If you’re in a relationship, there’s a pretty good chance you’ve “had a conversation” about money.
A study by the American Psychological Association found that almost three-quarters of Americans were experiencing financial stress at least some of the time.
Even if you aren’t stressed out about money, it’s important to discuss money with your significant other. After all, money has an impact on nearly every facet of life and getting on the same page sooner rather than later is a great way to set yourself up for success.
It may not be the easiest conversation to have, but here are three questions to get you and your significant other talking about money.
In the early stages of a relationship it’s not necessary to divulge everything about your finances. Don’t be that person that shows up to the first date ready to share FICO scores and Debt-to-Income ratios.
While money will inevitably have an impact on your relationship down the road, it shouldn’t be the main emphasis of the early stage of a relationship.
Now if we are talking about a relationship that seems like it’s going to last for the long haul, it’s time to get transparent. If you are married, are moving towards marriage, or are in a committed long-term relationship, it’s best to put it all on the table.
Here are three areas to help focus this part of the conversation.
With student loan debt surpassing $1.3 trillion there’s a good chance that you or your significant other, or both, have student loan debt. But student loans aren’t the only form of debt out there. There’s credit card debt, car loans, personal loans, and mortgages.
How much debt do you have? What is the interest rate on your debt? How much do you pay each month? How long will have the debt? Being transparent about your debt will help you plan your finances accordingly long- and short-term—not to mention, full disclosure will help avoid surprises down the road.
Learning one another’s career ambitions will help couples anticipate future expenses and sacrifices. Perhaps one of you wants to get their MBA. MBAs are expensive and will likely require both of you to sign up for additional debt or greatly sacrifice spending/saving/investing to cover tuition and other costs. It’s best to have conversations like this long before your significant other sends in their application.
Another common career question that comes up is this: will someone want to stay at home when you have kids or will you both work? If you desire to exit the work force when kids come along it can be a sizable hit to your finances as can be daycare costs while you are both working. Make sure you discuss this well in advance so that you have plenty of time to plan ahead.
Have you ALWAYS wanted a cabin? Or is one of your dreams to travel to Hawaii every single year? Goals and dreams typically require money—sometimes a lot of it.
Consider discussing both short- and long-term dreams with your spouse. Do they align? If not, where are you willing to compromise to get them more aligned? What are you willing to sacrifice to make those dreams a reality?
Being completely open about money may not sound like a lot of fun and could cause some friction in the short-term. However , it’s much better than uncovering things down the road that could have been mitigated by simply having a conversation.
Social norms aren’t what they were twenty, thirty, or forty years ago. More women are in the workplace. People are getting married later. More often than not, each person in the relationship is working.
So when it comes to money—who pays for what?
While this isn’t something that necessarily needs to be discussed right away in a relationship, it may have to be discussed if it seems like both partners aren’t in agreement. For example, what if one person always insists on paying, but the other person would like to pay as well?
The nice thing about this problem is that it will become obvious over time if a discussion needs to happen. It will have to happen if the relationship moves towards a long-term relationship and bigger expenses are shared, like rent, vehicle costs, or groceries.
One strategy is to split the costs 50/50. Another is to base it on income. If one person makes 70% of the total income, they pay 70% of the bills and the other person pays 30%.
This brings us to our next question.
Most couples keep separate finances until after they are married. Once you are married, though, it can be a good idea to combine and manage your finances together. There are plenty of reasons why keeping your finances separate after marriage isn’t the best idea, and it can be easier to be transparent with each other if you have combined accounts.
With the average age of marriage becoming later and later in life, many people are in long-term relationships prior to marriage. This poses an interesting situation as there are pros and cons to combining and not combining finances.
If you don’t combine finances it’s important to have an understanding about who pays for what. It may be more difficult to have separate finances, but it does avoid the arguments and conflict that can come with both having access to all the money.
If you do combine—and perhaps even more so if you don’t—it’s essential that you keep track of your income and expenses. Taking the plunge and combining your finances means it’s more important than ever to be on the same page as your partner, and part of that is having transparency and accountability about where money is going.
Kimberly Howard, the owner of KJH Financial Services says:
“Create a detailed budget together. You need to know exactly where your money goes and how much you need each month to cover all of your expenses. Once you start spending someone else’s money, it’s important to account for it.”
Some people are spenders and others are savers. There’s a good chance your significant other won’t be the same as you, so constant communication about finances and scheduling regular touch-points is important.
There are a variety of ways to track your income and expenses and to budget. This includes a DIY spreadsheet or an app like Mint or You Need a Budget. If you like the idea of a spreadsheet but don’t know where to start you should consider a pre-built spreadsheet such as the budget templates available on Savvy Spreadsheets.
It’s likely there will be one person who does the legwork of setting up accounts, tracking your income and expenses, and the other regular finance management activities. Once you decide who that will be, it’s important to continue to work together.
While money discussions with your significant other may not be incredibly exciting, the benefits of having these conversations is huge. Not only will issues be brought up and worked through, but it will empower both of you as individuals and, in turn, as a couple.
So don’t be afraid to talk about money! You will be setting yourself up for a successful future together.