How to talk about money as a couple

“Money is not the most important thing in the world. Love is. Fortunately, I love money.” – Jackie Mason

 Money can be a naturally polarizing subject, and for this reason, couples should consider discussing finances before sharing their finances.  Surveys have shown that finances are the leading cause of stress in relationships, and unfortunately, the leading cause of divorce.  Let’s take a closer look at why money can be so stressful, and some ways to effectively discuss it with your partner so you can better avoid becoming a part of that statistic.

Chances are that you’ve been raised in families that handle money in very different ways.  And because we develop most of our money habits from our parents, you may have different ideas about how money should be handled as a couple.  Even though you may have the same big-picture goals when it comes to money, you might not see eye-to-eye when it comes to handling everyday financial situations.

When my wife and I were first married, I quickly learned that she had been taught the value of a hard-earned dollar, and she strived to save as much as possible.  I was a little bit more of a “free spirit”, and didn’t worry about money very often.  We learned very quickly that this was something we needed to talk about and resolve.

According to the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC), two-thirds of engaged couples report having a negative attitude toward discussing money with their fiancé, with five percent admitting even having the conversation would cause them to call off the wedding.  Having this talk isn’t always easy, but it’s a conversation that every couple should consider having.

Here are some suggestions to help you and your partner get on the same page with your finances before sharing them:

Be honest and transparent.

Consider disclosing your debts before making a relationship commitment.   This includes everything from your student loans and credit-card debt to the $500 you owe your parents for helping with that car repair.  Be honest about what your long-term financial goals are, and what kind of financial lifestyle you expect to live.

Talk about your parents. 

What kinds of conversations did you grow up with around money?  Did your parents disagree about money?  Were they quick to spend, or were they afraid to spend money?  These questions can help you better understand the origin of your partner’s attitude toward money.

Talk about your money habits when you were single. 

Did you live paycheck to paycheck? Were you a saver?  How did you decide whether or not to buy something?  How did you approach big purchases?

Talk about the logistics. 

Discuss how you will merge your financial lives.  Will you merge your bank accounts, or keep them separate?  Who will be responsible for making sure bills are paid on time? How will each person’s discretionary spending work?  Are you OK lending money to family or friends if they ask?

There are many adjustments to make when merging two lives into one.  Consider having a financial discussion to avoid potential difficulties down the road.

More information on this topic from the NFCC can be found here.

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