Money is a sensitive topic for most people. We don't like talking about it, especially not with the people we love. But when your relationship is getting serious, discussing finances is as important as any other intimate conversation.
Think about it. Do you want to marry someone only to find out their spending habits drive you mad? That they have debt that will swallow you whole, with no plan to pay it off? Or that they've spent the last 5 years saving for a Ferrari when the most important thing for you is buying a house with a backyard?
The fact is that everybody is different, and we all have our own priorities when it comes to money. But finances are the leading cause of stress in relationships, with 7 out of 10 couples claiming money causes tension in their relationship.
So what can you do to make it less painful? We’ve got you covered.
How to approach this conversation?
First of all, please remember that it’s OKAY if you don’t agree on absolutely everything. The only thing that matters is that you’re able to reach balance. To do that, you will need to compromise.
Just remember, it’s not an argument. It’s not a competition. It’s a conversation that’s meant to benefit both of you, so try to use the right language to reflect that. For example, instead of: ‘I think you’re wasting all of our money’, try: ‘I feel like we could do better on our spending’.
Most of us agree that saving up is important for our financial wellbeing, but allow yourselves some breathing space. You should be able to spend money on fun stuff too, not just necessities! (Even if you feel like what your partner defines as ‘fun stuff’ may be silly). Neither of you is wrong, you just have different priorities, and that’s fine.
The main point is that you’re better together. Even if you choose not to merge your finances completely (and with roughly 42% of married couples having separate bank accounts, you won’t be alone in that decision), your finances will depend on each other to some degree as your progress in your relationship. So you both should have an equal say in financial matters.
But equal doesn’t mean ‘the same’. Try to split your financial responsibilities based on your strengths: if one of you is really organised, they could be in charge of paying bills and keeping receipts. If one of you is a confident talker, they could be in charge of speaking to the bank. Help each other - that way you truly become a sum larger than its parts.
What should you discuss?
The main thing is that there’s no ‘one-fits-all’ plan to this. You know yourself and your relationship better than anyone else, and you know what to put the emphasis on. Saying that, we do have some tips on what you should pay attention to.
It helps to divide the topics of conversation into two parts - the facts and the goals. The facts would deal with what you actually have, the details of your financial situation. The goals would be where you aspire to be and your plans to get there.
What your finances look like
When it comes to facts, you’re going to need to discuss your bank balance, savings, debt and your income. You should also include other types of financial plans, such as pension and insurance (not just because it’s a part of your overall finances, but also because it’s really helpful to let your significant other know details about these things specifically).
Showing your loved ones where you keep your files and guiding them through the details is really important, but it’s not the only thing. That’s where we get to the second part - the goals.
What you would like your finances to look like - and how to get there
Discuss your short-term and long-term financial goals and priorities. These can be anything: buying a car, a home, going on holiday or whatever else floats your boat. This will allow you to discuss your financial expectations, meaning, what you expect your lifestyle to look like right now and in the future.
But don’t just leave it at that. Show them your plan for meeting your financial goals and expectations, whether that’s how you plan to pay off your debt or the path you’re looking to take in your career. And then you can try to suss out what your feelings are about certain changes that may occur in your life. For instance, what if one of you loses their job? What if one partner starts to earn a lot more than the other? Or what if one of you decides to go back to school or become a stay-at-home parent?
Once you’ve talked about all of these heavy subjects, you can try to move on to planning for the future. Maybe you form a joint plan to reach your financial goal or a set budget so you can save up. Just think of what you can improve on as a couple and what you’re already great at.
Another thing that you should consider talking about, once you’re in a committed relationship, is what’s the limit of money one of you can spend without consulting the other. You wouldn’t expect your partner to tell you about every purchase they make, but you could decide that anything over £100 (or £200, or £50, or £1,000 - it totally depends on you) needs to be discussed first.
Here are the key points about this chat:
1. Don’t criticise
Use affectionate language. That’s your partner you’re talking to. You’re in this together, nobody is to blame for anything.
2. Don’t be afraid of praise
If your partner is really good at something, tell them. A lot.
3. Don’t be afraid to ask for help
If you’re unsure about something, just ask. If you don’t know how to change the financial behaviours you’re not proud of, take your partner’s advice!
4. Be honest
Don’t hide anything, and definitely don’t lie about anything. 1 in 5 Americans admit they have spent $500 or more without their partner’s knowledge (and 6% maintained hidden account) - which is referred to as financial infidelity. Remember that honesty is the best policy!
5. Take it slow
The keyword is ‘gradual’. See how your partner reacts to the money talk. Don’t push it on them if they’re uncomfortable with it, and definitely don’t start this conversation right after a fight about money.
6. Don’t just leave it at that
Remember - money is a huge part of our lives. It brings up a lot of feelings. So one conversation just won’t do. If you want to stay on top of your finances as a couple, consider regularly discussing money (every month/quarter/year, whatever works for you).