One of the hazards of dating a financial blogger is that you have to — I mean, get to — talk about money a LOT. Right from the beginning, my now-husband learned that there was no financial topic that was off limits for me. Thankfully, he was a great sport about participating in these conversations. It took us awhile to find an approach that worked for us, but by the time we got married we knew just about every in-and-out about each other’s financial lives.
But I know we aren’t the norm. Talking about money can be intimidating, awkward, and even embarrassing. Most couples don’t know where to start or how to use those conversations to learn more about their partner’s values and attitudes about money. And so they miss the chance to grow closer together — and to avoid some of the pitfalls and surprises that can derail a relationship down the road.
So, when should you bring up money in a relationship? Early and often. But the way you bring it up, and the questions you ask, are just as important as the timing. Consider these approaches:
· Watch and Observe: As a new relationship is beginning to unfold, keep a close eye on how this person uses money. In what ways are they generous, and where are they stingy? Do they pay with cash or card? Is it a different card each time? Don’t be creepy about it, just pay attention.
Tip: Most people put their best foot forward at the beginning of a relationship, so watch for changes in financial behaviors as things progress. Remember: their behavior down the road is likely more indicative of their true financial colors than their behavior early on.
· Go Beyond “the Facts:” Money talk isn’t just about numbers. It’s even more important to discuss a person’s money values, attitudes, and behaviors. What does a fulfilling life look like to them? Are they a spender, saver, giver, or acquirer? How did their parents use money? Keep in mind that you can learn more about each other over time rather than trying to cover everything in one “big money talk.”
Tip: Getting serious? Join my Date Night Club. Anyone in a partnered relationship is welcome, whether you’ve put a ring on it or not. I’ll help you overcome those financial hurdles and have some real talk about money.
· Show Your Cards: At some point, you do need to talk about the numbers — especially before you enter into a financial relationship with your partner, such as moving in together, buying a home together, sharing a credit card, getting engaged, or co-signing a loan. When you join your finances with another person, it’s critical to know how much financial liability you’re taking on. So, what should you talk about? Start with these five numbers: savings, debt, earnings, expenses, and credit score. If you have a budget, share that as well.
Tip: If you’re feeling brave, volunteer to share your numbers first. It’s a vulnerable step, but it will set the tone of what you’d like to have shared and make it easier for the other person to open up.
· Deal with Your Skeletons: If you have something you’re afraid to share — like significant student loan debt or a bad credit history — absolutely tell your partner now. Don’t wait until you’ve “trapped” your partner (in an engagement or even marriage) to reveal the bad news, and certainly don’t wait for them to figure it out on their own. Being honest and upfront about your situation and framing it up on your own terms is the best thing you can do.
Tip: You might need to seek expert assistance, like a counselor or financial adviser, to help you work through your issues first, especially if they’re emotionally fraught or your financial burden is significant. But if you can go into the conversation with your partner knowing how you got here and your plan to make it right, the conversation will be much more successful.
· It’s Never Too Late: If you’ve been in a partnered relationship for a while you may be thinking: “Wow! I wish I’d done this early on” or “We still haven’t had an open conversation like this about money.” There’s no better time than the present to get started. You can’t go back in time, but you can change the role money plays in your relationship in the future.
Tip: Use my Money Compatibility Assessment to get the facts on the table and crack open the conversation.
What do you think: When’s the best time to talk about money in a relationship? Share below!
This Thursday, Oct. 3, I’ll be going live on Facebook at 8pm Central to share my recipe for your first money conversation with your partner. Whether you’ve been putting it off or you’ve already tackled this first hurdle, these tips can be helpful at any stage in the relationship. Not on Facebook, don’t worry! I’ll be posting the recording to IGTV later on.