How to Talk About Money With Your Partner

couple discussing finances

As much as we might like to think that money doesn’t matter when it comes to love, the reality is, arguments about money are a leading cause of breakups.

So if you’re searching for a long-term, committed relationship, you need to talk about your financial goals and circumstances the same way you might talk about your family, career and other personal goals and circumstances that have a direct impact on your lifestyle.

While you may not agree with the way your partner spends his or her money or deals with debt, you can decide whether the person’s behavior does or doesn’t work for you.

That doesn’t mean you have to share your entire credit history before you agree to meet, but it does mean that money should be an open and ongoing dialogue that progresses throughout the course of your relationship.

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Here’s a quick guide to getting the money talk started, no matter where you are in your relationship.

How to Talk About Money on the First Date

You don’t have to come right out and share your income and debt load when you introduce yourself.

In those early dating days, it’s more about looking out for spending cues, comments and behavior that can offer insight into your potential partner’s financial goals and relationship with money, than it is about the specifics of their financial life.

For example, what kinds of dates do they suggest? Are they comfortable sharing costs? Do they consistently spend lavishly? What do they say about their values and goals for the future?

Being mindful of these money views and behaviors can help you assess whether your partner’s relationship with money may or may not fit with your own.

How to Talk About Money When You Get Committed

Commitment means different things to different people – exclusivity, getting engaged, etc. But whenever you decide you want to have a serious future with your partner, and that person feels the same way, it’s time that you both commit to shared money talk.

That’s right, it’s time to talk numbers!

Full financial disclosure - that is, revealing your credit scores, debt loads, savings, checking and retirement account balances, etc. – can help the two of you figure out what kinds of things you can actually afford to do together as you take your relationship to the next level. Whether it’s the apartment you can afford to live in or the vacation you can afford to take, sharing your financials can help you align you financial values and expectations for the future.

And talking through things like different incomes, debt loads and credit scores can point you to broader conversations around money and how you each handle it that need to be had.

How to Talk About Money When You Move In Together

Once you start doing things with your partner, like sharing space and splitting bills, your partner’s financial situation starts to have a significant and direct impact on your own. And like anything that has the potential to strengthen or weaken your financial standing, it requires some serious conversation.

These ‘next level’ conversations should address how you each think about and approach money today, and how that will inform how you make financial choices together moving forward - especially as you both begin to bear responsibility for those choices and the consequences of them.

Beyond questions of logistics like how you’ll share expenses and whose name will be on what bills, it’s important to address questions like:

What happens if one of us loses our job or gets sick?

Do you want to get married, and if so, would you sign a prenuptial agreement?

Do you want kids? If so, how much do you think it will cost to raise them?

What are your top money goals in the next year, five years, 10 years and in retirement?

Should we sign an agreement to put our shared financial plans and commitments in writing?

It’s important not to judge or criticize your partner during these conversations. And conversely, don’t let them judge you.

While you may not agree with the way your partner spends his or her money or deals with debt, you can decide whether the person’s behavior does or doesn’t work for you.

How to Talk About Money In Your Marriage/Long-Term

You’re not out of the woods yet! Money touches everything over the course of a lifetime, so just because you’ve figured out how to split your expenses or buy a home together or pay for a wedding, doesn’t mean you’re done with the money talk for good.

It’s important that money talk remain a regular relationship practice so that you’re always recalibrating toward your shared goals, identifying ways to overcome new challenges and finding ways to maximize opportunities as a team.

When managing money with a long-term partner or spouse, there are three critical considerations. The first is logistics – how you manage your money as a couple

Take the time to share and discuss your goals – short, medium and long-term - and what steps you’re both taking to prepare for that future.

You can have separate accounts, combined accounts or some combination of the two. Like all personal choices, there’s no one right way to do this. The only must is that you both be involved in the process.

Second, be sure to clarify your shared philosophy around money management. That is, any rules, boundaries and expectations you have of one another.

For example, will you have a certain dollar amount at which you and your partner will stop to check in with one another before buying something? Will you have a designated amount you both contribute to your shared savings? Will you have any hard money boundaries like ‘we don’t lend money’?

Finally, set your shared goals. When you’re in it for the long-term, you need to plan for the long-term.

Take the time to share and discuss your goals – short, medium and long-term - and what steps you’re both taking to prepare for that future.

If you don’t have these discussions and make these assessments with your partner before you start making major spending, savings or investment moves, you’re likely to run into a major roadblock or conflict at some point down the road.

Money problems typically arise in a relationship when there is no shared plan or the established plan is being disrespected.

Setting aside a fixed time every month to go over what’s working, what isn’t and to see where you can make adjustments, can make talking about money easier over time. Which is why scheduling regular money dates with your partner, to talk about where you both stand financially, what you both want and what steps you’re taking both individually and as a team is a great way to incorporate a healthy financial dialogue practice into your relationship long-term.