There are few arguments in a relationship quite like one over the finances. Unlike a fight over doing the dishes, working too much or forgetting an important date, a fight about money cuts deep. It challenges our own philosophies and behaviors – many developed from our upbringing or learned from our parents, which can be deeply personal. Because of this, many couples avoid the issue, many deciding to keep their finances separate. In fact, 1 in 5 couples manage their money completely on their own, according to a survey by Policygenius. But of those couples who manage their money separately, 20% say they plan to leave their partner because of money issues. That’s compared to just 4% of those who manage their money together with their partner.
Being open about your finances and managing your money together can have its benefits. It can help you build a stronger bond with your partner and help you learn new ways to work together as a team. It can even prevent any surprises (and arguments) along the way – like a mortgage denial due to a partner’s bad credit or too much personal debt. When it comes to money matters in any relationship, communication is key. In order to know what’s going on in your financial lives, you’ll need to talk about money with your partner at some point – and frequently thereafter. So what can those conversations look like and what are some tips for having them with your partner? Read on to hear how two women are talking to their partners about money and get tips from financial experts who help couples successfully work through common money matters every day.
A “Resentment-Proof” System: Separate Accounts, Similar Salaries
It wasn’t long into their relationship when Lindsey and her husband of 5 years, Colin, had their first chat about money. As their relationship progressed and Colin started spending more time at Lindsey’s house, she realized she was the only one buying groceries and making the meals – a red flag for Lindsey, given her experience from previous relationships.
“I saw myself setting up a dynamic from past relationships I wanted to avoid – me buying all the ‘household stuff’ and him buying all the ‘fun stuff,’” she said. “So one day, I said to Colin, ‘Hey, I’m feeling like I’m buying all our food.’”
Luckily, her honesty was well-received and prompted a successful first money talk.
“[Colin] immediately got embarrassed, said he was completely unaware and thanked me for bringing it up,” she says. “And that sparked an amazing conversation about money! [We talked about] our money values and past relationships. It was amazing. But I know it could’ve gone differently had I never said anything and just let my resentment grow.”
Through that first conversation about finances and in many conversations to follow, Lindsey and her husband designed a “resentment-proof” system for their financial lives.
“We keep separate accounts. We pay 50/50 for shared expenses because we make around the same amount of money,” she says. “We’ve built an Excel spreadsheet to figure out what we owe the other person each month and reconcile it that way. We didn’t want to get ourselves into a situation where he pays some of the bills and I pay the others and we hope it comes out around the same amount.”
While splitting and tracking expenses this way has been working well for the couple, Lindsey credits the true success of the system to communication and having the right partner.
“[There is zero resentment] because we talk about money on a regular basis,” she says. “Money is a resource that we get to use to design our lives. We each come to the table ready to talk about how to make the most of what we have. I couldn’t ask for a better partner in this.”
When it comes to their money conversations, the couple created a set of ground rules. They agree not to spontaneously bring up money and stick to a planned date and time to discuss it, instead. Beforehand, each person takes on specific tasks (like calculating vacation expenses or researching mutual funds) and comes to the discussion prepared. They’re also equipped with an annual topic calendar, which helps them know what things to discuss each month. During the conversation, they stay on track with one simple trick.
“We make sure to keep the focus on our greater why for all of this,” says Lindsey, “which is to live an amazing life and be able to afford it.”
Though they’re in a good place with their money conversations now, it took some time for the couple to get there.
“I don’t want to paint a picture of perfection with our money talks. It’s taken us years to get to a place where we’re playing to each other’s strengths,” admits Lindsey. “Earlier in our relationship, I felt like, in order to keep things equitable, we both had to be doing all the things. That was a great source of frustration and we’d get into nit-picky spats.”
Through self-awareness and communication early on and throughout their relationship, Lindsey and Colin created a system that works for them – and for a number of other couples who’ve listened to their podcast Money Date Night. On their podcast, Lindsey and Colin share more of their own experiences and provide tips for other couples to have money conversations and create a system that works for them.
“Find a way to have regular conversations and create ground rules that will protect them (and your relationship),” she says, “because, at the end of the day, the goal is to enjoy each other and your lives together.”
Encouragement And Understanding: Joint Accounts, She Has A Higher Salary
Once engaged and moving in together, Ashley and her husband started having “surface-level” conversations about money because they were still managing their finances independently. It was fine to have separate accounts and split expenses at the time, but when it came to envisioning life as a married couple, they had different opinions on what to do with their finances.
“He wanted separate accounts and I wanted a joint account. Our opinions on how to handle the money mostly came from what our parents did,” she says. “I just always thought sharing an account was just what you did because that is what I grew up with. Unfortunately, he felt the same way about separate accounts.”
For this couple, seeking to understand one another was – and still is – the reason they are able to overcome their financial differences.
After much discussion about their upbringing and what was best for them, the couple decided to share accounts and pay all expenses from those accounts once they were married. Playing on each other’s strengths, Ashley now handles paying the bills while her husband handles moving money into the savings accounts.
Since having their first child earlier this year, the couple talks about money more frequently to stay on the same page. These conversations usually center around three main points.
“We typically talk about how we will be better at budgeting and discuss ways to save more money,” she says. “We also talk about prioritizing our larger purchases. That’s really the only time things can get heated. With bigger purchases, we often view different items as being the most important.”
When these issues arise, the couple turns the focus away from money and concentrates more on each other’s intentions to see where they can find a middle ground.
“It just takes compromise and talking it out,” says Ashley. “Once we understand each other’s reasoning, we can normally agree on which route makes the most sense.”
That type of compassion is important in other areas of the couple’s financial life, too – like when it comes to earning more than the other. Before Ashley joined the corporate world, she and her husband were making similar salaries working in the public service sector. However, once she shifted roles, it also shifted who made the most money. When that changes, it can change the dynamic of a relationship; but Ashley and her husband take it in stride and approach it in a way that makes their relationship stronger.
“Whenever the topic comes up, he always tells me how proud he is of me,” she says of her husband’s attitude toward her earning more. “I have worked hard to be promoted and receive nice bonuses and it is always met with support from him.” This helps the couple stay open and honest with each other and share more details about their salaries. “Just the other day we got our W-2s and shared how much we each grossed last year,” she says. “The conversation wasn’t tense at all. Instead, it was congratulatory.”
Financial Experts Weigh In On How To Talk With Your Partner About Money
While it’s beneficial to learn from the experiences of other women like the ones who shared their stories here, it’s also important to glean advice from financial professionals. Below, a few money experts share their top four tips for talking to your partner about money.
Tip #1: Go On Money Dates
“I’d say the top piece of advice I could give is that communication is key,” says Allison Bishop, a certified public accountant and financial coach. “One person can certainly do the day-to-day financial tasks, but both parties should have a good sense of how things are going financially.”
To keep each other updated and make finances a priority, many of our experts suggest scheduling time to specifically focus on money matters.
“Our romantic relationships and our relationships with money are a lot alike. Couples schedule date nights to spend quality time together and make the relationship a priority. You need to do the same thing with your money by scheduling ‘money dates,’” says financial therapist Nicole Iacovoni. “A money date is simply a time set aside to see where you and your partner see where your money is going and make plans for it.”
How often you should have your money dates and what you should discuss during them will depend on where you and your partner are financially.
“For those who are dealing with tight finances or ongoing money issues, the couple should sit down for a money date once a week,” Bishop recommends. “The first few meetings might be a general overview of where they are in terms of their net worth and their monthly cash flow. After that, they will want to cover what they expected to happen in the prior week and what actually happened (meaning did any surprises pop up). [They should also discuss] what’s expected the following week and see if any big expenses are on the horizon that need to be considered, too.
“For couples who are on more stable financial ground, I think meeting monthly or even quarterly might be enough,” says Bishop. “A couple who is working to stay within a monthly budget will likely want to connect at least once a month to review how they did, and to look ahead at any changes that need to be made.”
No matter the state of a couple’s finances, Bishop recommends meeting at the beginning of the year to review the previous year and plan for the year ahead.
“I think everyone should have an annual review in January to look back at the prior year and talk about how it went, what went well, and where things might have gone off the rails,” she says. “And setting financial goals for the year is always useful – or at least setting your top 3 – 4 financial priorities.”
Tip #2: Seek To Understand
“Most couples have very different spending philosophies or personalities,” says Trea Branch, personal finance writer and coach and founder of Girl, Break Free. “Instead of attacking, try diving into your partner’s spending behavior to identify triggers, then help them on a deeper, more effective level.”
Seeking to understand your partner’s money philosophies, upbringing and even money triggers can also keep you from taking their behaviors personally. “Most people have complicated feelings about money,” says Iacovoni. “So, if your partner responds to your financial situation negatively, it’s most likely due to their own thoughts and feelings about money – not you and your situation, specifically. Every couple needs to talk about each of their money beliefs and memories to unpack their financial baggage, so it doesn’t become a main source of contention later.”
Tip #3: Create An Emergency Action Plan
Planning how to handle money mishaps ahead of time will help keep conversations from escalating, should someone have a financial failure.
“Talk through a recovery process before a mishap happens,” suggests Branch. “It’s already hard for an individual to stay on budget. Add the complexities of a couple, and the first budget mistake can lead to huge arguments and a complete dismissal of money goals. Whether the mishaps were avoidable or outside of our control, at some point, we’ll all need to recover from a busted budget. Trying to do so in the heat of the moment will never work. But if the couple talks through their approach before the budget is broken, they’re more likely to have the patience and focus to work through it together.”
Tip #4: Ask For Help
Couples don’t have to figure it all out on their own, and Branch recommends using the different resources available to help navigate conversations about money.
“If a couple is attacking a big money goal, they shouldn’t go at it alone,” she says. “There are several financial advisors and personal finance coaches who can walk you through the process and provide a safe space to work through challenges or disagreements. Even tapping into a similar couple who accomplished what you’re trying to accomplish can provide invaluable accountability and support.”
For more financial stories from women across the country, read more from Her Wallet, which shares tips and experiences from women who are buying homes, working their side hustles and growing in their personal and professional relationships.
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