If youve been in a long-term relationship before, you know quite well that in reality things arent perfectly peachy all the time. Healthy relationships involve a lot of support, compromise, honesty and a willingness to have difficult conversations. One of the most commonly challenging topics for couples to discuss is money. With the right approach and some practice, however, getting on the same page about your finances doesnt have to be a battleground.
Its important to talk to your significant other about both your separate and combined finances. After all, studies show that couples of all ages are happier when they talk to each other about money – and the more often, the better.
Taking some quality time to set monetary goals together is also a great way to build trust, address fears, join forces and set your relationship up for long-term success. If youre feeling a little bit nervous, thats perfectly okay. The sooner you start, the easier it will be. Also, take comfort that a little preparation, patience and determination can go a long way.
Here are five suggestions to help you get started talking with your significant other about money:
1. Start early and lay it all out on the table.
Dont assume you should wait until after marriage to talk to your partner about money-related matters. Its actually quite beneficial to break the ice well before tying the knot. Have open conversations about each of your past and present financial situations without placing judgement on one another. Does one person have a large amount of debt? Are you diligent savers or frequent spenders? Do either of you have financial responsibilities for dependents such as aging parents? How would your existing assets be shared, sold or managed in marriage? How might raising children impact each of your careers and disposable income?
2. Define shared goals.
Discuss your short- and long-term aspirations. Perhaps you want to tackle a pile of credit card debt, buy a house together, start a college savings plan for your children or hit a monetary target for your retirement. Talk about whats important to each of you, and strategize on ways to reach your goals by working together. Be as specific as you can when defining your goals. The SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, time-based) method can really help you formulate a solid financial game plan. And dont be afraid to talk to a financial planner together if you want help from a neutral 3rd party.
3. Set financial priorities.
Once youve come up with a shared list of goals, figure out how you want to prioritize them. Youll want to review this list regularly since lifes twists and turns may impact how you want to rank your financial priorities over time. Look for ways to utilize your joint forces to help you achieve your goals faster as well, such as qualifying for better rates at banks by combining your incomes and assets together versus separately. Sharing the same priorities can also help you stay unified as a couple and avoid heated arguments and unpleasant surprises.
4. Divide and conquer.
Talk about each others strengths and find ways to utilize them on your goals and financial responsibilities. For example, if you enjoy monitoring the stock market and following the economy, you might be best suited to handle all the trading decisions for both of your investment accounts. If your partner is great at organization, scheduling and detail oriented tasks, he/she could excel at managing all your combined bill payments and monthly cash flow.
Dont forget to communicate and let each other know how things are going each month on your separate tasks. You may also want to consider divvying up expenses based on your individual incomes and contributions – many couples choose to keep individual bank accounts they manage separately from their joint accounts for this purpose. This can be useful if you want to track some spending and savings goals individually versus combined.
5. Reward your progress. Dont underestimate the importance of analyzing your mistakes together and celebrating your wins. Set aside distraction-free time slots at least once a month to talk about your financial failures and brainstorm solutions to help avoid repeat pitfalls. If you made some mistakes, dont give up! Own up to them and identify what went wrong and why. Treat each other as equals and be supportive of one another’s efforts even if things didnt go exactly as planned. Navigating your finances isnt always straightforward, and the more you view money management as a team effort, the better off and happier youll be together.
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 Brooks, Rodney, Couples are happier when they talk about money, The Washington Post, September 19, 2016.