There are some things that aren’t easy to talk about, and money is often at the top of that list. Discussing money and finances can especially be a landmine topic in relationships, as it can take quite some time for two people to learn how to share their life… and finances. But to avoid the topic altogether is a mistake and can cause more harm than good later down the road. After all, money is the number one issue couples fight about and is the second leading cause of divorce. (1)
But consider another side to the story. According to one study,(2) 73% of surveyed respondents have money-management styles that are different than their partner’s. Furthermore, 31% of all couples – even the happiest ones – clash over their finances at least once a month. The key takeaway here is that money is a difficult topic to master and you’re not alone. But starting the conversation early so you can learn each of your money-management styles and figure out what works for each stage of your relationship is key.
To get the conversation started, here are some tips:
- Start on Neutral Ground – schedule a time and place to discuss finances. It shouldn’t be right before or after work, while getting ready to go out or as you’re making dinner. It’s a serious topic that deserves both partners’ full attention.
- Keep it About Money – although it’s easy to dump all frustrations into a money conversation, keep it separate. Finances should be about finances, not the other annoying habits or items that get on your nerves about each other. Although those are good to discuss too, you don’t want the financial conversation to “go down a rabbit hole.”
- Talk and Listen Openly – money-management conversations should be a safe space. So bring your fears, frustrations, ideas or suggestions to the table. And allow your partner to as well. You are the only two people who can control this facet of life, so keep it open and honest.
- Communication is Key – you’ve heard it before, but it’s important, so we’ll say it again. Since we aren’t mind readers, it’s important to communicate, consistently. It’s better to discuss it with your partner than keep it to yourself.
- Set House Rules – just like you may adapt rules for a board game to include your own spin or “house rules,” same idea is true in finances. What rules/approaches that work for other couples may not work for you. Find your own plan, go with it and adapt accordingly as your life changes and evolves.
Once you understand how to get the conversation started, what do you talk about? In the most simplistic form, you may consider dividing it up into the following categories:
- Past – although the saying goes “the past is the past,” we should also learn from it. Since we all come from different backgrounds and experiences that have shaped us, those should be shared with your partner. What worked well in your past? Or what was a big financial mistake that each of you have made? How did your parents manage their money? Have you learned any money lessons to date?
- Present – which brings it to the present. Where do you stand now financially? It is recommended to list all of your debts – including credit cards, student loans, car loans, etc. And then share your investments – including retirement, stocks, savings, etc. This could be a great time to review, edit or create a budget – including all income versus expenses. Depending on your relationship, you may even consider splitting bills or expenses that are shared.
- Future – and what should never be forgotten is the future. What are your financial goals – 1-year, 3-year, 5-year and 10-year? What are your financial priorities? What do you want to accomplish financially in life?
Although these are sample questions to get the conversation going, understand there is no magic framework that defines success. Every person is different and as a result, every relationship is different as well. It’s critical to find a starting point and keep the conversation open, honest and consistent.
To help implement consistency, consider the following tips:
- Make it a Routine – depending on your approach, choose a date/time each week/month/quarter to check in. This could be every Monday or the 1st of every month, but the key is to set it and not forget it.
- Find What Works – find a system that works for you both. Whether it be a spreadsheet updated each check-in, an online app or something else – be sure to keep it transparent and documented.
- Understand You’re on the Same Team – although this may seem obvious, it’s a good reminder when you’re in a bind or feel conflict. Assume positive intent and understand you’re both working toward the same goals.
- Hold Each Other Accountable – it can be easy to give in to those closest to us. Keep each other accountable over the course to achieve your financial goals. Whether it’s a check-in before splurging at the mall or encouraging the other to stay in and cook at home, help keep things on track when the other may feel an urge to waver.
- Celebrate Wins – financial health isn’t an easy task. It takes hard work and discipline. Which also calls for celebration. Whether you hit a financial goal, accomplish a difficult milestone or simply can use a refresh, don’t forget it should be an enjoyable ride.
Money and relationships should go hand-in-hand. Although it takes work, the journey can be much more enjoyable when the conversation is started early and you follow the same path. This path can lead to great things when you work together. After all, life is all about relationships – and your relationship with money shouldn’t be ignored.
Check out our MoneyDesktop Tool. It's a useful resource to help members manage their finances.