Talking money with your significant other can be a bonding experience that either pushes the two of you forward in your relationship or creates a rift that makes your differences so apparent it threatens to tear you apart.
Okay, that’s a little bleak.
But money can be a huge source of tension in relationships. It’s important for you to learn how to communicate about money with your partner in a healthy way early on in the relationship. Here is a five-point plan about how exactly you can make that happen.
1. Pick a time and place.
Don’t start the conversation out of nowhere with a question that can sound like an accusation: “how much debt do you have?” Instead, let your partner know that you want to discuss money. Then pick a time and place to really get into your financial details.
It’s usually best to have this conversation in a private space where you both feel comfortable and preferably one where roommates, parents or friends can’t pop in and interrupt. Don’t do it in a restaurant during date night. The waiter can interrupt during an important moment, or you might feel self-conscious that the strangers at the table are overhearing all the details of your financial life.
2. Write down your questions and individual goals to share.
Once you know the conversation is going to take place, it’s a good idea for both of you to script out what you’d like to know from each other (e.g., how much student loan debt are you paying off, do you have credit card debt, how much do you have saved, what’s your ideal monthly spending budget). One of the gentlest ways to open this potentially tense conversation is to share a goal with each other.
Ask your partner, “what is a financial goal you’d like to achieve in the next five years?”
Once your partner shares, you can follow up with, “and what’s standing in your way?” That provides a tactful way to bring up the debt conversation.
It’s also helpful to ask your partner to share his or her emotional relationship with money. Get a better understanding of why your partner feels the way they do about money. It could help you be more empathetic and help unlock answers as to why certain quirks exist.
3. You and your significant other have to share, everything (eventually).
The ultimate goal of money conversations with a partner is to be open and honest. You should know:
- Your partner’s salary
- Types of debt
- How much debt exists
- Credit score
- Whether or not he or she has an emergency fund
- Savings goals
- Future financial goals
- Overall net worth
Now, you don’t have to share that all at once. In fact, it’s probably better to have it be a series of conversations over months or even years. It depends on how serious you are with your partner, but it’s wise to achieve full disclosure before getting married or at least moving in together.
The reason it’s your business to know about your partner’s financial life and vice versa is that the two of you will impact each other. If your partner brings debt into a marriage, of which you are unaware, then your financial goals have suddenly changed because there’s a debt that needs to be paid off. Sharing your financial lives with each other can help you work towards becoming a team, even if you don’t have joint bank accounts.
4. Take a time out if it gets too stressful.
Talking money with a partner can get tense! It can feel like he or she is passing judgment on you for your decisions or vice versa. Instead of powering through trying to check all the boxes off for what you should talk about, take a timeout. Calm down and then come back to the conversation by first addressing what made it tense.
Is it that you felt judged or that your partner felt you weren’t forthcoming? Or that a question got asked that one of you didn’t feel comfortable answering? You don’t have to bare it all in the first couple of conversations. Start slowly, and over time you’ll eventually be completely transparent about your finances.
5. Create a plan for your money (but don’t forget to tweak it).
Once the two of you have opened up, addressed each other’s questions and shared all your financial details, it’s time to make a plan. Talk about how you want to handle money as a couple. What are your mutual financial goals? What’s the debt payoff strategy? How aggressively are you saving? What are your short, medium, and long-term financial goals?
Putting a plan in place helps solidify your partnership and can reduce tension in future money conversations. However, life happens. The plan will get tweaked as your relationship evolves. So don’t forget to do check-ins with each other and with your style of handling money.