Of all the intimate conversations between two partners, many find that money is one of the trickiest subjects to address. For some couples, it's a hot-button issue; for others, a source of vulnerability. But with disagreements about finances being a leading cause of divorce, it's essential for you to learn how to discuss money with your partner and get on the same page before taking the relationship to the next level.
"Money is symbolic of many emotional needs [like] safety and power," explains Noah Clyman, clinical director of NYC Cognitive Therapy, a private practice in Manhattan. "What is most important is that you work as a team on understanding what money means for each of you, and that you express your concerns, needs, and fantasies to each other regarding money."
So, at what point in a relationship should you initiate these talks? "The time to begin discussing finances is when you both agree that you are committed to the relationship," Clyman advises. "It does not matter if you are married, live together, nor is there a requisite number of months or years you need to be together before this happens. How couples arrive at the realization that they are serious and committed is a personal choice, and can vary widely."
The conversation is different for everyone, but there are a few ways to ensure that it goes as smoothly as possible. Ahead, real-life couple and SoFi members Jhanilka Hartzog, LMHC, LPC, NCC, and Anthony Hartzog of Mr.DeleteTheDebt.com, give their best tips for talking about finances with your S.O. Married in May 2016, they began being honest about money before tying the knot, and have kept the discussion open ever since.
Have A "Dreamer Conversation"
Instead of diving right into the stressful side of money — i.e., debt, bills, etc. — Anthony suggests easing into the topic on a more positive note. "I would start with a 'dreamer conversation': Where do you want to be in a few years, physically [and] emotionally? That is a good ice-breaker."
He continues, "If it goes south, which it may, inform your partner that these [goals] are important to you. Maybe put the conversation down for a bit ... but the longer you wait, the harder it will be."
What's more, this conversation will also be a good indicator of whether your lifelong goals are similar — or miles apart.
Cover The Basics
Anthony notes that financial obligations such as spousal support, medical bills, how much money you make, and what you have in the bank should all be out on the table. And when it comes to your partner's debt, he says, "you don’t want to learn about this right before you go make a huge purchase [together]."
Set & Achieve A Short-Term Goal
Both Anthony and Jhanilka say that their chats about cash really gained momentum when they decided to take action. "I got motivated to talk more [about money] when we were planning for the wedding," Anthony recalls. "Our first financial win was when we saved up and cash-flowed our wedding. Seeing that we were able to accomplish that goal once we combined our efforts ... from there, we took off." Jhanilka agrees, saying, "When we were able to fund our wedding that had over 250 people with just savings, we realized that we are a power couple and could do more than expected."
After their nuptials, the newlyweds decided to tackle their debt. "Once we started to see the amount of money we had when we budgeted, or the amount of money we could have if we had no debt, [paying it off] became a game."
If a wedding isn't in your immediate future, try working together toward something smaller, like the purchase of a piece of furniture, the security deposit on an apartment, or an emergency fund. One way or another, you'll learn how to check in with each other as you start making headway.
Discuss Your Long-Term Goals
Defining the long-term goals you have together — from figuring out where you want to live to determining how much debt you're comfortable carrying — will give you an idea of how much you'll need to support your lifestyle. Jhanlka adds that it's important to discuss how many kids you want (or if you want them at all), whether you'll send them to daycare, and how you'll plan for these costs. "This will be an ongoing conversation, but definitely [begin it] before marriage," she adds.
Decide Who's Responsible For What
Jhanlka points out that another topic to hash out is "household duties," or who's responsible for what, financially. Some questions that should be addressed: "Is the couple splitting the bills in half equally, or are they going to pay specific bills? Are they going to have a joint account to pay everything, or is everything going to stay separate?" She asks. "[Discuss] the amount of debt each person has, spending habits ... is your significant other the type to shop every week, or do they buy Starbucks every day? Some may say Starbucks is [a small expense], but it all adds up."
Create A Budget
Yes, one person's caramel macchiato may be another person's savings contribution. So before merging your lives (and money) together, consider coming up with a budget that you can both agree on. "Budgeting has changed our life," says Jhanilka. "Many people will tell you, if you want to save, cut expenses ... which can be true, but for us, we still wanted to live life how we were. So, we increased our income instead, and it has worked out great for us."
Be Willing To Compromise
Even the most in-sync couples disagree sometimes, and this can be especially true when it comes to finances. Jhanilka and Anthony acknowledge that they each had to make some compromises, but at the end of the day, they were still working toward the same goal. "I didn't want to give up having fun while paying off debt," explains Jhanilka. "Anthony's thoughts were, 'The quicker you get this out the way, you can have all the fun you want.' Compromise became part of the game."
And as savvy as they are, Jhanilka admits that there have been times when their budget meetings got tense. Their solution? "We would end it and discuss again another day," she says.
Make It Feel Casual
Talking about cash is stressful enough, so Jhanilka and Anthony recommend lightening the mood by creating an atmosphere that's relaxed, or even fun. "When discussing money, it doesn't always have to be serious," Jhanilka points out. "It [can] include brunch, date night, traveling, activities, etc. With anything, the more you do it, the more comfortable you will become."
Anthony adds that making money talks part of your everyday conversation also takes the pressure off. "Do not make it awkward and [begin the conversation] out of no where." Further, he adds that the transparency has made their marriage stronger. "Not having to worry about being afraid to speak about money has become normal for us. If half or more divorces are due to finances, God willing, that should never be a problem for us."