Who doesn’t love the early days of a romantic relationship? Sharing favorite spots, restaurants, music, books, and movies is exciting. Introducing your families and friends to one another is an adventure in and of itself. As these new experiences bring you closer and cement your bond, you may begin to wonder,“Is this person the one?”
Maybe. But keep in mind: a shared love of Quentin Tarantino movies, a great Pad Thai, or the Outer Banks is not all it takes to build a future together. It’s important to talk about the big things, too—and having “the money talk” is at the top of the list before you take the next step.
Why is it so difficult to talk about money?
Probably because “the money talk” is not just about dollars and cents, credit card balances and student debt. At its core, how we view money is about values, and how those values motivate our behavior.
Talking about money and the role it plays in your life can be very revealing– and many people are uncomfortable with that kind of exposure. But discussing past financial successes and mis-steps from onset to resolution will give you a lot of insight about your partner’s problem-solving skills and the degree to which they learn from past mistakes.
Talking about the role money played in your birth families can be very interesting. Do you remember how your mom and dad interacted over money? Many of our views about money are learned very early in childhood and carried over into adulthood. Reflecting on your formative experiences around saving and spending money will give you the clarity you need to begin sharing these stories in a meaningful, honest way with your partner.
When it comes to money, the past may be prologue– but it’s also important to look ahead to your shared future. Understanding your partner’s life goals is key to understanding their vision for the future—and the financial implications (read: price tag) associated with those dreams.
Talking through how you manage your money from day to day can also provide insight. Share your current budget and explain how you go about making spending decisions. See if you each consider yourselves more a saver or a spender, and how that will affect your dynamic as a couple. These types of conversations will reveal where you’re simpatico as well as areas in which you will need to compromise.
Before you take your relationship to the next level, you need to share everything: balances, types, and interest rates on the debts you owe, how you’ve been managing these and repaying them, and your credit history and score. Full disclosure is critical, so you both know where you stand with regard to doing financial things together—like applying for a car loan or getting approved for an apartment.
Don’t forget to talk about your income and any investments, savings, and assets you each have as well. And because your financial situation isn’t always about your net worth, be sure to disclose any other obligations you may have, including child support, alimony, or parental support.
Another important conversation is whether you will combine your money, keep it separate, or come up with a combination of both. Some couples choose a “what’s mine is ours” approach, while others find a “yours, mine, and ours” approach works out better.
Keep in mind that “the money talk” is really a misnomer. It’s not really an event—it’s a process. So take your time. Go slow. Look for common ground but be comfortable with the notion that you will not always agree–and that’s okay. It is important, however, if you do disagree, that you pay attention to and reflect on those areas. Is the discord you experienced over the issue truly about money, or is it a symptom of a deeper problem? If you believe it is, or if you are unsure, consider bringing in an impartial third party to help guide the conversation in the most helpful way. Talking about money is challenging, but a lifelong partnership is filled with challenges. Working your way through this potential trouble spot will give you practice in discussing areas where you might have differences, and set the stage for how you discuss, understand, and resolve future problems in your relationship.