When it comes to conversation starters, talking about money is rarely on the list. Maybe, like me, you were raised from an early age to not to talk about it. As the driving factor in most peoples’ day to day lives, it’s both remarkable and unsurprising that it’s such a taboo topic.
Even when it comes to our relationships, personal finance is generally an area most shy away from. It’s the last getting-to-know-you piece to fall into place. Opening your financial life up to a loved one can be difficult, especially if you haven’t been entirely honest with yourself about your debt, savings, or budget.
‘As with all relationship advice, there is no ‘best’ way that works for every couple; the same applies to talking about money. There are some key points however that everyone can apply to their own approach. Enter the conversation looking ahead at a future together, not picking apart what’s in the past.
Don’t Avoid the Subject
The mere thought of money can elicit any range of emotions. With nearly two-thirds of Americans experiencing financial stress, it’s safe to assume that the emotions are not all pleasure. In every couple, it’s likely that at least one person either has financial concerns they want to talk about, or avoid talking about for as long as possible. If things are going well, why kill the mood with a topic riddled with so many traps? While a conversation about money can (and should be) empowering, some see it as an intensely personal topic.
You may feel like there is no good time to have this awkward conversation. However, if you choose to keep the topic of finances on a need to know basis, the reality is that the conversation will happen when it needs to happen (i.e. on the side of the road with a broken down car figuring out how you’re going to pay for this unforeseen expense).
By having an open dialogue in a less stressful situation, you lay the groundwork for a more in-depth conversation as the relationship grows. Discussing personal finances may not be sexy, but the temporary discomfort can lead to a deeper sense of trust and intimacy in the long-run.
Make a Plan
If you’re the one bringing up a conversation about finances with your significant other, you should start by thinking through the motivations for initiating the conversation, and how it can be most productive. Have you found that you’re spending more than you’re comfortable with every time you go out together? Do you want to more evenly split the cost of dates or joint expenses? Have you found they grow tense, or suggest alternative date options that cost less than what you pitched?
Even if the conversation is coming up due to necessity, it’s important to be supportive of each other, as well as accepting of each other’s honesty. Keep in mind that this is not an interrogation. Be sure to bring up that you want to have this conversation before you start firing questions at your partner, so they aren’t blindsided. The goal is to find common ground and see how your financial values and priorities fit together now and moving forward.
If you’re not at a point where you’re ready to merge at least some of your financial dealings, you can still create a budget for the time you spend together. Getting individual priorities straight should be step one. Start with the big picture. What are your financial goals and hopes, and how do you plan to reach them? Chances are that money is woven throughout short-term plans and far distant pipe dreams. By being honest with yourself, the pieces will fall into place more seamlessly when you’re ready to discuss priorities as a couple.
It might be easy to start the conversation of creating a shared budget on a smaller scale. Maybe try saving for a weekend getaway together and have a conversation about the type of vacation you can both afford and enjoy. By creating a savings plan for something you’re both looking forward to you can learn a lot about each other’s financial habits.
The most important part of having a shared plan is accepting accountability to each other, but also understand that life happens. Things might come up that interfere with the budget. Be flexible and keep the line of communication open. How you approach these bumps in the road can determine how well you can work together on plans that extend beyond the bank account.
Moving Forward Together
As with all relationship milestones, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to navigating finances as a couple. With individuals carrying more student loan and credit card debt than ever before, it’s tough to face that conversation head on.
Just remember, it’s not about assigning blame, or pointing a finger at bad habits, or seeing who’s ‘better’ based on the balance in a bank account. It’s about looking at the future you’d like to have together as a couple and figuring out how to grow into that together.
By Delaney Lynch, a partnerships strategist at Earnest with years of experience in dating and awkward conversations