My partner and I have been together for about a year now, and we’re talking about moving in together. I think it’s essential to be open with each other about our finances — our budget, our earnings, our credit score, even our retirement plans. But they close up whenever we start talking about money. Any advice?
Well, dear reader, I could not agree with you more. When you move in with a partner, that’s usually when you’ll start splitting resources financially, and it is so much better to have that conversation before you sign the lease than after.
Money isn’t everything, but when it comes to couples, it’s consistently a top stressor. Whether you have too little, too much, mismatched financial goals or spending habits, combining finances or even splitting bills can be a minefield.
There are hundreds of ways to ask your partner about their finances (remind me to tell the story one day of how I asked a guy his credit score on the first date–– don’t recommend it), but whatever you do, don’t avoid the conversation.
Here are a few ways to talk to your partner about finances and a few red flags to look out for.
“How did you talk about money with your family?”
In my podcast episode on the psychological effects of money, I take you through a journaling prompt where I have you recall your very first money memory.
For some, this memory is sweet or funny, but for others, it’s a dark moment they’ve never accessed. I take my listeners through this prompt because it’s important to recover the memories of how your family handled finances. Experts say our beliefs about money are cemented by age 7 –– which means that you may have been carrying around a belief that’s been hindering (or helping) you financially for decades.
Sitting down for a conversation with your partner about their first money memories and how they remember finances being talked about in their home can shed light on how they may continue to process financial conversations moving forward.
Some common themes or even comments you might hear during this discussion:
- Secretive: “We don’t talk about it.”
- Shame: “Talking about money isn’t polite.”
- Budgeting: “Every dollar has its place.” / “We have no idea how much we have.”
- Poverty: “We don’t have enough.”
- Scarcity: “Money doesn’t grow on trees.” / “Only spend on necessities.”
- Morality: “Money is the source of all evil.” / “Don’t hoard wealth.”
- Sexist: “Women should not be the breadwinners or make more than their partners.”
A few of these might be ringing some bells for your personal experience. Sit down with your partner and talk about these money “messages” you heard as a child and how they might affect you today. You’ll learn a lot from this conversation on what financial triggers may be in your partnership’s future.
This is a good gateway into the conversation, and you’ll likely gain some compassion and understand where they’re coming from.
Set clear boundaries and expectations
After you learn a little more about their experience with money and some of their triggers, it’s an excellent time to set some boundaries around the conversation you’re hoping to have.
A good place to start is on the emotional level with affirmations like “we’re not here to judge each other” or “let’s create a plan where we both feel comfortable.”
I recommend planning ahead for your money date. Set a time, neutral place, and a clear expectation ahead of time for what you’d like to discuss and decide together. Here are some sample questions and prompts to help you get started:
- How would we prefer to pay our bills? Splitting or by category?
- What values do we have as a couple (dining out, vacations, pets, etc.)?
- What values do we have individually?
Before you sit down for your money date, visit my previous article on values-based spending if you’re unsure how to figure out your priorities!
Ways to split the bill
You may have already guessed where this was going, but remember, there are multiple ways to split the bills when it comes to cohabitating!
Some couples prefer an even 50/50 split so that everyone feels like they’re carrying their share of the financial burden. This method splits every bill in half, making it a simple way to handle dual finances.
More and more, couples opt to split their bills based on the percentage of income they’re bringing in. For instance, if you make $75,000 and your partner makes $55,000 a year, you might consider splitting the bills at 60/40 so that one person isn’t always paying a larger chunk of their income.
Another way to split bills is a mixture of even splits and segmented bills. Let’s say your partner really loves premier soccer, but the channel costs extra, and you’re always working during the matches. This could be a scenario where your partner pays a larger portion or all of the cable bill.
You can track your shared accounts in Personal Capital’s free financial tools. You can categorize expenses and get the big-picture view of how you’re spending and saving your money. Down the road, you can use the free tools to plan for your long-term goals together, like buying a house or paying for retirement. This is the tool I use every day to track my net worth and keep on the path toward my big money goals.
Potential red flags: how do they spend their money?
So you’re having your money date, and something feels off. Maybe your partner is saying they don’t have problems overspending, but you know they have massive credit card debt from their shoe collection. Or, perhaps they tell you they never budget and don’t have any idea what they’re spending or how much money they have.
Are these hard deal breakers? No. But they may prove to be stressors in the relationship as you begin to split bills and an abode.
A really common red flag is when someone’s actions don’t match their words –– whether it’s fibbing about debt, consistently downplaying overspending, hiding bills, or even ignoring them altogether.
Healthy partnerships require honesty and transparency. When you’re ready to move in with your significant other, having these frank conversations and evaluating if their words match their actions is essential.
Financial conversations are deeply personal, and having them with a romantic partner can be tricky the first go. Remember, honesty, trust, and transparency will go a long way in keeping a peaceful environment financially. A little empathy never hurts, either. We all come from different backgrounds, so give yourself a little space to see things from your partner’s perspective and invite them into yours as well.
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