Talking about money doesn’t come easily for many people.
A 2017 TD Bank Love & Money Survey found that 36% of couples argue about money monthly, while 13% had kept a financial secret from their partner. That doesn’t sound like relationship bliss.
To avoid that fate, you have to be ruthlessly honest with you’re your partner.
Knowing a person’s way of looking at money can help tell you whether your long-term goals are compatible. If one of you spends whatever they earn—or more—while the other is planning on early retirement, you may have a problem.
When to have the money talk
Don’t worry, this conversation doesn’t necessarily have to happen on your first date.
According to dating empowerment coach Erin Tillman, you can hold off on money talk while in the “getting to know you” phase. But when you start having talks about the future and settling down together, “that’s when you should start having honest conversations about finances.”
Don’t assume that because they’ve been paying for your dinner dates, they’ll be as responsible with paying the mortgage on time.
“Even if there is an agreement regarding who pays for what bill, it’s important to know that each person is able to cover the cost of the bill (or portion of the bill) they are agreeing to pay,” Tillman says.
Get real, be honest
Tillman advises that you to approach the subject of money with sensitivity. “Money is a touchy subject for a lot of people,” she says.
Her advice is to approach the subject in a practical, not antagonistic,way.
Diana Mandel, a dating and relationship coach, recommends sitting down with your partner and detailing how much you each earn, how much you have invested, and your overall money habits and philosophy.
Be honest about whether you’re a saver or spender. Now is not the time to sugarcoat the fact that you spend $100/week on after-work cocktails with friends.
The important thing is to be upfront about your finances so that there’s no horrified moment when one of you sees the other’s credit card balance.
Be honest about whether you’re a saver or spender.
“It’s important to remember that even though the conversation may be difficult, don’t allow that to become a reason to avoid that talk,” says Mandell. “Be as transparent, communicative and understanding of each other as possible.”
Break it down
Tillman recommends being straightforward in your discussion. Rather than rely on emotion, crunch the numbers. Break down what bills you’ll need to pay—such as the security deposit and rent on a shared apartment.
Make a list of all the bills you’ll have to pay together. Then Tillman recommends asking each other how you’ll make sure each is paid so you both feel respected. You may split everything down the middle, or base each person’s share on what they earn.
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“The best solution is one in which each partner feels respected emotionally and financially based on their ability and willingness to contribute,” advises Tillman.
Since the details may get foggy as the months pass, you may want to write down what you discussed as a reference point.
As you approach the subject of money, there are some red flags you may want to consider.
According to Tillman, someone who gets angry when you bring up budgeting or concern that they may be living beyond their means may have an issue that they’ll bring into the relationship.
The same goes for a partner who belittles you because of the money you make or judges you if make less money.
If you’re working towards becoming true partners, you have to respect each other’s life choices. It’s one thing to encourage someone to apply for a more prestigious job, but another to shame them for choosing a lower-paying industry.
This doesn’t necessarily mean you should break up with someone exhibiting these behaviors, but they should be discussed and dealt with prior to moving forward in your relationship.
Meeting as a couple with a financial therapist could help you sort through your differing views on money with the help of a neutral third party.
Also something to note. It makes sense for some people to become defensive about their financial situations, especially if they have student debt or student loans. But if that person continues to be cagey or angry when you bring up the subject of money, it’s a definite red flag.
The sum total
While you can get a sense of your partner’s approach to money by observing them, you won’t know the vital details until you actually discuss them. Remember that the initial conversation is a starting point, likely one of hundreds of such discussions you’ll have if you stay together.