Tips for Discussing Finances with your Partner
The earlier you have a conversation around finances, the stronger your relationship will be in the long run.
If you are already engaged and have not discussed finances, do so before you get married so you and your partner can start your marriage as a strong, united front.
Always make time to discuss financial concerns and priorities as your life evolves so you can work together to secure a strong financial future.
Money can be a delicate topic for most people to discuss, so it is easy to understand how bringing the money topic up with your partner can be challenging and even cause some anxiety. But discussing financial concerns, goals, and habits early on in a relationship, will only make your relationship stronger. In a relationship, “me” quickly changes to “we,” so having open communication about these topics can help you and your partner work as a team towards accomplishing common financial goals.
How to talk about money and which topics to focus on will likely change as you grow together and enter different life stages. Here is a look at how to start honest talks about money with your partner and how to keep the conversation going.
When you are dating.
Detailing your financial history is probably not suitable for the first or second date, but as you get closer to someone, money becomes an increasingly important topic to discuss. Start by bringing up your financial history and the lessons you have learned from past money mistakes. Be honest about your spending habits, your credit history, and how much debt you are carrying. These are issues that will shape your financial future with your partner and could become obstacles later in your relationship if you are trying to secure a new apartment or qualify for a mortgage together.
Also, actions usually speak louder than words. Pay attention to how your significant other acts with their money. You can get a true understanding of their overall relationship with money and make sure that it compliments your relationship with money.
When you are engaged.
When you are at the point in your relationship where you have decided to get married, money conversations should get more serious. Start by discussing how you have managed your finances on your own and any budgeting systems or debt payoff plans you may already have in place.
Compare your personal finance strategies with your partner’s and decide how to create new ways to manage your money together while playing to each other’s strengths. For example, maybe you are a careful budgeter and an avid saver, and your fiancé(e) is good at investing to grow wealth. Talk about how to balance these talents and create a system that takes advantage of both.
Discuss how you will share living expenses and whether you will each have your own checking account or share a joint spending account. Some couples choose to have a joint checking account for housing costs, utilities, groceries, vacations, etc. Each maintains an individual account for more personal expenses or liabilities, such as student loan payments, car payments, beauty expenses, leisure activities, etc. Whichever route you choose to take, have a detailed discussion around budgeting and cash flows so you both have a good understanding of the role you will play in accomplishing your mutual goals.
This is also a good time to consider discussing a prenuptial agreement. Not everyone will need one, but if you are going into marriage with significant assets or want to protect yourself from a spouse’s debt in the event of a divorce, you may want one. Unless both parties bring significant wealth to the relationship and a prenup has been assumed, this can sometimes be an uncomfortable conversation. Wedding planning can be stressful enough for a couple, so do not wait until the last minute to have this conversation. It might end up causing unnecessary issues during an already hectic time.
When you are married.
As a married couple, you will experience all sorts of life changes together, from moving homes to buying a new car to welcoming a new child. Your financial situation will also change, which makes ongoing conversations about money critical.
Start by setting financial priorities together and work as a team to put them into practice. Make a list of both long- and short-term financial goals and decide together how and when to tackle them. Track your spending and be honest about your purchases to hold each other accountable for the goals you have set together.
Your financial goals may change as your lives evolve, so it is important to regularly check-in. Set aside time each month or quarter to review your finances and budget, making any necessary changes to ensure your financial plan continues to align with your goals.
When you are divorced.
If you decide to part ways with your spouse, you will want to focus on establishing your financial independence again. This might mean opening new separate accounts so you are no longer involved in each other’s day-to-day financial management. Change direct deposits to go into your new account, and start reworking your budget to reflect your income and expenses as a single person. Once the divorce settlement is finalized and you have an idea of the assets that will be yours, you can update your financial plan to account for new balances, spending habits, and possibly different goals. Now that you are managing your own finances, get up to speed with the financial tasks that your ex-spouse managed previously that you will now be responsible for going forward.
If you are already working with an advisor, he/she can help guide you through this stressful period, as well as provide unbiased advice to help you and your ex-spouse navigate separating your finances.
An advisor can bring a lot of value to these situations, especially by coordinating conversations between other important professionals that will be crucial to this process. Some of these professionals may include a divorce attorney, estate planning attorney, accountant, and real estate professional.
Most people will focus on the division of assets, but there are many other aspects of your financial plan that need to be re-evaluated:
Income tax planning,
Estate Plan, including a will, Power of Attorney (POA) for healthcare and property,
Beneficiaries on retirement accounts and life insurance, and
Possibly securing new living arrangements.
There are a lot of steps involved to regain your financial independence, so working with the right advisor will help reassure you that nothing is falling through the cracks
Regardless of where you are in your relationship, if you want to reach your goals, then you and your partner must be on the same page. That means you cannot let money become a taboo topic in your relationship. Openly discussing finances is a skill that requires practice, but the more you do it, the stronger your relationship and financial future will be.
Katie Blechschmidt, CFP®
Private Wealth Advisor