After only three weeks of dating, my boyfriend and I professed our love to each other. Our relationship kicked off with a 5-hour first date, late night phone calls, and moved at a rapid pace. By the time those three little words left our mouths after only 21 days, I knew that this would either be the real thing or quickly crash and burn.
The hopeless romantic in me wanted to believe it was true love, but the pragmatist in me knew only time would tell. Eight years later and we’re still together.
When we first started dating, nothing else mattered except being with each other. We were both young 20-somethings, getting started in our careers, and had little to no assets in our name. The last thing on our mind was money.
But there comes a certain point when money starts to matter and having the “talk” about finances becomes important. Imperative, even.
For us, that moment came after we decided to move in together. We were long-distance at the time and I was finally going to move to be with him. While we always considered ourselves “serious” before this, moving in together (let alone cross country) brought up a lot of questions.
How would we split the rent? The bills? The groceries? Do we have enough money for a security deposit? How much rent can we afford? What is our combined income?
Making such a big move forced us to have a serious discussion about money. And it wasn’t always easy. Some areas I was frugal in, my boyfriend was not. Some areas he was frugal in, I was not. I had more in savings, but also had more debt.
Suddenly, money mattered. Money affected the life we would have together. It affected where we lived, the jobs we took, and our choices.
Why You Should Talk About Money with Your Partner
Talking about money with your partner can be tough. We all have our own relationship with money and that affects our romantic relationship. After all, money can be a leading cause of tension and divorce — and it’s no wonder since it can be such a touchy subject.
But communication is the only way to smooth out the rough edges around this subject. It’s the only way to work to be on the same page, financially. Whether you’re just in the dating phase, moving in, or getting married, the money talk is key.
It doesn’t matter if you have combined finances or separate finances, your partner will still, undoubtedly, affect your financial situation. So why not be proactive about it?
When To Have the Talk About Money
As the saying goes, timing is everything. When it comes to money, you might not want to blurt out all of your financial details on the first date, but you also don’t want to wait until making a big move like moving in together or getting married to have the money talk.
It’s tough to find that Goldilocks moment of just right. Also, the moment that is “just right” can depend on the couple. Depending on your age, relationship, goals, lifestyle, and income, it can make sense to talk about money sooner, rather than later — especially if you’re on the fast track to marriage.
I think any time you move from “just dating” to “something serious,” you should begin the talk about money. When you start planning vacations, moving in together or talking about getting hitched, it’s definitely time to talk money.
It’s also important to find a time and place where you can actually talk. Not shout over each other at a bar, not quickly chat over breakfast before heading to work, but really engage one-on-one. Money can bring up the good, bad and the ugly. If this is someone you want to be with, it’s important to have the space and time to bring money into focus as part of your relationship.
Start by asking your partner when's a good time to chat and block it off on your calendar.
How To Have the Talk About Money
Setting aside a good time to talk is key, but you may wonder how to actually go about talking about money. It can be tough to know where to start.
You don’t want to seem like you’re interrogating your partner and just interested in the numbers, but also don’t want to skirt the issue.
One thing you can do is ask questions to open up the topic:
- How did money affect your upbringing?
- Do you consider yourself a spender or saver?
- If you had a million dollars, what would you spend that money on? (This can help you see what their values are.)
Starting with some of these questions can set the tone for the conversation and give you a glimpse into your partner’s money mindset, habits, and values.
Once you feel comfortable and open, start talking about your goals and what you want to accomplish together. You can make the money talk less stressful by framing it around your goals and creating a plan to work together to achieve them. As a couple, you're a team, but you have shared goals and individual goals. Money is a tool to reach them.
As a team, discuss what you want your future to look like. For example, do you want to have a big wedding or elope? Are kids on the horizon? If so, will you choose to be a stay-at-home parent or to utilize day care? Do you want to move to the Big City or a suburban oasis? Do you want to quit your job and start your own business? Retire early?
All of these goals have financial implications. You can start by laying out your goals and then working backward to figure out how to reach them. For example, given both of your incomes, how much do you need to save for a down payment on a house? How much should each of your contribute to your upcoming vacation?
You shouldn’t think of money as this separate thing that you have to figure out, but as an important part of your relationship. And when you talk about your goals and how money can help you reach them, you can have the money talk without all the awkwardness.
To help you talk about the finer details of your finances, you can ask:
How much can we afford to save for X?
You can say, “Given my income of $X, I can afford to save $100 per month for this.”
What's holding us back from our goals?
This question can help you discuss your current debt load or any other financial setbacks. One or both of you may be bringing student loan debt or credit card debt to the table. There may be a big difference in your income levels as well. If you see a future with this person, it’s important to understand these details.
How will we handle this together?
As you start to merge your lives together, your financial lives may start to merge as well. This is inevitable if you live together. Decide how you want to handle your financial situation as a couple.
Will you merge your finances? Keep them separate? Have a his/hers/ours account? There’s no right or wrong answer - it’s important to do what feels right for both of you. Additionally, if you keep things separate, will everything be split 50/50? Some people may think this is the most equitable way to approach things, but if there’s a big difference in income, it might not make sense to split things down the middle. For example, if you’re a nonprofit employee living with a doctor, you may want to consider a model in which you approach shared bills as a percentage of your income.
Things To Consider When You Have the Talk
Let’s face it, talking about money can be awkward and even scary. You don’t want to ruin a good thing by bringing money into the equation. But to help you get over the fear of starting the conversation, make it all about your goals - and realize that talking about money may actually help your relationship.
Each of you come into the relationship with different backgrounds, different money mindsets, and different habits. Neither of you are perfect. Strive to be open and honest, and try not to judge during this conversation. As a team, work on your shortcomings together.
Finally, make the conversation proactive rather than reactive. For example, if there’s debt or a lack of savings, come up with a plan together to fix it. Give each other support where needed and work together on your goals.
By making money a point of conversation in your relationship, you can minimize tension down the road and create a plan for reaching your goals together.