Discussions about spending, earning, and money in general can be uncomfortable in any situation—but particularly in a romantic relationship. See, money is one of those off the table topics like religion or politics. You don’t want to bring it up too soon; but you don’t want to wind up two years into a relationship not knowing where the other person stands. Usually at some point the topic will come up naturally: somebody is going to want to do something that the other can’t afford; perhaps request a too nice restaurant, or even a vacation. Further down the road you might even have to answer that Big Question of merging your finances.
So when the Big Topic does come up, how should you talk about it? And what should you will you need to cover?
You’ll need to talk about…
Financial baggage. I know, you thought it was all behind you, but when you’re in a serious relationship it’s important to discuss your individual spending styles, financial goals, and tell the other person about any debt you might be in, says psychologist Brad Klontz. There is no definite amount of time before this comes up—every relationship progresses at a different rate—but it shouldn’t be an issue until the two of you are serious about having a future together; perhaps moving in with one another. For more on the various money personalities and how to mesh yours with your partners’, check out our infographic.
Spending Limits. This is something that you probably won’t discuss until you’ve actually moved in together and have merged your finances. You’ll need to be able to decide together what qualifies as a big-ticket purchase requiring both of your approvals. Make sure you have this conversation before you go out and buy a yacht or something with your shared finances. Remember, even if you still think of it as “your” money because you earn it, your spending decision does affect your partner. Think of your relationship as a partnership. You’re supporting each other and making decisions together. So hold off on that yacht.
Money Mistakes. Okay, say one of you does make a bit of a financial mistake with your merged finances. It’s not the end of the world, but holding onto resentment for ill-thought spending can only lead to problems down the road. So talk about them! Even if one person assumes responsibility for tracking your finances or paying the bills, make sure you’re both in the loop. If necessary, you can even schedule monthly money check-ins.
Scaling Back. People get laid off, children get more expensive, sometimes couples move: In short, stuff happens. So when this stuff happens and you have to scale back on spending, make sure that you are ready and that you’ve talked about it. You might even want to see how you’d fare living off one income in case one of you was laid off. Check out this article to find out.
Kids. Speaking of scaling back, kids are often a big reason for that. Whether you have kids already or you are planning to have kids, you need to discuss what this will do to your budget and save accordingly. Kids are expensive little buggers! So what can you do? Plan, plan, and plan some more. Make sure you’re financially established, discuss the sacrifices you’d need to make to afford a child, make sure you’re both prepared, and ready to take on the responsibility—not just financially either. Check out this awesome calculator to figure out if you can afford a baby.
So how should you discuss money?
Be Open and Honest. When you’re discussing money with your significant other, nothing should be off limits. If you feel embarrassed or scared about a financial issue, well, be honest about how you’re feeling! This will not only put your discomfort out in the open, which will make you feel better about it, but it’ll show your partner that you trust him/her, and then he/she can respond openly as well.
View the Conversation positively. View the Money Talk as an opportunity for your relationship to grow stronger. And each time you guys talk about finances, you’re just giving yourselves a chance to look at how you’re spending, if it’s working for you, and if it’s not, you can work together on fixing it. Remember, one of the great perks of being in a relationship is you don’t have to deal with these things alone!
Approach the Conversation like a Business Problem. Okay, this sounds weird, but sitting down to a conversation about money like a business meeting will keep things neat and less emotional. For just this one conversation, think of your partner like a co-worker. Address any money problems, concerns, or planning you need to calmly, professionally, and respectfully. And then when you’re finished you can go out for ice cream or something.
And remember, you’re in this relationship for a reason: You want to be! You love your partner! (And if not, you might want to reevaluate things a bit… but that’s a totally different post.)
So, do you have any advice for couples needing to discuss finances? Money-talk horror stories? Comment below!