One would think that talking about money in a relationship would be easy.
After all, you either have it or you don’t.
But unfortunately there are all sorts of cultural taboos around money talk, and, when that is added to the fact that couples often have different ways of viewing money (how to earn it, spend it, save it), talking about money can often bring up conflict.
Let’s look at some do’s and don’t’s in a relationship to follow when you sit down to have that all important conversation about money with your partner. The old saying “money cannot buy happiness” may be true, but not talking about money in a relationship can certainly lead to unhappiness between the couples.
Need for self-examination
It all starts with your own attitude towards money, and how you communicate about it.
So, begin with examining your own attitude towards money and its importance in your life. Ask yourself the following questions:
- What are your short term and long term financial goals?
- Do you have a clear plan on how to achieve those goals, or is it something vague like “one day I’ll inherit some money” or “I hope to win the lottery”?
- How would you describe your spending habits?
- How would you describe your saving habits?
- At what age do you think it is important to start saving for retirement?
- Do you plan to buy a home or remain a renter? What is the rationale behind your choice?
- If you plan to have children, will they go to public or private school?
- Vacations: big ticket items, or do them as cheaply as possible?
- How wealthy do you need to be to feel comfortable?
- What are the sacrifices you are prepared to make to achieve wealth?
Get a clear idea of how you both view money
Now, to get the money conversation started, have your spouse answer those same questions. Then share you answers.
You don’t need to finish the list in one night; this can be an on-going dialogue.
But it is important to have a clear idea of how you both view money, as not being on the same page can be a relationship deal breaker.
What happens if you and your spouse have financial differences?
If, after your discussions, you realize that you and your spouse are not aligned in your financial universes, stay calm. There are still ways you can have a successful relationship even if one of you is a saver and one a spender.
The importance of defining a budget and who will pay for what
The days of couples having joint bank accounts are over.
Most modern couples each have their own bank account, and perhaps one common one for shared expenses. This is a good system and can help a couple who has differing views of money stay out of conflict.
The essential thing is to sit down and draw up a budget, deciding on how to pay for the shared expenses of your life.
On that list should be:
- Rent or mortgage
- Cable and internet services
- Car payments, upkeep, and maintenance
- Anything else you deem as a common expense
After you have decided how to contribute to the shared expenses, you are free to indulge in your two-gourmet-coffees-a-day habit with the money common out of your own fund.
While this might seem contrary to all romantic etiquette, it is actually better for your relationship.
Relationship and finances
It is never too early in a relationship to be transparent about how you feel about money.
You don’t have to arrive at your first date with a copy of your monthly budget, but you should not feel shy about discussing who’s going to grab the bill at the end of the evening.
Traditional relationship etiquette says that whoever did the inviting will pick up the tab, but it is always a nice gesture to offer to split the bill.
Seeing your date’s reaction to that will tell you a lot about who they are.
As things become more serious, and you reach the point where you are in a true relationship, you must be open about financial attitudes.
It is part of building your intimacy. If you have a lot of student debt, or a large car loan, or anything that takes away a chunk of your salary every month, do disclose that.
If you are about to invest a significant amount of money into a risky start-up enterprise, you should be open about that, too. If you put a premium on saving, coupon-cutting and shopping around for the best deal possible, your partner should know that this is part of your personality.
If they are more of the “live for today” school of thought, you will need to work on techniques on how to keep your relationship happy while having differing financial personalities.
Tackling income disparity
Are your incomes vastly different? If you and your partner have an income disparity, you are not alone. It is a rare couple who makes the same amount of money.
Perhaps one of you comes from a wealthy family and has a trust fund which means you don’t have to work at all.
How do you manage this type of situation?
Again, here is where communication is key. Ask each other how you define equality in your relationship.
Remember, money is not the sole equalizer.
There are plenty of ways the person who earns less can contribute in non-monetary terms to the relationship.