A few months ago, I attended the TFD book event in Atlanta. The event was beautiful, and much more intimate than I was expecting, which was a welcome surprise. After eating and socializing, we were encouraged to ask our own personal money questions directly. I summoned up my courage to ask, “How do you initiate the money conversation with a new partner?” But naturally, it was not quite as put together as that simple question. I tripped over words and gave an unnecessary backstory like a regular Heinz Doofenshmirtz, but my hosts graciously gave me an answer: Right away.”
Truthfully, I had already started down this road of talking with my partner about our separate financial situations. After the end of a previous relationship, I knew certain things I wanted, certain things I did not want, and other things I knew I needed to learn. My goal in this relationship from day one was to be completely open and discuss everything — a decision I personally made as soon as we sat down for our first drinks. It is best to be on the same page, and as an adult in an adult relationship, I have found it is better to have to pass on something early on because the important things do not line up than find out later when your heart and time are too far invested. (Time is just as important an investment as money, am I right?)
We did not open up with, “So let’s talk about money,” (#TFD), but gradually started to discuss up more and more as the topic came up organically. I was adamant I would not let him pay for every single date. When he asked to, I would graciously thank him. But I felt it was responsible to pay for my half, or treat him when it was possible — he is not the only one making money. I explained I did not want to embarrass him when we went out and I paid for half, I just didn’t want the strain to be on him every date. He was grateful (and not at all embarrassed) and let me pay when I insisted.
Now we have a “date jar.” We each add money when we are able, and we are saving for a fancy night out. It makes saving for such a date fun, without putting the responsibility solely on one person or making anyone feel like they have to choose the cheapest thing on the menu.
We also discussed gifts. We each took the 5 Love Languages online quiz (very helpful to anyone in any sort of relationship, I believe) and neither of us ranked gift-giving as top two. That was helpful, but even still it was important to me to explain a) I am a terrible gift-giver, so you really have to spell out for me what you want, and b) I would much rather have quality time than a physical gift. My partner still likes to buy things for me, and I adore each one, but I try to assure him each time I do not require the gifts to feel his love. However, some people do interpret love through gifts, which is very valid and important to know if this is the case. A small gift, such as flowers, a snack from the store, or a handmade item are wonderful and inexpensive. Not everything has to be ranked by how many dollars you spend.
After we had been dating for about two or three months, we opened up about how much money we each made. We discussed our debts, our intentions for saving, and our budget. Again, this happened organically, but intentionally. Anytime money would come up in conversation (whether it be how much an item/experience cost, things we would like to do one day as a couple, a bill, etc.), we would use that opportunity to delve a little deeper. One of the biggest struggles I’ve noticed in relationships is when two people have different values and priorities when it comes to money. Where should the extra $20 go? How much do you put in savings? What do you do with your tax return? How often is “too often” to go out to eat? Simple disagreements can lead to resentment and bitterness, and they should be discussed as soon as they come up — or before, for anyone who has the foresight to do so.
I started the conversation about spending habits by addressing my own issue. I simply said one day, “The biggest place I impulse buy is the grocery store.” I honestly have to have a list and blinders on, because otherwise, I will come out with $100 worth of absolutely nothing to make a meal. I wanted to be held accountable for my spending, and by opening the door with my own spending problems, I allowed him to feel more open as well. (I also asked him to help hold me accountable with my time-management, but that is another topic.) First, taking a look at your own spending and seeing where you are spending the most money mindlessly is important, and you owe it to yourself as well as your partner to do that. When you set the precedent of being open about your struggles, wants, needs, and unknowns from the beginning, it makes each conversation a great deal easier to have.
A teacher told me in high school, “To have a thriving relationship, you can’t look in each other’s eyes. You have to be looking in the same direction.” It did not make a lot of sense then, but it makes enormous sense now. Working towards the same financial goals gets you there faster and is more rewarding.
I have one point I won’t budge on: should we ever get married, we will continue to have separate bank accounts. I do believe that you should not have secrets from your partner, but I also agree you should be able to retain some autonomy. My parents, who have been married over 20 years (it’s the second marriage for both of them), still have their same respective checking accounts from when they met. They also have 12 other accounts that they both have access to, but they still hold their own money. Maybe you need to have one account that you both add money to, and that is where the bills come from. Maybe you each need to have separate bills. In living together, whoever makes the most may need to put more towards the bills or pay the more expensive notes. Whatever the arrangement, it needs to be made together and agreed upon beforehand. We still have not come to a conclusion on who will pay what bills, but the floor is open for when we decide to take that step.
Even if you are not living together, but are discussing the possibility of sharing a home, a domestic partnership, a marriage, or a family one day, “How do you handle money?” needs to be up there on the questions you ask within the first couple months, along with “How many children do you want?” and “Which side of the bed do you sleep on?” Most importantly, it’s not too late to discuss money, and it doesn’t have to be scary. If you are embarrassed about a certain amount of debt or secret spending habits, it’s okay. We all are. But make your partner aware that you know your own issues, and what you are doing to work towards solving them. The best partnerships are ones where both partners show up. Just discussing your money can be a great asset.
Sam is an almost-thirty single mother striving to get her sh*t together better every day. She is a pharmacy tech, foodie, hippie, and wanderlust based in the tiny town of Bremen, Georgia.
Image via Unsplash