Whoever decided that discussing money is taboo was wrong. Finances are a fact of life, making such conversations a necessity. More so, miscommunication about finances is a leading cause of stress, dissatisfaction, and ultimately separation in relationships. I use the word “miscommunication” because I think we miss the mark when we choose not to talk about money.
More so, it’s all too common for one unit of the relationship to take charge of financial affairs, while the other takes the backseat. This creates a perilous equation that subjects the less financially-savvy partner to major risks. In my line of work as a financial advisor, I’ve seen this happen too often: I’m not talking about paying monthly bills, I’m talking more about managing the accounts, the money coming in, and the shared assets. However, I think we can combat this by making sure we talk openly about money with our partners on a regular basis. It may be painful to discuss what has been ignored for far too long, but it’s better to have these conversations sooner rather than later. Here are five money talks you and your partner need to have before moving in together.
1. Discuss what you both think is worth spending money on in life.
What are your non-negotiables? Once, a guy friend explained to me that there were two things worthy of spending big bucks on in this lifetime: toilet paper and socks. Needless to say, we were only ever just friends. Discussing what’s worth it right up front is vital. If going on really amazing vacations every year is important to you, this is important to share. What if your partner thinks traveling is meant for later years?
Another example is the decision of buying a new car versus a used car. Some love that new car smell that permeates the nostrils, while others are sick with the thought of losing 10% of that new car’s value immediately after driving off the lot. It’s okay to have different values and beliefs about what you spend money on, but these values should be known beforehand. Set the expectations for each other by asking, “what is most valuable to you?” or “when does quality over quantity matter?”
2. Talk about credit.
I will never forget when I received a phone call from an 800 number during my college graduation party: “Ma’am we are calling to remind you that you have an outstanding balance of…. and we haven’t received payment in two months.” Just when I thought I was adulting, I wasn’t. It took me over 12 months to earn my “good” reputation back with creditors for a mistake I made in two months.
If I were to get married tomorrow, my credit score that I have worked so hard on since graduation would now be subject to my other half’s credit as well. Once a union commences, your partner’s credit is your credit. Credit gives you options, and if your partner isn’t so great with plastic, this can make life decisions that require financing very difficult. The average Americans’ credit card debt hovers around $7,200.
It behooves you to understand the value of credit, know what credit is used for, and learn how much debt your partner has (if any) before moving in. Asking to see your partner’s credit report may be the most unromantic thing you could do, so perhaps ease into this conversation by asking, “how do you feel about buying on credit?” or “what have you borrowed money for in the past?”
3. Talk about savings: savings goals, saving habits, and how much you have in savings.
What if money burns through their pocket quicker than you can call 9-1-1? Easy solution: once you’ve discussed saving, start motivating each other to save. Make mini-goals that are attainable for specific time frames. Saving money together can be one of the most rewarding accomplishments that couples can do together. Perhaps it’s saving for your first down payment on a house, the European backpacking trip you’ve always wanted to take together, or just a weekend getaway you both need. Prioritizing your savings goals is a great way to start.
In my experience with saving money, I am more successful when I vocalize my goals to others. By doing this, I am allowing others to hold me accountable. Writing down how much I will save in a certain period of time, and breaking down how I will achieve this goal is my personal formula for successful saving.
It’s widely recommended to have three-to-six months of living expenses saved as an emergency fund. Knowing you each have a specific area that is designated for life’s most unanticipated expenses will give each of you peace of mind. Keep this conversation positive: try inquiring what your partner is saving money for currently, and consider making a plan to save (or grow your emergency funds) together.
4. Discuss each of your experience with investing.
Understanding one another’s investing experience(s), or lack thereof, is very important. Remember: opposites attract. This means you may be with someone who has an entirely different view and risk tolerance than you. When planning how you and your partner will get to the white sand beaches of retirement, remember it’s imperative to pair planning with communication. It’s not only important to ask what your partner has in the way of investments (IRA, 401k, annuities, brokerage accounts, etc.), but also what expectations and emotions they have regarding the investment process.
5. Have an open conversation about how you’ll pay the bills.
There are many considerations when addressing who and how to pay for the day-to-day expenses of life. Each couple has a different way of making this work, and there isn’t a clear cut answer or formula to what works best, except that you must communicate about it. Discussing whether the two of you shall split expenses write down the line 50/50, or pay for expenses proportionately to your income levels is a conversation that needs to be had before you sign the lease or go into escrow. Take it from Kelly Conroy, who bought a home with her then boyfriend, now husband:
“For at least a year, we struggled through the process of forming our financial union. Everything was up for discussion — which bank we should use, which accounts we should close or open, how much fun money we were allotted, minimum savings, debt payoff plans, etc. Shortly after we began shifting our money around, we ran into problems like accidental overdrafts or forgetting that a bill was automatically charged to an account that we weren’t using anymore. These small mishaps added stress to an already frustrating process, so we decided to set regular money meetings.
Every Wednesday, we sat down with all of our financial information and reviewed every single transaction. It was annoying and painful at first, but these regular meetings forced us to plan our financial future and find our common goals (travel, mostly). Two years into marriage, we are both so in touch with our finances that we barely even have to look at our bank accounts anymore. It came with a lot of arguments and what seemed like never-ending weekly meetings, but today we are on exactly the same page and working toward the future we want.”
If money is the white elephant in the room for you and your partner, think of having these conversations as an opportunity. It’s an opportunity for you and your partner to become closer and more connected. When you’re going through these topics, remember that tone is everything: asking the “how,” “what,” and “why” can easily be conveyed as aggressive. Try asking such questions from a place of genuine interest. Remember that we weren’t all raised the same way, nor do we share exactly the same experiences and expectations, but that doesn’t mean we can’t come to an agreement.
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