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How to talk to your partner about money

Key takeaways

  • It’s important for couples to talk about money, and those discussions may look different depending on if it's a new relationship, you’re moving in together or getting married, or if you’ve been together a long time.
  • Talking about money can help you become closer as a couple and prevent financial difficulties down the line.
  • Discussing everything from spending and saving habits to your dream retirement can help you plan a future together.

Why talk about money?

There are many things you’ll discuss over the course of a relationship – likes and dislikes, hopes for the future, and eventually, money.

How you discuss money with a partner or spouse along with the financial topics you discuss will likely change over the course of your relationship. However, the fact will always remain that it’s important to talk to one another about money, as there are many reasons why it’s important to do so:

  • Everyone is raised with different attitudes towards money and comes from different financial backgrounds, so it’s important to get to know this part of one another.
  • Openly and regularly discussing money can help you feel more comfortable doing so.
  • Money issues continue to be leading cause of divorce, and so it’s important to catch and deal with any potential financial stress early on.
  • It can help ensure you’re both comfortable with a shared approach towards finances in a relationship.

Financial topics you should discuss with your partner

Starting out

When you’re starting a new relationship and in the phase of getting to know one another, you may not go into detailed or serious discussions about money right away. With that said, you should get to know some of the basics about your partner’s approach to money, as it could play a part in compatibility in the future.

Some questions to ask and things to consider include:

Family history

Did your family not have to worry about money growing up, or was money a struggle? What sort of attitudes did your parents or caregivers have towards finances, and how has this shaped yours?

Levels of financial literacy

How much knowledge do you both have of financial topics and products? How much interest do you have in things like financial news and market cycles, and if this differs greatly, will this be an issue for either of you?

Past financial history

While it may not always be the most comfortable conversation, it’s important to know about any major money issues that have occurred in the past such as racking up large amounts of debt or a past bankruptcy. These things can impact credit scores and in turn the ability to borrow money in the future, which could potentially impact your plans should you wish to get serious in the future.

Your current financial situations

Do you both have any pre-existing debt such as student loan payments, for example? How much money do you both currently make? Even if you don't share an exact figure right away, getting an idea of a salary rage can help you both when it comes to making financial decisions whether those are small choices like where to go for dinner or eventually larger decisions such as where you can afford to go on vacation. If you’re not comfortable asking for a figure, you can try a over/under benchmark (e.g. “Do you make over or under $50,000 amount per year?”)

Current spending and saving habits

It's good to talk to each another about your current spending and saving habits. One of you may take a cautious approach to things like everyday spending and investing, while the other could prefer to live in the moment and worry about the future later.

Are these habits you’re both comfortable with, or do you hope to change and/or make improvements going forward? How do you classify "wants” versus “needs” when budgeting – if those are different, how will you manage that?

Your future plans and goals

It's important to talk about what the future looks like, whether that’s deciding where to live, a dream job, retire early, have a family, or travel the world. Speaking to each other about your dreams for the future will help you determine the role your finances will play in creating it.

Settling down

If things become more serious, you may think about moving in together and/or getting married. As you start to establish your lives together, conversations turn from more casual in nature to more specific, and often include plans for the long-term future as well as how you’ll deal with here and now.

At this time, it’s a good idea to start discussing how you’ll save and pay for large purchases, such as a car or your first home. If you’re planning a wedding, you’ll need to discuss how you’ll pay for it along with how you’ll plan to manage your money afterwards.

This might include discussing:

Planning the Golden Years

There comes a point in long-term relationships when planning for your retirement together should become a priority. There are many things to consider when it comes to creating a retirement plan, starting with what you want that retirement to look like. Do you envision years filled with travel and adventure? Or living abroad? Or do you plan to stay closer to home spending quality time with family?

You should also consider what kind of retirement budget you’ll need, and how much you’ve saved so far towards it to see if you’re on track. We know that women retire with less money saved than men, and this and other factors such as whether either of you have paid into a workplace pension will impact your overall savings.

If you have a family or a business, thinking about how you’ll pass on your assets after you’re gone is also important. You may speak to an advisor to get help with succession planning, or a lawyer to help you draft up wills and a plan for managing your inheritance.

Tips for a positive discussion

It can sometimes be difficult to know where to start when it comes to talking about money, especially if you’ve been raised in an environment or family where doing so isn’t the norm. It’s important to note there’s nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed about when it comes to discussing finances – in fact, it’s an essential step to take in any healthy relationship. It doesn’t always have to be an uncomfortable discussion, and there are some things to keep in mind that will help keep conversations positive.

Schedule a time

Consciously set aside time to discuss a financial issue, especially an important one. Doing so allows you both time to prepare and helps you to give the discussion your undivided attention. It can also prevent your reacting emotionally when tired or caught off guard and can result in a more constructive discussion. Setting a time in the calendar also ensures that you will get around to having the conversation in a timely manner, and that it won’t be forgotten about or neglected.

Sit down together

It’s best to have these important discussions face-to-face. Try to avoid dropping hints or relying on texts or emails that could be misinterpreted or forgotten about. Having a face-to-face discussion will help you read each other’s body language and to know when to take time away from the conversation to cool off if needed.

Take a break

Money can be an emotional topic, and it’s easy to become overwhelmed or defensive particularly when dealing with issues of financial difficulty. Make sure to take breaks when needed to allow yourselves time to regroup and come back to the conversation constructively and rationally.

Control the controllables

Center the conversation around the things you do have control over. For example, you may have no control over the rising cost of living or high gas prices, but you do have control over your budget for groceries and how often you use the car. Making your priorities things you can control will help you feel more able to manage and will lead to a more productive outcome.

Deal with 1 issue at a time

Making plans with your money can sometimes feel overwhelming, especially if you’ve got lots of competing priorities financially. While there may be many things you need to talk about, trying to tackle everything at once can leave you feeling overwhelmed, unmotivated and even a little helpless. Instead of discussing “debt”, try breaking down the topic into sub-sections such as specific amounts, types, repayment options, etc. This not only helps things feel more manageable, but it can also provide you with more time and energy to dedicate to finding a solution for each topic.

What's next?

  • How you’ll approach discussions about money will ultimately depend on your individual personalities and dynamic as a couple, but what’s important is not to shy away from talking to your partner about finances.
  • An advisor can act as an impartial third party to help you both approach discussions about your financial future together.

The information provided is accurate to the best of our knowledge as of the date of publication. This information is general in nature, and is intended for educational purposes only.