In 2021, talking openly about money remains a taboo, so it isn’t surprising that many couples avoid talking about their finances. Yet when money issues continue to be a leading cause of relationship troubles, there’s a strong argument for opening up and talking money with your partner.
If you’re in a serious relationship and planning a future together, it’s wise to initiate the conversation sooner rather than later, especially if you’re moving in together or considering a joint mortgage. Knowing any financial liabilities your partner may have is important as you make decisions which will interlink your financial circumstances.
Trust, openness and transparency are widely considered to be essential ingredients for a healthy relationship; the same applies to money.
The ‘perfect’ time
It might be a cliché but there’s never a perfect time to talk about money in a relationship. Money is an emotive subject. Whether a spender or a saver, being open also requires humility, especially when your partner may have an alternative view of money management.
We each have our own, unique ‘money story’, influencing our behaviour towards all things financial. We develop our ideas and beliefs about money through upbringing and personal experiences. It’s more common for people with parents who talked about money ‘not growing on trees’ to have a scarcity mindset - saving not spending. This can cause friction with big spenders holding a ‘can’t take it to the grave’ approach to money. It’s unlikely that you’ll share identical money management views with your partner straight away, but don’t panic; focus on how best to manage your differences going forward.
If you feel nervous about having the talk, here are some quick pointers to help the conversation run smoothly:
What should we talk about?
Take these with a grain of salt depending on how far down the line your relationship is, but if you’re on the verge of moving in, we suggest you start with:
1. Who's the breadwinner? If you're managing a household budget and splitting the bills then you need to know what you're both working with. Being open about finances is an important step in building trust and you and your partner should be comfortable enough to ask, or answer this question openly.
2. What are your financial goals? Knowing your significant other's individual goals means that you can be realistic for your joint financial goals. Is it more important to let them pay off their student debt, or buy a new car to help with the commute than it is to save for a wedding or this year's holiday? Once agreed, it can save arguments later on when you’re working on the same timeline.
3. How do you feel about each other’s spending habits? Avoid any resentment building when your partner comes back with a shiny new purchase instead of saving towards your shared goals by opening up about where you like to spend your spare cash. Chances are, you and your other half have your own interests, and you like to spend your cash in different places. Now, you might not understand why they "need" a new golf club, but if it makes them happy then you need to make space in the budget for it because where we spend our money reflects what we value. You don't need to go down to the details but you should be looking for 'trends and themes'. What things are you spending your money on month-on-month and how is this (not) helping you reach your financial goals?
4. How should we split the bills? Most couples choose to split rent and utilities 50/50, which is good practice for keeping things fair and equal. However, equal bill-splitting can be hard for couples who have very disproportionate incomes, as the lower-earner may have to make more sacrifices with savings. If this is the case, you could try a percentage contribution, so each of you contribute let's say 20% of income to rent. It's the same percent, but the lower-earner would pay less, proportionally. When you two have made your mind up - you've got to get down to the practicalities. Will one person manage the account while the other transfers? Are you both going to set up direct debits? Having everything in order will save you stress (and probably a squabble!) later on.
5. How often will we talk about money? This conversation about money isn’t a ‘one and done’ thing. Make a time to check in with each other on expenses regularly, see how you're tracking to your shared goals and how you can support one another. If something isn't working, talk about it and make adjustments.
There’s no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to managing finances in a relationship. Agree on your combined goals and ensure that you both feel comfortable with the adopted approach. Once you’ve opened up the conversation and have a clear picture of your joint financial landscape, discuss the options for organising your money. This could be:
Most importantly, have ‘the talk’. Set aside time to talk and respect the views and experiences of your partner. Focus on finding a system that allows both of you to feel confident and clear about your financial situation as a couple.