If discussing money with your significant other feels taboo, you’re not alone. One study by Capital Group found that couples are more comfortable talking about sex, drug addiction, marital problems, race, or religion, rather than anything related to their personal financial situation. And if you’re a member of Gen Z, research by Intuit found that you’d likely rather talk about your dating life with your family than your debt obligations.
While it’s understandable that you may be hesitant to share “your numbers” with others, it’s best to air out your dirty financial laundry sooner rather than later, especially if you’re in a serious relationship. Here, we’ll explain why it’s essential to start talking about money with your partner and how to have a conversation that will leave you both feeling better about the future—not worse.
Why talk about money at all?
Let’s get the biggest question out of the way: why do it at all, if it’s so uncomfortable?
If you’ve got financial goals, it is critical to make sure your partner is on the same page. Here’s an example of why.
Sasha (35) wants to retire at 55. Her student loans are already paid off, and she makes $70k a year. She saves about $1200 / month in retirement funds. A frugal spender, she has an emergency fund that covers six months of living expenses.
Her girlfriend Jill (36) wants to buy a house soon. She makes $90k a year. She has student loans and is paying the minimum ($150/month). She has $4,000 in savings but spends most of her money every month.
At some point, Sasha and Jill are going to have to talk about whether they’re buying a house together, and how much they can both afford to put toward a mortgage.
- Jill makes more—and spends more. Is she willing to be a little more frugal and buy a less expensive house?
- Or is Sasha willing to spend a little more, even if it means she retires a little later than she planned?
That’s just one example. They’ll also have to talk about how to split bills if Sasha retires early, how Jill will pay off her student loans with a big mortgage, what they need in savings together to afford their lifestyle—these questions are just the beginning of a bigger conversation.
If you’re thinking at all, “Yikes. That sounds hard. Maybe they should just put off that conversation a little longer,” ask yourself this: is it harder to have those conversations now, when there is no house and no retirement, and they have choices? Or later, when they have no choice but to figure out a way to make things work in the middle of a financial crisis?
When to Start Talking About Money
Every relationship is different. The answer to when you should start sharing your finances with a romantic partner will depend on who you ask—some might say on the first date, and others will argue it’s something to discuss before you walk down the aisle. Some would argue that you should put it off as long as possible—but we would remind those folks that money is the number one thing couples argue about.
Wherever you stand on that spectrum is a personal choice, but the sooner you have “the Money Talk” with your significant other, the sooner you can work on aligning your goals and being more comfortable talking about money in general. Don’t wait until a financial problem comes up.
How to Talk About Money with Your Partner
Once you decide at what point in your relationship you feel comfortable having that vital conversation around your personal finances, the question then becomes, “How do we do it?” The good news is, by following a few concrete steps, you can create a safe environment for you both to come clean about your financial worries and fears—and better yet, your successes.
Step 1: Schedule a time
This step is an especially important one, especially if you need help with how to broach the topic. By scheduling a time, it allows you both to prepare your thoughts (and your spreadsheets!), and neither of you will feel blindsided when the other asks about uncomfortable topics like credit card debt or annual salaries. To make it a bit more fun—maybe even romantic—you might consider ordering in from your favorite restaurant to have something to look forward to once you’ve reviewed everything on your agenda.
Step 2: Decide on a topic
Speaking of an agenda, meetings are usually more efficient and effective when you know what you want to discuss. Before you meet, ensure you both understand what topics are on the table. You could talk about your joint budget, create a plan to pay down debt, or even discuss how to save for more significant, long-term financial goals like buying a house or retiring. Whatever it is, make sure you’re both aware of the subject at hand before you start.
Step 3: Set ground rules
When discussing something as sensitive and personal as money, it’s a good idea to set a few ground rules to ensure that you and your partner feel safe and supported. For instance, consider setting a timer for how long each of you can talk uninterrupted. This allows you to contribute equally to the conversation and forces the partner who isn’t talking to listen fully before making knee-jerk reactions.
Step 4: Discuss your values
Every conversation about money should cover this topic. But if this is your first talk about finances, it’s essential to discuss your attitudes toward money and your values around it. There’s usually a spender and a saver in every relationship, and the sooner you both understand how each of your approaches toward money differs, the sooner you can work together to create a plan for your future life together. A few questions to help you get started might include:
- Do you want to buy a house? When do you want to have a downpayment ready?
- When do you want to retire? What kind of lifestyle do you want to have in retirement?
- Do you have an emergency fund? How much money do you need in savings to feel comfortable?
- Do you want to donate to charity? If so, which ones and how much?
Step 5: Be transparent about your current financial situation
Trust is the foundation of any strong personal relationship, and being honest with your partner about your finances is essential to building and growing that trust. Even if you’re embarrassed about past financial decisions—maybe you made a bad investment or have credit card debt you’d rather not think about—it’s better to share those hiccups with your partner so you can work through them together.
Step 6: Make a plan
Once you’ve discussed your values around money and your future dreams and goals, you should make a concrete plan to help you achieve those goals. The next steps could be as simple as making a list of all your accounts in one place or creating a monthly budget you can both agree on. There are plenty of online tools that can help you with these tasks, such as:
- YNAB: You Need a Budget is an online budgeting tool that helps you track your income and spending habits, and budget for future purchases.
- Mint: A free financial tool owned by Intuit, Mint is another free budgeting tool that can help you create a monthly budget and recognize trends in your spending habits.
- Empower (formerly Personal Capital): This tool offers a way to look at all your accounts in one place and estimate your net worth. It’s a great tool if you want to get a 10,000-foot view of your finances.
Suppose you want to go beyond free online tools. In that case, consider consulting a financial adviser to help you make a financial plan for things like saving for a home, debt repayment, future educational expenses, investing strategies, and retirement.
Keep Learning about Money Together
The first money talk with your partner is likely the hardest. Once you’ve made that initial step, talking about money should become easier until you reach a point where it’s no longer uncomfortable at all. As your relationship with each other evolves with time, so will your relationship with money. Make a commitment to keep the conversation going and to keep learning about money together so you can achieve your financial goals as a team.