve been hearing this since I was a kid and still, “budget” has a negative connotation — it implies deprivation from the things you love, a cutting off from the joys of life! As a parent, you’re already sleep-deprived, shower-deprived and looking forward to that date at your favorite restaurant, and you fear a “budget” might eliminate such a reprieve. It’s hard to stick to something when you perceive it as a punishment.

My parents taught me to create a routine. It helps point out patterns and inform goals and plans. When you work saving and planning into your routine it becomes a part of your lifestyle, your “budget” is no longer a deprivation, but a regaining of control over your hard-earned money. Once you’ve embraced a healthy mindset about your money, you have set yourself up for success in building a solid financial routine.

1. Review your spending

To inform your financial routine, it’s essential to understand your spending habits. These habits will ultimately guide the amount of money you designate for each category that you add to your budget. This could happen over a period of one to several months. Alternatively, you could review your credit and debit purchases from the previous month(s). Some credit card websites can even do this for you. Mint and other budgeting apps will also track and categorize your expenses in one place.

Here are ideas of what to look for when reviewing your spending habits:

  • How much are you spending in dining or entertainment?
  • Are you regularly buying clothes for the toddler who is constantly growing?
  • Did the addition of another hungry mouth increase your grocery expenses?
  • How many streaming platforms are you paying for?
  • Are long commutes driving up your gas costs?

Reviewing your spending should become a regular part of your financial routine. It’s up to you and your partner how often you should check-in. Weekly or monthly to start may help you better understand your habits and struggles and inform any changes you need to make in the future. Review your routine and cheer each other on for every goal you’ve met that month or week. If you overspent or made a mistake, don’t dwell on it. Learn from it, make an adjustment if you need to, and move on!

2. Prioritize where to put your money

Grab a pen and paper and write down your financial priorities with your partner. First, write down your recurring ‘fixed’ expenses; the ones that come round each month no matter what such as:

  • Utilities
  • Transportation (bus, car payments, gas, etc.)
  • Mortgage
  • Student loans
  • Debt payment
  • Insurance
  • Healthcare
  • Daycare
  • Groceries

Next, make a list of additional accounts or categories that are negotiable. Some of these can even be goals such as contributing to your child’s 529 account, which you might not yet be doing. Consider doing this separately from your partner.

Take ten minutes and write down the accounts from highest priority to lowest priority, in your opinion. Then, come back and compare and contrast with your partner. You may find you have a lot of similar rankings and you will inevitably find some differences. This is a great opportunity to practice those communication skills and learn about how your partner thinks about finances. You may have to make some compromises when creating your final list, but remember, this is a flexible routine. Items you may include on your priority list are:

  • Vacation savings
  • 529 account
  • Retirement savings
  • Dining/Entertainment
  • Gifts
  • Gym Memberships
  • Downpayment
  • HSA
  • Emergency fund
  • Savings account
  • Investment accounts

Once you’ve agreed on your listings, high-five! You’ve done the basic leg work for one of the most stress-reducing processes in your life. You may have some action items to take care of:

  • Creating a 529, savings or previously non-existing account
  • Changing your contributions to top priority items such as increasing your 401(k) contribution
  • Setting up direct deposits to reduce risk of late payments and more fees
  • Set up email alerts for bills so you know when to expect them and review for any errors
  • Commuting to work with a friend to save on gas
  • Using a grocery pick-up service to decrease excess grocery spending

I still review the expenses to make sure they seem on track and there is no funny business, but I am not actively moving money from accounts or writing checks. I’m saving myself the stress and using that energy on more enjoyable things, like making cookies, or reading a book–for fun, no less!

Managing finances for a young family can be difficult. You’re surrounded by youth and potential, but can feel limited by your financial circumstances. When our family went from two incomes to one, it was incredibly tough. I was used to galavanting through the grocery store with little to no list and now I do order pick-ups and work from a thorough grocery list my husband and I contribute to each week, together. Do you know which lifestyle is more liberating? You guessed it, the one where I know that every dollar I save, by sticking to my list, is going somewhere valuable towards our goals.

3. Give it time

About six months after designing and committing to our financial routine, we are in a rhythm. We barely think about the expenses we’ve planned for. Each unanticipated bill (like an urgent surgery to remove all four of my wisdom teeth out at once!) was paid for with money we’d set aside for such a circumstance. Yes, it still hurt, but we were prepared. It didn’t require an additional conversation. We knew where the money would come from and we moved on, continuing to contribute to that account.

Yep, Your Money Works For You

Remember, your money works for you. Give it a job and work towards your goals. Our growing families are constantly changing, so release yourself from financial stress by setting up a solid routine that keeps you in control of your financial lifestyle. No, we’re certainly not perfect but by communicating just a little better and sorting out or goals and plans has made us more relaxed and better prepared to face whatever comes next.



Allison Troutner

I own a content marketing and copywriting business, helping people share their stories. Married to someone who tolerates me, parent to two toddlers who don’t.