Ten Money Topics You Should Always Discuss with Your Partner Before Committing

couple having a discussion

While the stats are always shifting, the story remains fairly consistent: people get married, many of them get divorced, and quite a few of those relationships are dissolved over poor communication, issues with money, or both. 

As a culture, we struggle to talk openly about a lot of topics, but money is perhaps the one that causes the most discomfort. There's so much pride and fear and sometimes shame wrapped up in the size of our paychecks, the depths of our debts, and those little three digit numbers that make up our credit scores.

So it's no surprise that new couples aren't always comfortable having some pretty crucial conversations about money and our relationship with personal finance. But whether or not you're headed toward marriage, it's really important that all couples take the time to understand one another and get on the same page. That doesn't mean they have to agree or share all the same values. It just means that by having these conversations and understanding one another, they'll be better able to make compromises that satisfy both parties.

With that in mind, here are ten topics you should always try to explore with your partner. You don't have to dive into every topic all at once, but the more you know, the more comfortable you'll both feel.

Family Influence

How did your family handle money when growing up? You may not immediately recognize the influence of your parents or caregivers in the way you approach money, but it's there. Your relationship with money – for better or for worse – is shaped largely by how your family dealt with money during your younger year.

So ask each other:

  • What did you like/not like about the way your family handled money?
  • What about the way you manage money feels like a reaction to how your parents managed money?

Spending versus Saving

How much do you prioritize saving money? Some of us are more naturally inclined to focus on saving money for rainy days or big picture goals, while others focus more on the here and now. Understanding how you and your prioritize your available funds (and why) can help mitigate hard feelings down the line.

Try asking each other:

  • How much savings is "enough" savings?
  • What would you do if received an unexpected $1,000?

Having versus Experiencing

Do you prefer spending your money on things you can keep or memorable experiences? When it comes time to make some big decisions with your collective money, this can be a major dividing line. Understanding what your partner values and what makes them happiest can help you find a middle ground that satisfies both parties.

Ask each other:

  • What's the best gift you ever received?
  • Would you rather save up for a special gift (new TV, new car, etc.) or a dream vacation?

Money Stress

Different people have different thresholds for financial stress. For some people, getting calls from creditors is a minor irritation. For others, there mere thought of carrying a credit card balance is enough to cause a minor panic attack. It's important to know what your partner considers a "problem," especially if your radar is tuned quite differently.

Try asking each other:

  • What makes you worry about money?
  • How would you feel if you got a collection call?

Debt Situation

Debt doesn't need to be a mark of shame or a relationship deal-breaker. But if you can't openly discuss your general debt situation that can become a major issue down the line. Remind yourself that it's perfectly okay to carry debt. The issue is always how you're able to balance that debt against your other expenses and goals. A good partner should be an ally, but they can't help you if you're not able to be honest.

Begin by asking each other:

  • How do you feel about your debt?
  • Do you have any debts that you think we should focus on?

Credit Situation

While your partner’s previous credit challenges won’t show up on your report, his or her bad credit could cause problems when applying for joint credit, particularly for big picture items, like a new car or a mortgage.

The important thing to remember about credit is that you can absolutely improve a poor score over time. If you're able to be open about your current credit situation, you can work together to make the necessary improvements that will have you prepared for when your ready for some of those big picture purchase.

Start the conversation by asking each other:

  • How do you feel about your credit?
  • Is there anything about your credit history you'd like to work on improving?

Joint Accounts

Different couples handle money differently. Having separate accounts can be a practical way to share financial responsibilities while maintaining individual freedoms. However, many couples who agree on spending habits find that a joint account works well for them. The key to either choice will always be open and consistent communication.

Try asking each other:

  • Would it make it easier if we created a joint account for joint expenses?
  • Do you feel comfortable having an account that we both control?

Joint Decisions 

It may be helpful to define what each of you considers a "big" financial decision. One potential key to a happy financial life is to vow to make all big financial decisions together. For that to work, though, you'll need to be on the same page when it comes to your definition of "big." After all, one of you might consider a television a huge purchase, while the other might be thinking more along the lines of a car.

Ask each other:

  • What kind of purchases would you want to be consulted on?
  • What dollar amount feels like too much to spend without telling you first?

Day-to-Day Money Management

Sometimes one member of a relationship loves managing the money and the other one just doesn't. It's perfectly okay for one half to do most of the financial driving, but only if that's the agreement you've reached mutually. No assumptions, no unexpressed expectations. Once your finances become interwoven, make it clear how you want to share the work. Ideally, neither side should feel cut out of the process or asked to do things they aren't comfortable doing.

Begin by asking:

  • How comfortable do you feel managing bills and other household financial responsibilities?
  • How much do you want to know about where our money goes and how much we've saved?

Financial Goals

Everyone, whether they’re in a relationship or single, should take the time to set financial goals. Those goals will help guide your decision-making and provide some helpful structure to your spending plan. You just want to make sure that your goals are aligned and that you're flexible should things shift in the years to come.

Ask each other:

  • What are your top three goals?
  • How quickly do you want to achieve those goals?

These conversations aren't always easy to start, but once you have one or two, they'll become easier and easier. The worst thing you can do is hide your feelings and your financial challenges from one another.

If you need a little help addressing some of the challenges that face every couple from time to time, consider connecting with a budgeting counseling for personalized, judgment-free advice. Counseling is free and available 24/7. 

Tagged in Money and relationships, Navigating change, Advice for families

Jesse Campbell is the Content Manager at MMI, focused on creating and delivering valuable educational materials that help families through everyday and extraordinary financial challenges.

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