Talking About Money With Your Partner: Tips and Why It’s Important
As we’re all aware, it’s rude to talk about matters of money… right? Whether or not you believe that rule stands in the case of dinner parties and family gatherings, there is definitely one person you absolutely should discuss finances with: your partner — or spouse, boyfriend/girlfriend, significant other, fiance, beau, betrothed, beloved, etc. In fact, while it’s a topic that many couples would surely like to avoid, it’s one that should be discussed as openly as possible as soon as possible.
Why? Well there are several reasons, but the biggest is that money does a lot more than just pay bills. Instead, the way we deal with money demonstrates such truths as what we’ve experienced in the past, what we prioritize in the present, and what we want for our futures. So why wouldn’t you want to include your partner in all of that?!
With that in mind, let’s dive into why it’s so critical to talk to your partner about money, take look at some of the topics you’ll want to cover when you do and cover some tips for keeping that conversation going.
Why You Should Talk to Your Partner About Money
Knowing what to expect
Easily the biggest reason to talk to your significant other about finances in an open and honest way is to avoid any surprises down the road. As much as we may not want to discuss money, there’s no denying that it plays a major role in our lives. In turn, in order for two individuals to function as one unit, they’ll need to be on the same page when it comes to this major reality.
Preparing for the future
For as important a role as money may play in your life now, it may be even more integral in the future. This is to say that, while you may feel as though you and your partner are managing your finances well in the short term, what happens when it’s time to retire? Furthermore, are you both prepared to handle financial challenges that may come with losing a job or being unable to work? And, as depressing as it may be to consider, are your finances set up in such a way that one partner would be able to remain financially stable if the other were to pass away? These are the types of vital questions you’ll not only need to consider alone but as a couple.
When should you start talking about money?
Of course, one of the biggest questions you may have is, “When should I begin talking to my significant other about money?” Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer to that. Just as different couples may have differing views on when it’s time to start saying the ‘L’ word, it can be difficult to know when the time is right to sit down for your first major money chat.
With that said, it’s likely a good idea to start talking about these topics when things begin to get “serious” — whatever that means to you. Perhaps this means before moving in together, before getting engaged, or maybe before either of those. Think of it this way: once you start to consider making the other person a larger part of your life and want to ensure that you’ll be compatible in the long run, ensuring that you’re financially aligned is as key as any test you might consider.
Money Topics to Discuss
Now that we’ve covered some of the main reasons why you should talk to your partner about money, let’s go over the how. Specifically, here are just a few common topics to explore.
This is a big one. Given the amount of credit card debt the average American carries coupled with the current student debt crisis, many of us may actually have negative net worths. And while there may be benefits to dual-income that couples enjoy, a partnership may also mean tackling twice the debt. In other cases, one partner may be debt free while the other carries five or six figures worth of debt. These situations can be tricky as one partner will need to decide how they feel about “marrying into debt.” Again, this may be an awkward conversation to have, but it’s always better to have it early and openly rather than it be an unpleasant late surprise.
You probably saw this one coming, but for good reason. The salary you and your partner each make is relevant for a number of reasons that will impact the lifestyle you have together. Incidentally, while admitting to debts can be embarrassing, sharing how much you make can be equally as blush-inducing. Just remember that there’s a good reason why you’re discussing this — and, if you’re really a partnership, it shouldn’t matter who makes what as you’ll likely be combining these funds anyway (or maybe not… we’ll cover that a bit more later).
Long-term money goals
In recent years, the FIRE (financial independence, retire early) movement has exploded. While the idea of working hard and scrimping for several years in order to retire sooner may appeal greatly to some, the necessary cutbacks may be downright unpalatable to others. This may be an extreme example of diverging money goals but it may not be that far off.
When discussing finances with your partner, it’s always important to look toward the future and what you both want. Do you prefer to rent or do you aspire to be homeowners? Do you prioritize living in an expensive city or would you consider relocating if it meant saving money for other things? Are kids something you should be financially planning for? Whether you realize it or not, all of these big life questions are related to money — which is why that element of the equation can’t be ignored.
Savings and spending philosophies/priorities
Going back to the FIRE example, there’s no doubt that people have different ways of looking at and thinking about money. At the most basic level, you might consider yourself either a “spender” or a “saver.” But there is of course more to it than that.
Even if you and your partner are both so-called “savers,” that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re saving for the same things (ditto spenders). For example, you may discover that one partner likes to save as much as they can so that they can travel more whereas the other prefers to prioritize a certain hobby of theirs while saving almost everything else. This isn’t necessarily a dealbreaker by any means but it does necessitate a conversation that will help you and your partner get on the same page. That way, you’ll actually be working together toward each other’s goals, prioritizing what’s important to each of you as individuals and as a couple.
Experiences and associations with money
Sometimes, the way we think about money is actually dictated by specific experiences we’ve had — whether we know it or not. Such factors as how you grew up and how your parents managed money to what you’ve seen on television could play a role in the way you handle your finances now. Thus, discussing these experiences and getting to the root of your money beliefs can not only be cathartic for you but could also help your partner better understand where you’re coming from. Then, the two of you can work together to either change or incorporate these instincts.
Tips and FAQs for Couples Managing Their Money
Separate or joint accounts?
A common question when it comes to a couple’s finances is, “Should we have separate bank accounts or joint accounts?” While there are strong proponents on either side of this matter, as you may have expected, the truth is that it depends. For some couples, it’s easier just to keep their existing separate accounts whereas others prefer to have joint accounts so that both partners have access to the pot. Of course, there are also those who opt for a “hybrid” model where some accounts may be shared while others remain separate.
Speaking of hybrid approaches, regardless of what you ultimately decide, it may be worth considering adding an account aggregator to the mix. For example, using a tool like Mint or Personal Capital, you and your partner could conceivably view all of your various accounts in one place — even if they’re not actually joint accounts. This could serve as a good temporary solution while you and your spouse or partner decide the best way to organize your bank accounts or could prove to be a perfect long-term tool.
Set money rules
Everyone knows that trust is a vital part of any relationship. However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t set rules and boundaries that you’d like your partner to adhere to. So is the case when it comes to money.
In the case of my wife and me, we have a standing rule that we can buy pretty much anything we want on our own as long as it’s under $50. But, if the purchase is over that limit, we need to discuss it with the other partner. To be clear, this isn’t because spending $51 is going to make that big of an impact on our finances overall, but this rule gives us the chance to reassure each other that we’re still on the same page and headed toward the same money goals.
Do regular financial check-ins
Finally, on a similar note, another great way to ensure that you and your partner are staying the course when it comes to your finances is to do regular check-ins. Perhaps this means meeting monthly and going over spending or maybe it’s a quarterly or even yearly event. In any case, during these check-ins, it’s not only a good idea to review your budget or spending and look for any holes that should be plugged but also discuss any new money goals either of you may have. Maybe you’re due for a vacation and would like to begin prioritizing that in your savings plan. Or maybe one of you is thinking about a change in career and would like to set a course to make that happen.
In short, these check-ins aren’t just about spreadsheets and credit card bills — they’re discussions about what you and your partner ultimately want out of life. So, make sure you make time for these check-ins on whatever schedule you as a couple choose.
As you can see, discussing money with your spouse/significant other means much more than confessing splurges or debating who’s going to pay for dinner. By discussing finances in an open and honest way early on and continuing to do so, you’ll help ensure that you and your partner are truly working as a team and are headed toward a common goal. So, what are you waiting for? Get chatting!
Also published on Medium.