“We need to talk.”
Generally speaking, no good conversation starts with this statement ... except when it comes to finances.
For anyone in a relationship, money isn't just something that you should talk about; it's a topic that you need to cover together. In fact, of the many arguments that couples can have, fights over money have been shown to be the best predictors of divorce—even more than spats over sex!
Get started with a free financial assessment.
Get started with a free financial assessment.
The good thing is that most people in a relationship want to be transparent about their money … they just don’t know how to do it. According to a recent Lawyers.com survey, 40% of couples (folks ranged in age from 25 to 55) agree that financial honesty is more important than being honest about fidelity.
So we asked LearnVest founder and CEO Alexa von Tobel—who just got married this past spring—to share her own strategy for having a productive money talk with your significant other.
Plus, you can also check out LearnVest's new Love & Money Bootcamp, created in conjunction with Cosmopolitan magazine. The five-day program covers everything from how to successfully combine your money to the best ways to prep for your financially happy future together.
Why the Money Talk Is So Important
"Discussing finances openly with your partner is crucial because money plays into every aspect of our lives, from the jobs we take to the way we raise our children," says Alexa. "Since it affects so many major decisions, it’s necessary to check in with your partner from time to time to make sure that you’re on the same page when it comes to your finances."
And we’re not just referring to married couples. It’s necessary to have the money talk as soon as you start to get serious with someone, so you can lay the right foundation for further conversations as your relationship progresses.
Don't know where to start? Here are Alexa's top-five tips for acing that first ice-breaker money chat with your significant other:
1. Accept That There’s No Set Script
Since every relationship is unique, your money talk will be too. While trusted friends or family members (and even a financial planner) can help you figure out ways to stage a proper conversation, as well as which topics to cover, it’s important to trust your own instincts when it comes to conversing with your partner.
For instance, if you think that your partner might be spending more than he's earning, you probably don’t want to have him walk you through his credit card statement—item by item. This would most likely just make him get defensive and shut down, which isn't productive.
One way to get the conversation started on a good foot is to cover relatively neutral questions, such as “What are your biggest financial goals?” and “What’s your earliest money memory?” These types of questions will ease you into the money talk, without setting off any alarms.
2. Figure Out Your Merging Style
Opening shared accounts isn’t for everyone—and there’s no right or wrong way to do it, as long as the method that you choose allows you both to achieve your goals. Some couples may decide to deposit their entire paychecks into the same account, while others—even married couples!—may opt to keep everything separate, and split expenses 50/50.
Alexa prefers a “percentage” approach—she and her husband put equal percentages of their incomes into a shared account.
That being said, Alexa points out that most people in committed relationships who are living together or married should merge their finances in some way to enable them to easily pay for shared expenses (such as groceries and utilities) and save for common goals, like a down payment on a home.
For herself, Alexa prefers a “percentage” approach—she and her husband contribute equal percentages of their incomes into a shared account. Following this method, if you decide on a percentage of 75%, and you make $5,000 a month, you would put $3,750 into a shared account. You'd keep the rest of the money to spend on whatever you’d like, such as gifts or nights out on the town with friends.
3. Make the Money Talk a Regular Event
Things change quickly: We switch jobs, confront illnesses and decide to move. On top of all this, most of us keep busy schedules, juggling commitments to work, friends and family.
This is why it’s necessary to schedule frequent check-ins with your partner, so that you can address any issues that may have arisen due to shifts in your life. Alexa's advice: Set calendar reminders. Personally, Alexa and her husband set calendared meetings for money talks twice a year. Biannual discussions ensure that they don’t micromanage their shared finances too much, but they’re still checking in often enough to confront new challenges.
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4. Decide on a Limit
If you have merged your finances, you should make it a point to “decide on a number that pushes a purchase into the ‘let’s talk about it first’ zone,” advises Alexa. For example, if you or your partner wants to buy something north of $500 using shared resources, discuss it together before either of you spends the money. This will ensure that one of you is never blindsided by a major charge on a shared credit card or a big withdrawal from a joint account.
5. Keep Common Goals in Mind
Lastly, each major money talk should end with a review of the goals that you and your partner share. Do you want to buy a house in the next five years or perhaps have a baby? Checking in about these big-picture aims will ensure that you both stay on the same page—and keep you motivated to save enough to reach them.