How to Talk About Money With Your Significant Other

by Sophia Bera on February 15, 2017

When you’re dating someone, there are some conversation topics that are tough to bring up — and I’m not talking about how your last relationship ended!

I’m talking about money.

We’re taught from a young age that it’s rude to discuss money, and when you’re on your best behavior around a new romantic prospect, it’s easier to just keep quiet about it. But the relationship you (and your dates) have with money affects so many other areas of your life — where you live, what (if anything) you drive, how much you spend on travel or hobbies, what kind of work you want to do, how you maintain your home, who you hang out with, and what goals you save up for.

Besides, money is one of the top things couples argue about! As you enter into a relationship, or navigate the one you’re in, you’re going to have to find a way to discuss money.

It doesn’t have to be a painful experience. Let me show you how talking about finances can easily be woven into conversations where you get to know each other better and dream about your future.

If you think about it, talking about money can be pretty romantic!

When You First Start Dating

On your first couple of dates with someone you’ve just met, you’re in interview mode. You discuss your jobs, your families, your most recent vacations, what kind of relationship you’re looking for, and tons of other topics.

It turns out you’re having money conversations without even realizing it! Read between the lines when a date shares their life story with you. Here are all the subtle things you can learn without even mentioning the word “money”:

  • The values they picked up from their family: Did they have two working parents? Did one parent stay home? Did either of their parents start their own company? Where did your date grow up? What was their upbringing like? How is their relationship with their family now?
  • Their thoughts on education: Did they go to college? How about grad school? Were they the first in their family to attend college? Was it important to them to go to a certain kind of school? Did they prefer to stay close to home or move out of state? What did they major in?
  • Their career: Where do they work? How do they like their job? What do they hope to accomplish in their career? Do they prefer to work more hours in exchange for a higher salary, or would they rather earn less and have more flexibility?
  • How they spend their money: What kind of car do they drive? How do they dress? How do they treat the waitstaff? How expensive are the dates you go on? How do they prefer to divide the check? Does their spending seem in line with their career choice?
  • How they like to spend their free time: What are their hobbies? How often do they go shopping? Do they dine out often, or prefer to cook?
  • Where and how they choose to live: Do they have roommates? Do they own their place or rent? Do they live in a luxury building?  
  • Where they want to live in the future: Do they want to live in an urban, suburban, or rural area? Do they want to stay where they live now, or eventually move away? What do they like and dislike about where they live now?
  • Who they hang out with: After a few dates, you might meet some of their friends, and people naturally want to keep up with their social circle. What are their friends’ spending habits like? Do they go out a lot, or host potluck parties? What kinds of cars do they drive? Where do they go on vacation? What do they do for a living?  

When You Get More Serious

Once you begin dating exclusively, you can more comfortably ask very specific questions. While you aren’t yet sharing expenses, you’re probably planning trips together and are beginning to keep each other in mind as you set goals for your career and finances.

At this stage, it’s really important to open up to each other about difficult topics — before you decide to take your relationship further. This is the ideal time to learn as much about each other as possible and either find ways to compromise or decide to end the relationship. Trust me, two months before your wedding isn’t the time to find out your fiance has been ignoring their student loans for years!  

Make your relationship a judgement-free space to discuss money — your goals, past mistakes, and fears. No couple is ever totally on the same page about money, so don’t be alarmed if you disagree about some pretty important stuff. Set a few regular money dates to have uninterrupted conversations. Here are some questions to get you started:

  • What is your income? Will it grow throughout your career, or are you already making the most you can make in this industry? Do you plan to change jobs or fields at some point in the future? If so, why?
  • What is your credit score? Turns out there’s a connection between your score and how long your relationship might last!
  • What kind(s) of debt(s) do you have? And what is your plan for paying them off and staying out of debt in the future?
  • What are your goals? Do you want to retire early? Work until you’re 90? Buy a home? Have kids? Become a stay-at-home parent? Travel? Move to a different city? Get a masters degree?
  • What was money like growing up for you? Did your family struggle financially, or were they well off? Did your family experience a change in fortune at any point? Did you have a different or similar upbringing from other neighborhood kids? Did your family talk openly about money or hide their true situation? Did you ever hear your parents fight about money? Did your family lend money to struggling relatives?
  • What is your gift-giving style? This can cause a lot of hurt feelings if you don’t talk about it! Do you give lavish gifts? Do you prefer to give the gift of an experience? Or are gifts just not that big of a deal to you?
  • How do you deal with money decisions? Do you bury your head in the sand or tackle a money problem head-on? Do you prefer to DIY your finances, or are you open to hiring a financial planner or accountant? Who do you ask for money advice? How much do you share with your parents? What kind of budgeting system, if any, do you use?

When You Move in Together, Get Engaged, or Get Married

Welcome to the big leagues of talking about money! When you share expenses with someone, you need to be transparent about your finances and begin thinking about how your decisions can affect your significant other and the home you now share.

Your money conversations might become less theoretical and instead get into the nitty-gritty of day-to-day expenses. While there’s nothing particularly sexy about discussing which brand of cat litter is on sale this week, there is something sexy about being on the same team when you make money decisions! (Or maybe that’s just what financial nerds like me think!)

This is a great time to set some shared longer-term goals and find a budgeting system that works for both of you. You might use the 50-20-30 Rule, go old-school by keeping a journal of your spending, use a budgeting template spreadsheet, or practice reverse budgeting by automatically transferring money into savings and investing accounts before spending on anything else. Whatever you decide, pick a system both of you can live with and check in with each other often.

Money Dates

Continue to schedule recurring “money dates” to discuss the big-picture stuff. This is a weekly time where you and your significant other talk through your finances. You can chat about anything from financial goals to monthly bills changing.

You’re at a point where you’ll be making some serious joint decisions, like planning a wedding, having kids, or buying a home. And because you’re human, the dreams you had when you first met your partner might have changed, and you should communicate about that too.

Big life changes are an ideal time to work with a financial planner. We can help guide you through combining your finances and navigate through your financial goals as a couple. If you would like to work with Gen Y Planning, apply to be a client today!