If you and your partner are finding yourself fighting about finances, you aren’t alone. On average, couples fight about money five times a year. Money—how you earn it, save it and spend it—is a hot topic and can be a significant source of conflict for many people. Yet money is a critical element to the health of your relationship, so it is important that you both are transparent about what money means to you.
Sharing your views about money is one of those discussions worth having before moving in together or get married. Talking about finances often makes a couple uncomfortable, which causes them to avoid the conversation, or push it to another time. But couples need to make time to sit down calmly and voice how they see money and its role in their shared lives.
Talk about money before you move in together
Some important questions to ask when you want to gain a sense of the financial picture of the person you are thinking of committing to:
- What amount of money does each of you need to feel comfortable?
- Do you think it is important to pool your finances together? Should you have one joint checking account, or two independent accounts? If it is the latter, who will be responsible for which expenses?
- How do you split up the budget if your earnings are vastly different?
- Who will manage the household budget?
- How will you make decisions about large purchases, such as a new car, vacations, fancy electronics?
- How much should you put in savings each month?
- Do you think it is important to contribute to church or charities?
- What if you did not have this discussion before committing to each other, and now you are finding that your partner’s attitude towards money is quite different from yours?
- Is there a way to clear the air about finances without having this discussion turn into an argument?
Opening up about finances without getting angry
You’ve gotten to the point in your relationship where it is essential to have a cool, adult conversation about your fiscal responsibilities. This may need to be done in the presence of a neutral third party, such as a financial planner, who can help guide you through what may be a difficult conversation. It isn’t always necessary to bring in a professional, however, especially if the expense of hiring a financial planner is going to add fuel to the financial fire. You can approach money matters yourselves in a way that allows for both of you to feel heard. Schedule a moment with your partner to sit down and talk. Allocate enough time for the exchange, and make the space where the conversation will be held pleasant and orderly. Maybe have your computers on hand to access online accounts and household budgeting software. The goal is to work through the finances in an organized fashion, so both of you can see what money is coming in, and how you need to be allocating it so that your lives (and relationship) stay on track.
How to begin
Pull back and take a snapshot of your entire financial picture. Write down what each of you is bringing in in terms of salary or freelance earnings.
- Is it enough?
- Is there potential for promotions and raises that will allow you to evolve financially?
- Do either of you want or need to be earning more? Talk over any plans for career changes.
Write down your current debt (student loans, automobiles, house payments, credit cards, etc). Is your debt load something you are mutually comfortable with? Are you both keeping this at an even level, or does your debt appear to be increasing? If so, why?
Make a list of your current living expenses. Ask each other if these seem reasonable. If you decide you want to contribute more to savings, are there any day-to-day expenses you could reduce in order to make that happen? Can you cut out your daily Starbucks run? Switch to a cheaper gym, or use YouTube workouts to stay in shape? Remember, all cost-cutting decisions need to be made in a spirit of togetherness, and not one person coercing the other.
Reach an agreement that you both are comfortable with in regards to how much you want to put into savings, and for what purpose. You’ll want to remain actively listening to your partner’s input in order for this conversation to continue smoothly and in a positive way. “It sounds like paying for private schools for the children is important to you,” is one example of active listening. “Let’s see if we have the resources to make that a reality” is a non-threatening prompt to get your partner to closely examine each financial goal.
Things to be mindful of as you talk
If you sense the conversation’s tone escalating towards conflict, you’ll want to remind your partner that the goal of sitting down together is to show how you both want to ensure financial stability for your home. Remind them that you love them and that these mutual decisions are vital to your relationship. Take a short break to bring the level back down if you need to, but do come back to the table to keep talking so that you can come away from this with a viable plan you have both agreed upon.
You now have a clear view of your financial situation and where you want to go from here. You have agreed on important points and feel comfortable with any budget cuts or career changes. To keep yourselves connected to these goals, why not make these meetings a monthly event?
Having a scheduled time to sit down and review how you did with sticking to this new budget is a positive step in maintaining the momentum that you have created. Both of you will leave these meetings feeling more secure financially and as a couple. Taking the stress out of your finances and replacing it with this feeling of security will enhance your overall happiness as a couple and let you grow and thrive together.