Raise your hand if you’re dating, engaged, or married. Now keep your hand up if you want it to stay that way (as in…not divorce or break up). Hopefully everyone’s hand stayed up. If not, we’re the wrong people for the job. However, if you kept all five fingers high, this article is for you.
Money and finances are routinely sited as the number one topic couples fight about and one of the leading causes of divorce. Though this statistic is shocking, it’s almost always preventable. How? Honest, hard conversations and a game plan for moving forward—together.
We’re here to help with the first part, by providing a 5-step plan to discussing finances with your partner and having “The Talk.” Before diving in, we’d like to offer some advice: Be patient, kind, non-judgmental, and sensitive. Money can be a touchy subject for lots of people, so be aware of your tone and pick the right time to have “The Talk”
Step 1: Discuss History
Our spending habits, and how we feel about money, can often be traced to our childhood. Everyone’s upbringing looks a little different, and if your mom and dad lived paycheck to paycheck while your partner’s brought in millions and set up a hefty trust fund, you probably have some different money-related beliefs.
That’s OK! You don’t need twin-upbringings to be compatible. But you do need to take an honest look at your histories and determine why you both feel the way you do, spend the way you do, and save the way you do. Once you’re more clear on the other’s reasons, further discussions will be much easier. Not sure where to start? Ask these questions:
- How did your parents handle their money?
- Did you have to work for things you wanted? Or did your parents simply provide you with it?
- What fears do you have surrounding finances and money?
- Do you see money as a tool or a burden?
- Is there anything you want to do differently than your parents?
Step 2: Deep-Dive Into Debt
Debt: Nearly everyone has it. In fact, consumer debt was approaching $14-trillion after the second quarter of 2019. But the nation’s debt isn’t your current concern—your partner’s is.
Getting real and raw about your debt—home, auto, school, and credit card—is an incredibly important step in “The Talk.” Sure, it’s uncomfortable enough knowing your own debt, so saying it out loud to the person you love can be scary. But what’s even scarier is the look on someone’s face after saying “I do” and finding out what they actually said was, “I do promise to take on your secret $100,000 credit card debt I knew nothing about.”
Instead, take some time to map out (on paper or in an excel doc) exactly how much debt you owe, to whom, with what interest rate, and what payment plan. Your partner should do the same.
If you’re approaching marriage, or considering combining finances, we suggest paying off all personal debt prior to doing so. And please, do not consolidate your loans together—there are benefits to keeping them separate and we’d love to share those with you!
Step 3: Assess Assets
Understanding each other’s debt is half the equation. You should also discuss all assets you both own. This includes things like: your retirement savings (401(k), IRA, etc.), general savings and bank accounts, homes, investments, cars, etc. Assessing these assets offers a fuller picture of your financial health.
This step is especially important for people planning to get married, because for most, these will soon become mutual assets.
Though we’re firm believers in continuing to tackle personal financial goals well into marriage, your joint goals are what matter most long term. Goals like paying for your child’s college, purchasing a new home, retiring together, owning vacation property, etc.
Step 4: Combine and Think About The Future
Now that you’ve both opened up about your experiences, debts, and assets, it’s time to come together and make a plan for the future. It’s important to keep an open mind and be willing to compromise. The point isn’t “my way or the highway,” it’s “what works for us.”
Remember—it’s you two against the problem, not you two against each other. Which means there’s no right or wrong answers, just the truth.
Some questions to ask and topics to gain clarity on include:
- How will we handle spending going forward?
- Will we strictly have a joint account? Or will we both have personal accounts for things like “fun money”?
- What’s our plan for paying off debt and saving for retirement?
- What will we do if one of us wants to work part-time or stay home in the future?
- How will we handle the loss of one of our jobs?
- What are some areas we need to compromise on and
where are we unwilling to budge?
Step 5: Continue the Conversation
You’ve made it to step 5—congratulations! The hardest part is through. All that’s left is to continue the conversation.
Money talks don’t need to be boring and tense. You can even turn them into a fun monthly date night. Grab your favorite snacks, a little wine (not too much—we need you coherent here!), your computer, and find a cozy spot.
Dig into your budget and discuss where you over spent and where you absolutely crushed it. Celebrate the victories and make a plan to improve on shortcomings. It’s important you’re both honest, involved, and willing to work together.
Here’s to love, and here’s to not letting money get in the way! Need some extra guidance? We love our couple-clients and would love to add you and your partner to our list! Stop in today or give us a call.