Talking about money or household finances somehow has a unique way of getting underneath our skin. Anyone who’s been in a relationship longer than a month knows that the topic of money is sure to surface eventually. And when it does, be ready to tackle it head on if you want to keep a peaceful and happy union.
Here are a few practical ways to approach the subject of money in the context of your dating or common law relationship, or marriage.
When to bring up the subject of money
You’ve heard this time and time again, but it can’t be drilled into you deep enough: You have to talk about money with your romantic partner! There’s no getting around it. Should income, student loans, or credit card debt be the topic of choice on your first date? Absolutely not! Should you talk about it at least a month or two after you’ve been consistently seeing someone? Maybe. Regardless, the subject of money is bound to pop up in the mind of at least half of the couple at some point soon, especially when the waiter places that bill on the table after dinner.
So, here’s the deal – you don’t want to overcomplicate things when you’re dating someone and just getting to know them. If you feel comfortable sharing some general things about your financial life, go for it. But, if you’re in a serious relationship, leading up to moving in together, or getting engaged and married, then you absolutely need to start spilling the beans, and crunching the numbers. If you’re going to make it official and start joining your lives together, both parties need to know exactly what they’re working with and what they’re getting themselves into. It’s only fair, right?
How to talk about money when the time is right
Talking about money doesn’t have to be awkward, so don’t make it so. People often struggle to talk about money because they’re worried about how it’ll make them look. Or, that it’ll change their partner’s perception of them, especially if they’re carrying a lot of debt. But, these kinds of conversations are actually a good thing, regardless of how uncomfortable they may seem at first. It helps you decipher whether or not this person will have the maturity and understanding to accept you in your entirety – the good, the bad, and the ugly.
The key is to be as open and honest as possible. If you’ve made financial mistakes in the past, don’t be defensive about it or make excuses – own it. Don’t hide anything, either. It’s better to be upfront about everything from the get-go. Rather than having to clear things up after your partner unearths something down the road.
Get on the same page with your finances
Once you’ve laid everything out on the table, you can now start the process of coming together as a team and getting on the same page with your finances. If you’re dating, that means learning about your partner’s financial goals and simply being a source of support and encouragement for them. Avoid merging your finances together at this point, and, perhaps even avoiding sharing exact numbers; keep things general. Let your partner be there for you, but not start analyzing every financial move you make.
For those in a serious dating relationship and moving in together, it’s important to be candid and to cover your bases with a written agreement about how your living expenses will be split between the two of you. Will rent be 50/50? What about groceries and utilities? We’ve all heard a horror story about couples living together and then breaking up. Don’t let yourself fall into that same trap; be proactive and smart.
Married people, merge accounts
Married couples should merge all bank accounts, including chequing, savings, and appropriate investment accounts. Your partner should be on your mortgage, the deed to the house, car, and any other assets you own.
Merging all your accounts and assets together is going to force you to have to talk about and manage money as a team. One study found that in 2 out of every 5 couples, one partner has committed “financial infidelity”, meaning they’ve made secret purchases, hidden cash or bills from their partner, or withdrawn savings without informing their partner. And, over time the number of couples reporting this kind of behaviour is only increasing. This behaviour erodes away on trust, a foundational part of any healthy relationship. This is why open, honest, and consistent conversations about money.
Approach the subject of money with sensitivity, tact, and at an appropriate time. As long as you’re honest and understanding, this topic will be a no brainer for you. It will reap dividends in the strength and health of your relationship for years to come.