Money and Relationships: Who, When, What, Where, How and Why?

In a culture where we learn to keep our finances private, money and relationships can be a difficult subject. While money is one of the topics a couple is most likely to fight about, 42% of couples in a recent survey by Country Financial did not discuss their finances before marriage. When you begin a relationship, you get to know someone and slowly (or perhaps immediately) decide that what you have together will lead to a shared future. Part of getting to know each other should be your goals and dreams, and by extension, how you plan to get there, that is, your financial personality. Here’s more on the who, when, what, where, how and why of discussing money in a relationship:

Money and Relationships

Who and When?

When you first meet someone, you generally want to make a good first impression, and sometimes that means avoiding any mention of money, or even exaggerating your financial prowess. As you get to know each other a bit better, you may start to discuss things at a high level, such as career plans, where you want to live, the kind of lifestyle you seek, and any other goals and dreams. But when your relationship has grown to the point that you are considering living together or getting engaged, it’s time to delve into the subjects that may have gone unmentioned. Things like habits, beliefs, needs and desires form our personalities and lie under the obvious things that attract us. There may be some similarities between you as well as differences. It’s time to find out how compatible you are in the financial area as soon your money habits will impact each other, even if you decide to keep your accounts separate. Despite its “don’t ask, don’t tell” aura during courtship, it becomes very important when planning and sharing your future. Talking money is part of knowing your significant other, so find out what is important to each of you.

But talking about money before committing to a future together should be just one of many, many financial conversations. Priorities change, incomes change, expenses change, life happens. You and your partner should revisit plans regularly and adjust accordingly. Having a regular “money date” helps to ensure you stay on common ground, working as a team.

What?

Sharing your money history is important. Are you in debt? Do you have a steady work/income history? Is there bankruptcy or credit card issues in your past? What’s the current status of your past issues? Exactly what assets and liabilities will you bring to your relationship? Are you more of a spender or a saver? Impulse buyer or serious planner? Are you high or low maintenance? Record keeper or don’t have a clue? Credit card maven or cash advocate? Budgeter or do you wing it? Are you always running out of money? What’s your credit score?

Talking about your future is also important. What are your short-term and long-term goals? How much risk are you comfortable with? How do you picture your day-to-day standard of living? How much money can you spend without needing to discuss it with your partner first? How often do you like to travel? What about your retirement plans?

You will have differences and you will both need to make adjustments and compromises. Remember that your money personality can also change over time, and that can be a good thing. Partners tend to influence each other and become more alike.

Where?

It may go without saying that a quiet, private place is best to discuss the sensitive issues around money. But another good answer is to keep a record of plans, budgets, and agreements either using an online tool, software, a workbook or even just a piece of paper. Getting down some specifics, whether they’re goals or budgets or roles and responsibilities, can help to keep you both on the same page and track how things change over time.

How?

Start with complete honesty and an open heart. Try to keep judgment out of the conversation. It’s alright to discuss your hopes and dreams, we all have them, but also talk about what’s realistic today and plan for the future. Don’t make assumptions, talk about everything. You don’t have to squeeze it all into one conversation: have an ongoing discussion. Gradually move from the big picture to the day-to-day details.

I could never quite understand couples that keep completely separate finances, checking accounts and “secrets” about their money (ok, perhaps celebrities and athletes with millions do that, but the track records of successful relationships amongst those isn’t too good now, is it?). Each couple needs to decide for themselves what works for them, but I feel like if you join your finances together, you are part of a team working together. Even if you ultimately decide to have some separate accounts, or completely separate accounts, it’s a good idea to at least keep each other informed.

Why?

I hope this is the most obvious. Honesty and trust are an important foundation of a relationship. Spending a long time or perhaps the rest of your lives together as a couple is heavily dependent on your financial health and teamwork. Money and relationships can be tricky, but the more you communicate your needs and wants, the better off you’ll both be. Money affects not only your financial health, but also your happiness and contentment in your relationship.

Would you (or did you) discuss your finances before committing to a future with someone? What is the most important thing to talk about?

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