You probably talk about a lot with your significant other, but do you talk about money?
It’s the No. 1 issue married couples argue over—which makes it easy to understand why couples sometimes avoid the topic altogether.1 But while talking about money can feel hard at first, the more open about it we are, the healthier our relationships—and our finances—can be.
Experts suggest the most effective way to avoid financial problems in a relationship is to talk about finances regularly. Here are some tips that can help.
1. Start ASAP
It’s never too early to introduce the topic of money into your relationship. You can even start on the first date.
Here’s a money icebreaker: Float the fact that you’re saving for retirement, and ask if they’re doing the same. This way, you offer up information about yourself before requesting theirs, while vetting whether your financial goals and habits are similar.
Money conversations should get more in-depth as the relationship becomes more serious, but opening the topic for ongoing talks sets the standard that it’s OK to discuss finances without the mood getting awkward or tense.
2. Put it all on the table
“If you’re going to be moving in with somebody or having any sort of shared expenses, it’s really important that you have a good sense of their financial situation,” says Sophia Bera, a certified financial planner and founder of Gen Y Planning.
Financial situations to discuss include things like income level, debt load, credit score, saving, and investing.
Take an honest, forthright approach to develop a list of each partner’s assets and liabilities. With that list, you can identify what areas to focus on together and start planning ahead to face them side by side.
3. Assess your spending styles
Money means something different to each person. Talk freely about your own spending habits first, such as when you splurge and when you pinch pennies. Allow your partner to note any personal differences that could cause friction in the future—like how you use credit cards—then develop strategies for dealing with them together.
“Managing money with your partner starts with understanding what each of you values individually,” says Brian Ford, head of Financial Wellness at Truist. “We are typically not fighting over the money itself, but how to spend it—and this is a conversation about values. List your values individually, and notice which you have in common. This is where you should spend the majority of your hard-earned money.”
Ford says it’s OK if your values are different. “It should spur a conversation so the two of you can make allowances for what’s important to the other, even if it’s something you don’t share in common.”
4. Establish your financial roles
Any partnership is based on shared responsibilities. Naturally, you need to talk out who does and pays for what. Have a conversation about which expenses you’re each responsible for, and create a household budget. This can help reduce miscommunication and stress associated with role uncertainty.
Before merging finances, talk to your partner about shared expenses. In Bera’s millennial-focused practice, she often sees a “yours, mine, and ours” approach, in which couples maintain independent bank accounts in addition to a joint account used to pay household bills.
Tip for shared expenses: Talk before pulling the trigger on any big purchases like a car, couch, or a ten-day vacation.
5. Talk about the D-word
You knew this was coming up. Debt is a major factor in many people’s lives, and it’s important to discuss how you want to approach your use of credit as a couple. Take note of how your partner feels about the topic. It can sometimes be scary to talk about, but ultimately, talking can strengthen your finances, trust, and future together.
Talk about debt with the mindset of tackling it together. For instance, if you have superior credit, you might consider adding your partner to an existing credit card to help improve their credit score. Or if you both have high-interest debt, you might consider consolidating jointly.
It’s important to note that debt doesn’t always need to be avoided, though. Using credit responsibly can help enrich your life—investing in a home through a mortgage or a family member’s career through student loans are two possible examples. Credit cards can even be used to improve your credit score, as long as they don’t tempt you to spend irresponsibly and you pay the balance off every month to avoid paying interest. Using credit in wise ways alongside a partner can make doing so feel less daunting because the responsibility is shared.
6. Check in monthly
“Small and cordial check-ins—and disagreements—every so often about money can help avoid a big blow-up argument,” Ford says.
Ford recommends checking in at least once a month—especially during the beginning of a committed relationship with shared finances. If there are any problems, you’ll have an opportunity to tackle them head-on together. That feeling of achievement and overcoming obstacles can strengthen your bond.
7. Discuss the “what ifs”
In addition to checking in about where you are in the present, you should have regular chats about your future and big purchases down the road.
For example, if you’re planning on buying a house, it’s important to know each person’s credit history and to create an actionable plan for improving your scores over time so you can qualify for a mortgage with a better interest rate.
Keeping an eye on the future doesn’t just help with long-range financial planning; it’s also a great way to bond as a couple. Review your plans often and explore the wild “what ifs.” What hopes and dreams do you both share? As life changes, your goals and conversations will, too. But the more you talk about money with your partner, the more natural and loving the chats should become.
Conversations about money can be minefields if you avoid them until there’s a conflict. Turn to a financial advisor or a couples counselor to facilitate them if you need help or a way to start off on the right foot. Having a third party involved can help ease uncomfortable discussions and get the words flowing. No matter how the conversation starts, talking about money in your relationship can make it richer.