Talking about money can be a touchy subject — so touchy, in fact, that one survey found finances to be the leading cause of stress in a relationship.
While there’s bound to be a bit of wariness when it comes to discussing your intimate financial details with your significant other, there are certain things you can do to help make the situation less fraught. If you haven’t had a money talk yet with the person you’re planning to move in with, marry or share other significant financial decisions with, now’s the time perfect time to do so.
But first, read this and consider taking the following actions …
Step 1: Talk about your financial past
Understanding how each person in a relationship grew up with regard to finances is a great way to understand why one person might feel a certain way about money today. For example, if your girlfriend’s parents never talked about money in front of her, it stands to reason that money might be a sensitive or taboo topic for her. If your boyfriend’s family grew up struggling to make ends meet, it makes sense that he would feel safer with a more significant savings cushion to fall back on in hard times. It still might be difficult to talk about money, but at least understanding your starting points is a strong foundation for an honest and empathetic financial conversation.
Step 2: Vow to be honest
Hiding things from your special someone will only make matters worse, especially when you consider the fact that these things are bound to come out later, anyway. If your future includes owning a home, moving in together or buying a car, it will be even harder to hide something like looming credit card debt once you try to make those dreams into a reality. Financial infidelity could become a serious problem within your relationship if you try to hide something (or think your partner is doing the hiding), so both of you should promise to be as open as possible. (Check out this piece for more about financial infidelity.)
Step 3: Create a shared financial plan for your future
Once you’ve discussed the past (how you both relate to money based on the way you grew up with it) and the present (whatever debts you might both owe), then you can start to make plans for the future. Moving in together, buying a house, retirement planning and having kids — along with plenty of other goals — will take a lot of financial planning, so it’s a good idea to start discussing all of that as early as possible. There are plenty of ways to divide expenses, and what works for one couple might not work for you. Some couples are able to save one entire paycheck and live off another, while others split things evenly down the middle. Still others decide to break up expenses based on who makes more money. Consider all of your different options before jumping into action, and make a plan to check back in after a couple months to ensure that whatever scenario you go with is working for both of you once you start acting on it.
Step 4: Have frequent check-ins
People get raises and lose jobs, rents go up and bills magically appear. Finances are not a fixed point, which means it’s important to plan for regular financial status check-ins. Plan to do this at least once a month, if you can, and it doesn’t have to be a drag. Whether you make it a easy breezy check-in on date night out or something somewhat more serious where you stay in with a bottle of wine, try to keep in mind everything you’ve discussed in the past and all of your future financial goals — after all, there’s a solid reason you’re doing this.
Remember, even couples who are careful to discuss their finances frequently may run up against sticky money situations from time to time. Check out this piece for some advice on how to navigate certain awkward money talks with your partner, and if you’re interested in advice on how to handle financial chats in other areas of your life, too, read this piece about five embarrassing money situations and how to handle them.