Money & Relationships: Is it Time for the Talk?

Posted on February 12, 2016 in Advice

Talking Money With Your Honey: 4 Tips for Your First Financial Conversation


When you’re newly in love, wasting a date night talking about money is probably the last thing you want to do. But as the butterflies recede and you’re moving forward toward a future together, it’s time to have that first financial conversation—because if you don’t, you’ll regret it down the road.

Student loans and retirement savings may seem like dull or even intimidating topics to tackle as a couple (love is all you need, right?), but the sad truth is, many marriages suffer from a lack of being on the same financial page. If you’re seriously dating someone—and especially if you’re considering marriage—it’s important not only to share your financial goals and values, but also to be transparent about your current money situation. Better to tackle these issues now than after you’re legally and financially bound to one another.

So how should you approach talking money with your honey? These 4 tips will help make it a smooth operation.

Schedule your talk
Once you decide it’s time to talk finances, it can be tempting to launch into the conversation as soon as you see your bae—but ambushing him or her isn’t the answer. “Don’t do it impromptu,” writes Trent Hamm over at TheSimpleDollar.com. “Give yourself and your partner some time to get the needed information together and to spend some solitary time thinking about goals and desires.”

What kind of information do you need to gather? Before you go printing out last year’s tax return, start by taking stock of your financial goals and values. Money is only as important as what it can do for you, so think about the role it currently plays in your life, as well as how you want it to improve your life. Do you want to save money to take time off of work and travel? Do you dream of an early retirement? Have you struggled with debt or over-spending, and would you like to change those stressful behaviors?

After you’ve both thought about your financial goals and values, schedule time to discuss. Set aside a few hours for the first conversation, but know that this will be an ongoing process—you don’t need to walk away with a comprehensive financial plan. Instead, the main goal is really to start the discussion and learn more about each other’s habits, attitudes and objectives around money.

Be honest
Honesty is usually the best policy when it comes to talking money. Unfortunately, that’s not always an easy thing to do, especially when you have a lot of debt or an over-spending habit to disclose. Just remember that honestly admitting the challenges you’re facing is the first step in overcoming them—and your partner can’t support you if he/she doesn’t know these challenges exist.

“Your significant other is your teammate, and you both should be open about money, especially if you’re headed in the direction of sharing major expenses and eventually combining finances in some way,” says Sophia Bera of GenYPlanning.com. “Dating and relationships take a lot of honesty, so talk about money early and often.”

Make a plan
Once you’ve laid all your cards on the table, it’s time to tackle the logistics. Start by creating a budget to keep track of where money is going each month and ensure you’re putting the maximum amount toward financial goals like saving money and paying off debt. You can use a good old-fashioned spreadsheet or check out an online tool like You Need a Budget.

Next, decide who’s on the hook for what. If one of you is the natural ‘money leader’ in the relationship, you may want to put that person in charge of the budget and bills. Or, it might feel more fair to split the tasks evenly—provided you can both be trusted to hold up your end of the bargain.

Finally, talk about the idea of merging your bank accounts. For some couples, the transparency and accountability this creates is exactly what they need. For others, it may feel too close for comfort. Instead you might choose to keep checking accounts separate while using shared accounts to manage savings and bill-paying. There are pros and cons to both approaches, but the most important thing is to choose a model you’re both comfortable with and will stick to.

Assign takeaways
Before you break into the post-financial talk martinis, take a few minutes to review unanswered questions and tasks that were discussed, and decide who’s going to do what and by when. Who’s going to set up the joint savings account? Do either of you need to track down an old 401(k)?  Will one of you research credit card refinancing options? Assigning open items makes it more likely you’ll make progress on your goals—making this whole conversation worthwhile.

And above all, go ahead and schedule a follow-up discussion now—that will provide a natural deadline for getting these tasks done, as well as ensure you don’t let the whole thing slip through the cracks.

Celebrate!
Okay, now it’s time for the martinis. You’ve earned it! Having your first couples talk about money is a stressful but necessary step in achieving your financial goals and keeping your relationship healthy. Make sure you take time to celebrate this milestone as well as other achievements, big and small, along the way.

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