Here are three tips on how to approach early money conversations with a future partner, based on my own marriage and the experience of coaching many women toward financial independence, pre-marriage and post-divorce.
Initiate Money Conversations Early, Even If They’re Uncomfortable
You don’t have to get into the deepest level of detail on the first date, but when it gets serious enough that you’re considering a long-term future, you can make it less awkward by prefacing your questions with statements that don’t feel judgmental.
Here are some questions you can use to open up the conversation with a more positive spin:
- Are you saving up for anything special? Why is that important to you?
- What’s your favorite thing to spend money on? What don’t you like to spend money on?
- What did your family teach you about money?
- Do you invest? Why do you like investing in that?
- I sometimes worry about money. Is there anything in your money that worries you?
- Debt can be really hard to deal with. What do you think about debt?
A survey of U.S. couples explored their relationship with finances and found that 32% of Americans keep a financial secret from their partner. A surprising 50% do not plan to ever share this financial secret.
I’ve never met someone who didn’t carry around some sort of shame or guilt around money and was completely comfortable talking about the topic, including my husband when we first started dating.
Know Your Own Numbers and Financial Independence Goals To Communicate Them With Confidence
I specifically work with female students in my financial education coaching to build confidence because they’re often afraid they sound like they are bragging.
According to Pew Research, 29% of marriages today have both spouses earning about the same amount and 16% have a breadwinner wife. Yet I still see a lot of women leaving financial decision-making to the husbands, and I rarely meet a new student who has their own financial numbers down cold.
Before you expect a potential partner to share the ins and outs of their finances with you, it’s in both your best interests to be clear about what yours look like by calculating your total net worth, keeping it in a secure location, and making regular updates.
With these numbers readily available, both you and your partner can have more direct and fact-based money conversations about each of your unique situations and mix of accounts.
Budget Together, Even If You Don’t Share Expenses
When I first started as a financial coach, I squarely believed married couples should combine finances, no matter what. But as I’ve worked with more diverse couples over the years, that might not make sense for credible reasons including past trauma, significant asset differences, or learning to rebuild trust after it’s been broken.
I coached a couple who has been together close to 20 years, and because the wife was raised by a single mom, she was used to keeping her own finances. Instead of forcing them to combine all their accounts, we focused on areas of their separate budgets where they could share solutions or make decisions together, like an upcoming vacation or gifts for the holidays.
That couple has since paid off all their credit card debt, a car, and almost $20,000 in student loans without having one budget together.
Even if you are doing two separate budgets, sitting down together regularly as accountability partners can provide transparency not just on how much your partner’s income is but how much your significant other spends. It also creates a recurring dialogue about priorities and stresses, and to sharing solutions with one another on how to fix them.
Don’t Ignore Gender And Racial Wealth Gaps
It’s important for both partners to also acknowledge that while women have made great strides in their finances, there is still a big gap when it comes to both pay and total wealth. I’ve personally witnessed women of color, me included, feeling ashamed for not making as much or owning as much as our partners. In truth, there’s still a long way to go to have an even financial playing field.
According to Harvard Business Review, “In the United States, women who work year-round earn somewhere near 82 cents for every dollar earned by men — but they only own about 32 cents for every dollar of wealth owned by their male counterparts. Both of these gaps are far more acute for black and Latina women.”
Acknowledge that it might be difficult for both of you to open up about money at first, especially with other factors that you cannot control like inflation, recession and volatility causing money stress.
I strongly recommend sharing your money story, and asking your partner to share details with you early and often. This will help create a relationship in which you can share financial decisions in the long term.
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