You’re engaged—congrats! Or maybe you’ve decided to take your relationship to the next level and move in together. No matter where you are in your relationship, if you are planning for a long-term future, it’s important to start thinking about your finances. According to CNBC, finances are the leading cause of stress in a relationship. Don’t let money get in the way of your and your partner’s happiness. Knowing how to talk about money with your partner can be difficult, but before you combine your finances with your soon-to-be husband or wife, you need to have an open and honest conversation.
How to Start the Conversation
Brace yourself: having the money talk can be a difficult topic for couples to broach. The conversation may highlight bad spending habits, poor debt management, or a lack of financial planning for the future. Now for the good news: The sooner you face your financial shortcomings with your partner, the easier it will be to deal with the issues together. The key to starting the conversation is to begin with the facts, which means it’s time to show your partner the money.
When having “the talk,” I suggest starting with your income. Knowing how much you have coming in every month will allow you to begin thinking about budgeting for joint expenses. Jot down on a sheet of paper or input the following information into a spreadsheet:
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- Your last two or three pay stubs to determine your monthly income
- All of your bank statements, adding your total cash in checking and savings
- Any bonuses or significant payments you expect to receive/pay out in the next year
- The balance of any retirement, stocks, or other asset accounts
Next, list your expenses. When combining separate households, there is bound to be some overlap with monthly expenses. Living under one roof will allow you to save money from duplicate household bills like electricity, water, and rent. Companies like Liberty Mutual offer discounts for their customers when insuring multiple cars or properties. Use the savings wisely by putting them toward a larger living space, for example, or in a high-yield savings account for a rainy day. To keep track of your expenses, list or input the following:
- Every monthly recurring household bill (e.g., rent, utilities, phone, car, insurance, etc.)
- How much you spend on variable bills each month (e.g., groceries, gas, shopping, entertainment, etc.)
Finally, you need to write down all of your debt. Deciding to combine your finances when one or both partners have significant debt is not ideal, but sometimes it may be inevitable. Between student loans, credit cards, and other liabilities, starting out debt free may not be an option. The key to being successful when discussing money with your partner is full disclosure. Be up front and honest and list all of the following when calculating your debts so you and your partner can decide how to tackle them:
- All of your credit card balances, the corresponding interest rates, and how much you typically pay each month
- Any student loans, mortgages, home equity lines of credit, and their corresponding interest rates
What to Discuss
Now that you have a clear picture of your finances, review all of the information you and your partner compiled. It is important to realize that your significant other’s financial situation may be better or worse than yours. The key is to be patient and understanding when comparing your lists.
There may be a few areas of discussion after you’ve digested all the info. Do either of you carry high credit card balances? You may want to inquire about the debt and establish a plan for paying it off. Do either of you have a sizable income with little or no debt and low expenses, yet there is a lack of savings? Find out where the majority of the money is going. It could be an expense or a bad financial habit you may not have realized.
Understanding your partner’s spending and saving habits will give you both better insight on who should be responsible for paying the bills and assist with budgeting accordingly each month. Creating a solid start is the key to having a sound financial relationship with the person you love.
Starting the conversation is only the first step. Be sure to check out the next post, “How to Effectively Manage Money As a Couple.”