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Talking about money can sometimes feel a little uncomfortable. And figuring out how to have a money conversation with someone that you ~like-like~ can take it to a new level of “I have no idea what I’m doing.”
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But even though it might feel awkward, talking about money is super important in a relationship. The way you and your partner handle finances (both separately and together) can have a huge impact on things that you might want to do together someday, like owning a home or starting a family.
So to get some guidance, I talked to Shelly Ann Eweka, Director of Financial Planning Strategy at the insurance company TIAA, and Tori Dunlap, a millennial money speaker and coach, to get some insights into conversations you should have about money in different stages of a relationship.
Remember, every relationship is different. Some of these things might come up on their own or at an earlier or later time than recommended here. So instead of a checklist, think of this as a general guide to help make your relationship even stronger by getting aligned on your financial goals.
And if you’re thinking about having a money talk with your S.O., set yourself up for success by approaching them in a mellow moment when there aren’t distractions around and you’ll have time to talk.
Here are 11 money conversations you should have with your partner:
The “Splitting the Bill” Talk
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One way to pick up on a person’s ~money vibe~ early on is by talking about who pays before you go on a date. Tori Dunlap says that
something as simple as offering to split a dinner bill can give you a feel for your date’s attitudes about money. “It can be a really great way to figure out, ‘Are we financially compatible? Is this a good potential relationship where we have these smart financial habits together?'”
Hopefully, you and your date will be able to have an open and easy conversation about splitting the check, possibly opening the door for bigger conversations about money later on.
The “What’s Important to You?” Talk
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Dating is all about getting to know each other, and learning what your date loves to do can give you a peek into how they spend their money — and help you work out how financially compatible you are. For example, if your date is obsessed with fancy restaurants, they likely don’t mind spending money on eating out. But if you’re more into saving cash by cooking at home, you two might clash down the line when it comes to making a food budget.
Shelly Eweka says you can also learn a lot about your date’s values by sharing yours. “Put out there what your dreams are and what you’re trying to achieve. For example, you might be paying off student loan debt or saving to buy a house.”
By sharing your goals and watching how your date responds, you can learn a lot about what’s important to them.
Different values aren’t necessarily a deal breaker and opposites often attract, but it’s a good idea to go into a potential relationship with your eyes open.
The “Partnership Roles” Talk
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You can also learn a lot about your date’s money habits by asking them how they handled finances in a past relationship. For example, if they mention that they lived with an old flame, you might ~casually~ ask some questions about how they shared responsibilities in the relationship. Finding out how they’ve handled this stuff in the past can give you insight into what they might want to do in the future.
And in some cases, your date’s views on gender roles could also effect how they handle money with a partner. For example, Dunlap explained she likes to ask men she dates how they would feel about being with a woman who out-earns them, as a way to weed out guys who might feel threatened by her success. Depending on what’s important to you, you might also want to ask if they think gender should dictate who makes certain decisions or career priorities.
If you’re not comfortable asking about their view on gender roles directly, Dunlap suggests saying something like, “Hey, I saw an article about the pay gap between men and women. Did you see that article?” Opening the conversation by asking about a broader trend or news story can tell you a lot about your date’s views without necessarily putting them on the spot.
The “How Much Do You Make” Talk
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Before you start looking at apartment listings or homes for sale together, it’s a good idea to talk about how much each partner makes. Income can be a sensitive issue for some people, but this is one conversation that you really shouldn’t skip. After all, if you don’t know your combined monthly income, how will you figure out where you can actually afford to live?
If you’re feeling uncomfortable asking how much your S.O. makes (or revealing your paycheck), Dunlap says it can be helpful to reframe the way you’re thinking about money to begin with. “Framing money as a tool to get you to where you want to be can help mitigate a lot of these really tense financial conversations. It’s like, ‘Hey, I want to build my life with you. I want to have these mutually shared goals or visions for our life, and we’re just gonna use money to get there.'”
The “Credit Score” Talk
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Talking about your credit score is probably not your idea of a fun, sexy time. But
since your credit can affect your ability to rent an apartment or buy a house, you should probably talk about it with your partner if you’re planning on finding a new place together.
But you don’t necessarily have to demand to see your S.O.’s credit report. “You can just ask for a range or say, ‘Is your credit score good?'” recommended Eweka. If you go this route, she noted it’s important to be
super clear about what you mean when you’re talking about good credit. Credit scoring ranges vary depending on which credit scoring model you’re using, but for the FICO credit score, the good range is between 670 and 739.
BTW, if you’re not sure
what your credit score is, you should know that you actually have several different credit scores. But if you’re in the US, your FICO credit score will most likely be the one that counts in lending decisions. You might be able to get this score from your bank, or you can check it for free by making an account with Experian. You just need to have your social security number handy to get started.
The “Splitting Allllll the Bills” Talk
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If you’re talking about moving in together, you’re probably already pretty good at figuring out who pays on a date. Now it’s time to decide how you’re going to pay for literally everything else.
Moving in together often means splitting rent, utility bills, and maybe even committing to a joint Netflix account. When it comes to this talk, Dunlap said, “It doesn’t have to be emotional at all. It’s literally like, ‘Okay, where’s the money going, in a very practical way — so let’s figure out something that works for both of us.'”
Some couples like to split everything 50/50 down the middle, which can make perfect sense if your incomes are pretty similar. And in cases where there’s an income gap or one person has higher personal expenses (like medical costs for example), other couples might prefer to split costs 60/40 or another ratio that makes sense for them.
And don’t forget about some of the more hidden costs of moving in together, like renter’s insurance and deciding how to split ongoing expenses for things like furniture, household supplies, and groceries.
The “Debt” Talk
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As your relationship gets more serious, it becomes more and more important to open up to your partner — and that includes talking about any debt you may have.
Telling your partner about student loan debt, credit card balances, or big medical bills is important at this stage to give them a better sense of your financial picture. But it can also feel super scary and vulnerable to open up about debt, especially if it’s something that stresses you out.
Dunlap tells her clients to be honest about how uncomfortable sharing this information can feel: “You can say, ‘Hey, I’m really nervous to tell you this, but I know that if we want our relationship to be the best it can be we need to talk about it.'” Then, once you’ve gotten your debt off your chest, don’t beat yourself up about it! Instead, focus the conversation on how you’re working on paying it off.
Plus, being brave enough to share this part of your life with your partner could inspire them to share something with you, making you two even closer than before.
The “Sharing Finances” Talk
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While some couples might open a joint checking account for bills after moving in together, other couples don’t really get into sharing finances until marriage is in the picture. Some couples like to share everything, while others prefer to keep all of their accounts separate. Or you might both like to keep your own personal accounts and just open a joint account for shared goals and expenses.
When it’s time to talk with your partner about combining finances, you might want to start by thinking about what level of sharing feels comfortable for you. Then you can ask your S.O. what feels good to them. And if your answers are a little different, work together to meet in the middle. There are tools out there that can help too. Honeydue, for example, is a budgeting app for couples that makes it easy to sync up your joint bills, spending, and goal-setting.
And if you could use an extra hand working everything out, Eweka suggests meeting with a financial planner to figure out a plan for your money together. “The financial planner will prepare a nice analysis of all of your goals and how you’re going to meet all of those goals.” Establishing concrete steps you can take toward things like saving up to buy a home or wipe out both of your student loans will help keep you both on track.
The “Money Ground Rules” Talk
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If you do decide to share your finances, working out some ground rules together can be a great way to set expectations up front. Eweka says some couples like to agree on a set spending limit. “Without having to talk to or text my partner, I can spend $500 or whatever that limit is. For some couples, that could be $100. For others, it can be $1,000. It depends on your situation.”
Putting boundaries in place can take some of the guesswork out of navigating life together. Other kinds of ground rules to consider include how much you each contribute to shared savings or retirement accounts each month or talking about circumstances when you’d be willing to dip into emergency savings.
The “Worst-Case Scenarios” Talk
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When you’re in the middle of planning a wedding, you probably don’t want to think about what you’d do in case of a breakup or death. But it’s so important to figure these things out before you exchange your vows.
This might mean actually sitting down and
writing your wills together (kind of a cute date, in an Addams Family way?) or making them the beneficiary for any retirement accounts or other assets you have. Depending on your situation, you might even want to see a lawyer to get help writing a prenup.
And Dunlap cautions that
both partners need to stay involved in financial decision-making just in case something happens. “It is so important that you have a grasp on personal finance, because I’m seeing so many women who are getting divorced or who have their partners die, and they have no idea where the money’s kept.” Even if your S.O. is amazing at handling money, make sure you always know (and understand!) what they’re doing with your shared funds because you never know what might happen in the future.
The “Check-In” Talk
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Dunlap says that making time to regularly go over your finances together is a great way to make sure you and your partner stay on track with your goals. “I actually encourage everybody, whether you’re single or a couple, to literally have a date with your money.”
Put a regular monthly money date on the calendar when you can look at your spending, savings, investments, and any other assets that you and your partner share. This is your time to check in on your goals and make sure you’re both still on the same page. And you can also use this time to talk about making new plans when life happens and things change.
“You might come up with a plan,” says Eweka, “and then a pandemic happens. And one spouse might be like, ‘Yep, we have goals and plans.’ And the other spouse might be say, ‘Wow, there’s a new meaning of life for me right now and I want to make some changes.’ So
it’s very important that we become flexible and know that a plan is a living, breathing thing. It changes as life happens.“
Ultimately, this conversation (like all the money talks we’ve been…talking about) is all about working together to make sure you’re using your money in a way that supports your relationship. Eweka says, “If you’re fortunate enough to have a partner and be in a relationship with someone, that means you have another person to support your goals and you also get to support their goals.” So if you can both approach these conversations from a place of support and collaboration, they might not turn out to be so awkward after all.
Is there anything we missed? Share your tips for talking about money in a relationship below.
And while you’re here, why not check out more of our
personal finance posts.
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