“Together, or separate bills?”
You can get a sneak peek into your partner’s financial values on the first date. Of course, that won’t tell you the whole picture. Do they take you to an extravagant restaurant and cover a $500 bill? They could be successful and enjoy life in the moment — or they could be reckless with their money.
Fast forward a few years, and finances could feel tricky to discuss with your partner. Maybe you’ve built resentment over their compounding debts, stingy budgets, or lack of alignment with your goals for the future.
Money doesn’t ruin relationships, but a lack of communication, transparency and aligned expectations around money certainly can.
Bottom line? Financial intimacy is just as important as every other type of relationship intimacy. We’ll cover how to discuss finances with your partner, why it’s important, and how to build financial wellness as a couple.
1. Start early
Debts and investments aren’t exactly romantic topics, especially on the first few dates. But that doesn’t mean you should avoid financial topics altogether. You’ll find that financial values are actually quite intertwined with other life values, and you should discover those early in the relationship.
One of our clients described feeling shocked at a past flame discussing prenuptial agreements on date #2. Sure, prenups can be a tense topic. And perhaps the conversation could have been approached with more grace.
But this kind of transparency is key to finding a partner whose values align with yours. Imagine hearing the prenup talk five years into a relationship when considering marriage. That lack of communication could damage the relationship dramatically.
Still, you might need help discussing financial values with a newer partner. We love millennial money expert Allison Kade’s “what if” psychology. She tells Business Insider that asking “what ifs” could help you understand your partner’s “underlying psychology” about money.
She includes examples like:
“What if you won the lotto — what would you do with the money?”
“Would you rather work 90-hour weeks with an impressive salary or 20-hour weeks just coasting by?”
You might learn a thing or two.
2. Learn from each other
Everyone has different financial experiences depending on their personality, upbringing, cultural values, employment and entrepreneurial histories, etc.
Think of financial discussions as a way to learn about each other, and from each other. For example, you could discuss how you grew up with money.
Did your parents give you an allowance?
When did you get a part-time job?
What were your parents’ attitudes about money?
You might reflect on your past experiences with money and learn new lessons, or maybe even decide how you’d approach financial education when you have children.
One couple we talked to described having a completely different financial education growing up. The wife was taught just to save, save, save, while the husband learned early how important investing was. When she saw her mutual fund investment dip down $1,000, she immediately wanted to sell, cut her losses, and put everything else in the bank. Through her partner, she became more comfortable with the fluctuations of investments, and ultimately kept and grew her investments over time.
3. Schedule financial conversations
Say you confront your partner about their high debt out of nowhere — they might feel attacked. One way to avoid that stress is to plan time for financial conversations intentionally.
Money dates, anyone? You’re sipping on a Moscow Mule at a cozy cocktail bar, and your partner serenades you with credit card statements, RRSP performance, and spending comments. Go on a money date at least once a month to check in on your financial progress, goals, and sentiments.
Bruce Sellery, CEO of Credit Canada, chatted about scheduled money talks with financial therapist Erika Wasserman on the Moolala: Money Made Simple podcast.
“Pick a goal for that meeting and have an agenda.”
And when things get heated?
“Come up with a code word; pineapple, palm tree. If this becomes overwhelming for me, I’m going to use this word and step away for ten minutes or an hour, or whatever it is, then come back to the conversation.”
But what conversations will you have? Spending habits, credit card debt repayment plans, and investment goals are common topics. Credit Canada’s free online expense tracker and budget spreadsheet is a useful tool to kick off these conversations.
But we recommend you start with the elephants in the room.
4. Discuss income disparities
The ostensible 50/50 model isn’t usually equitable. Why? Because while one partner might make more money in the relationship, the other might provide value in other areas. Plus, you can’t fall for the misconception that a higher income deems one partner more worthy of making decisions in the family.
Bruce and Erika touched upon the value of both paid and unpaid labour.
“Write down everything. Write down a task, and assign a value to it,” Erika suggests.
Think of the stay-at-home mom. Sure, she doesn’t have income coming in. But she takes care of the two toddlers so the family doesn’t have to pay for childcare services. In fact, that contribution presents even more value!
“If you don’t have childcare, you can’t go to work, which means you can’t pay for the mortgage,” Erika says.
“Financially equal means you both have a voice. If you have someone high-power earning a ton of money, but who doesn’t have someone on the other end supporting them, [they’re] not going to win in life either.”
So, what does financial equality look like in your relationship? The truth is, it’s different for everyone. One common financial model is the percentage-based approach. Instead of paying 50/50, the couple pays a percentage aligned with their income, a strategy Erika tells us works for many of her clients.
Personal finance writer Jackie Lam writes in this Intuit article that clarity on payment splits is especially imperative if you’re moving in together.
“Suss out how you plan on managing shared expenses,” Jackie advises. “Will you split the rent and bills equally or come up with another arrangement? Do you plan on opening a joint account, and if you do, will you also have separate accounts?
In other words? Figure out who pays what and feel confident about it.
5. Determine shared financial goals
What does the future look like? Maybe it’s a vacation home for you and your partner to visit every year. Or, it’s a robust college fund for your future children and a paid-off mortgage. Hopefully, your dream future aligns with your partner.
“Pick a goal. If you’re looking to save up for a house or a car, put a picture of that up,” Erika says. “Put it by the front door!”
And imagine that rewarding feeling once you reach one of those goals. You’ll feel accomplished and closer to your partner.
Get support with your relationship finances when you need it
Don’t get us wrong; financial discussions aren’t always easy. They might cause stress, tension, and arguments with your partner. But the more you practice communicating with honesty and intention, the easier it becomes.
You might discover that you’re not financially aligned with your partner. It happens – financial incompatibility is one of the leading causes of divorce.
Still, you might just need a helping hand. Credit Canada’s certified credit counsellors have helped tons of Canadian couples navigate their financial life and address burdensome debt. If you need support, there’s no shame in asking for help. Contact a certified credit counsellor!