I think we can all agree that talking about our finances is uncomfortable, especially if your finances are not in the best health. Fortunately, you do not need to broach this subject with everyone you meet. However you do need to be able to communicate with your significant other about money, especially in serious relationships.
The 2016 Stress in America Report produced by the APA found that 64% of women and 57% of men reported money and family responsibility as one of their most significant stressors. Because money is such a huge source of stress for many people, couples need to talk about it. Ensuring that you and your partner are on the same page with how you spend money and what your individual situations are helps prevent future arguments and unpleasant surprises.
At what point should you have this conversation? That depends on where you are in the relationship. My boyfriend and I had this talk before we moved in together, had refresher talks several times in our first few months of living together, and check in with each other when monthly bills are due.
If you and your partner are thinking of living together or marrying, it would be wise to have this discussion soon. If you have not been dating long, you can probably hold off on this talk until your relationship becomes serious. Long-distance couples can probably wait until one of you wants to move closer to discuss your finances. Essentially, when the time feels right to you, it is time.
What should you expect from this conversation? The ultimate goal of talking about money is to make sure you and your partner have money goals that are aligned, and you both feel the monetary burden is shared equally and fairly between you. Go into this conversation with a calm and understanding mind. Remember that this talk will ultimately strengthen your relationship.
Fair warning, this is not a one-time conversation, just like one budget will not magically fix your finances. Like checking in with your budget, this is not a scary activity, though you may feel nervous beforehand. Our relationships with money are personal and emotionally driven, so do not be surprised if you and your partner disagree or the talk becomes heated. Be patient with each other: the goal is to understand each other and create a fair agreement.
To help make the initial talk successful, it is a good idea to schedule a day and time with your partner to have it. Refrain from alarming phrases like “we need to talk about money!” as this will only add unnecessary stress. Try something like, “Hey, before we [move in together/get married/any other applicable reason], I would like to be on the same page about our finances. Can we set up a time to talk about this?” Prefacing your request with a reason prevents it from sounding like an attack and making your partner anxious.
What should you talk about? Well, pretty much everything about money. Above all, just be honest. Even if you have to admit something uncomfortable, like credit card debt or a scary student loan, you and your partner are a team and leaving out crucial information prevents you from functioning like one.
To help prepare for the discussion, try filling out this worksheet. Thinking about your current situation and what you want for the future helps you have a focused discussion. Alternatively, each of you could make your own list of things you want to discuss in preparation for the talk.
Here are a few different topics you could cover during this discussion, but this is by no means an exhaustive list.
Your Current Financial Situation. In order to have a serious talk about money, you each need to know the specifics of your finances. What debts do you have? What do you earn? What are your spending habits? How do you budget? Etc.
Joint Accounts or Separate? This is especially important to talk about if you are planning to marry. Sharing an account and the corresponding budget means dealing with fewer accounts and fees. However, if one of you struggles with impulse spending or another bad money habit, it may be worth keeping accounts separate for the moment.
Who Handles the Money? If you choose to have joint accounts, this is a big one. Chances are one of you is more organized and/or more comfortable keeping track of the bills. In my parent’s case, my mom takes care of paying bills and balancing accounts. Think of it as a divide and conquer strategy that plays to individual strengths within the relationship.
Your Individual Relationships to Money. This is huge. We all have different experiences growing up that impact our perspectives on money. You do not need to share the same relationship or perspective on money as your partner, but you do need to know where they are coming from. For example, my boyfriend grew up witnessing financial infidelity so he tends to be a bit paranoid about the distribution of financial responsibility between us. Whenever he is feeling anxious about money, knowing his past prevents me from feeling defensive when he brings it up.
Who Pays Which Bills? If you choose to maintain separate accounts, or are only living together, then this is important. If one of you earns more, consider splitting the bills unevenly - like a 60/40 split of rent and other bills. Just make sure that the split feels fair to both parties. When my boyfriend and I had the talk, this subject took most of our time, but we kept at it until we were both comfortable and satisfied with the distribution.
What are your Financial Goals? These can range anywhere from repaying debt to buying a car. You do not need to have the same goals, but knowing each other’s plans and goals makes it easier to communicate about spending in the future.
As your relationship continues to grow and develop, you will need to revisit the money talk to cover topics like retirement planning, children, or preparing to make a large purchase like a home. For the first time, just make sure you are the same page with your budget(s) and understand each other’s perspective and experiences.
If you run into serious problems during any discussion about money, or experience recurring issues as time goes on, consider seeking a financial therapist. If your communication problems span beyond money, you may want to seek out a regular therapist. Being able to communicate is the cornerstone of every relationship, and there is no shame in seeking help if you need it.
After you have the talk… Go do something fun as a couple! Seriously, the two of you just made a big step in your relationship and that is worth celebrating! Yes, you will continually have to talk about money, but just because this is serious does not mean it needs to be scary. So go out for dinner, or a movie, or just take a walk in the park and laugh at the geese. You crossed one important milestone, now it’s time sit back and enjoy being with your significant other. After all, the best part of dating is enjoying each other's company.
Written by Mckenzie Candalot, Staff Writer – Mckenzie Candalot graduated from the College of Idaho with a B.A. in English Literature. She has a passion for written language and helping other women take control of their finances. When not blogging or reading, she enjoys cooking and spending time with loved ones.