You’re in an amazing relationship — you and your significant other have a lot in common, similar values, and they do the sweetest things (like leave you notes wishing you luck with a work meeting). But there’s one compatibility factor you and your partner need to have… and you may be missing it and not even know it. If you guessed “money,” you’re already one step ahead. According to a 2021 study of 1,713 couples conducted by Fidelity, one in five couples said that money is their greatest relationship challenge — yet only 54% of partners said they made day-to-day financial decisions jointly. And while 44% of partners said they argued about money at least occasionally, 24% said they were often frustrated by their partner’s money habits, but let it go for the sake of keeping the peace. But not talking about it can — and tends to — lead to bigger problems down the line.
“Money has always been considered one of the leading causes of divorce,” Dr. Sanam Hafeez, NYC neuropsychologist and director of Comprehend the Mind, tells TZR in an email. “Even if each partner has had a different approach to finances, there needs to be a strategic meeting of the minds so that the relationship does not cave as a result of financial differences that could have been worked out with a plan in place.” She says that having differing views on money can bring advantages and disadvantages to the partnership. “On the positive side, being in a relationship with someone who has an opposite view on handling their finances can give you insight into a different financial perspective,” she explains. “For example, if you’re a spender, you can teach your partner ways to look at money positively and allow yourself to splurge every once in a while. On the contrary, if you’re a saver, you can help your partner practice better saving habits in order to allow themselves to splurge without overspending.”
Speaking of which, in the Fidelity study, 34% of couples disagreed on whether they were “savers” or “spenders,” and, as you can imagine, not knowing the difference is not good. Hafeez says the downside about money-related conflicts is that they can eventually drive a wedge between you and your significant other. “Discussions need to be had on where/how discretionary income will be spent by both partners,” she says. This can include asking yourselves: What are your priorities as a couple? Home improvement? Vacations? Clothing? Fancy dinners? And you may want to sit down with a financial planner and invest some of that money, too. However, you may each have certain money deal-breakers that you simply can’t look past, she says, including your partner having a poor credit score, debt, a shopping or gambling addiction, spending more than they can afford (to keep up with their peers), hiding or lying about money, or avoiding discussing it. But how do you know if a money issue is solvable or a deal-breaker? Ahead, relationship and finance experts weigh in on how you and your significant other can become more financially compatible.
Set Money Rules
Stefanie O’Connell Rodriguez, personal finance expert for Discover and host of Real Simple’s Money Confidential podcast, says the key is getting on the same financial page as your partner and setting money-related rules. “This doesn't mean agreeing on everything,” she tells TZR in an email. “Rather, it means having an open line of communication regarding your finances and getting clear on whatever shared money rules, expectations, and goals you set as a couple.” For example, you may never think video games are a good use of money, and your significant other may think paying $15 for a cocktail is absurd, she explains, but you might both agree that you should be able to spend $200 apiece per month on whatever makes each of you happy.
But putting money rules into place doesn’t mean you have to tell your partner every time you spend $5 on a take-out coffee. “An example of a shared money rule might include something like a spending limit where you won't spend over a certain amount of money, like $500, without checking in with your partner first,” O’Connell Rodriguez says. “Another example of a shared money rule is that you won't lend a significant amount of money to a friend or family member without discussing it first. Or maybe you won't open up a new line of credit without talking it through with your partner.”
Set Money Expectations
In addition to money rules, you can also set some financial expectations, O’Connell Rodriguez says, like how much you'll each contribute to a shared savings or checking account each month. A recent survey from Discover found the pandemic prompted 71% of Americans to consider saving more than they had previously. If that’s true for you and your partner, you might decide to both deposit your paychecks into one shared account and set expectations around how much you'll each spend on individual discretionary expenses from it.
Shelly-Ann Eweka, senior director, financial planning strategy at TIAA, adds that a potential solution could be for each person to contribute to a joint account, but also have individual accounts. “The couple would then decide how much gets allocated to their combined account and how much each person can keep for themselves,” she tells TZR in an email. “Each person might have different financial plans, but both people need to stay informed of what the other one is doing.”
O’Connell Rodriguez says another money expectation could address how frequently you'll sit down with your partner to review your financial plans and discuss any proposed changes — and keep in mind that these plans and expectations can, and likely, will change over time. “For example, if one partner loses their income following a layoff, it's important to identify how that changes your shared money rules and expectations to avoid feelings of fear, shame, or resentment,” she says. “Overall, the key isn't which system you use — it's having a shared expectation and commitment to whichever one you pick.”
Create — And Stick To — A Budget And Money Goals
Angela Holliday, president of Frost Brokerage Services, Inc. and Frost Investment Services, LLC, says you and your partner need to be on the same page with budgeting. “Your income levels may or may not be comparable, but either way, look at both your income and expenses,” she tells TZR in an email. “Having a budget helps determine pain points and how to allocate per expense.” And she says not to forget to determine how often you’re going to sit down and have conversations to review your budget, as well as decide who will be responsible for making sure payments are taken care of.
On a related note, O’Connell Rodriguez stresses that it's important to set longer-term money goals with your partner, too. “Identifying the shared things you're working toward can make more challenging and uncomfortable conversations around shared finances easier to approach,” she says. “In fact, this is the way my husband and I first joined our finances. We used the goal of paying for our wedding in cash to set a shared savings goal and open our first joint savings account. Then we set expectations around how much we'd each contribute each month as we worked toward our wedding savings goal.”
She says when talking about money with your partner, especially early on, it's important to take into account that you two likely grew up with very different money experiences — from what you each heard about money growing up to the ways you saw your parents use money to the ways you were taught (or not taught) about certain financial tools and habits. Jason Polk, couples therapist at Colorado Relationship Recovery, seconds that. “Often, where we come from around money is a result of our upbringing,” he tells TZR in an email. “A scarcity mindset can be the result of having had parents who worried a lot about money. Or the opposite — your parents spent beyond their means and little was left over.” With an abundance mindset, on the other hand, maybe money was never an issue growing up, he explains. “However, a potential drawback could be that someone never learned how to limit themselves (and experience the discomfort of limits), which is important for being balanced around money,” he adds.
Steven M. Sultanoff, PhD, clinical psychologist, professor at Pepperdine University, and founder of MyCEMatters.com, also stresses the importance of being honest when it comes to how you each broach money. “When beliefs around money conflict, it can lead to many issues in relationships,” he tells TZR in an email. “For example, let’s say a couple has separate credit cards and each pays for their own. While one may believe keeping a credit card balance is a ‘bad’ thing, the other may then ‘secretly’ keep a balance. When that is revealed, there can be a rupture in the relationship.” He adds that financial “secrets” kept when a couple is not on the same page can lead to disruption — not only because of the conflict in financial management, but also because one individual is now deceiving the other.
At The End Of The Day, It’s All About Compromising
Stef Safran of Stef and the City, “Chicago's matchmaker and dating coach,” says no one is ever going to be on the same exact financial page. “People want different things and see things differently,” she tells TZR in an email. This is where it becomes important to be in agreement on some of the bigger-purchase items, like owning or renting a home, owning or leasing a car, and how to pay down debt (school and credit card), she explains. Plus, you need to anticipate unexpected expenses, such as job loss, helping out your parents/family, and illness. It can also be beneficial to work with a financial advisor or mediator to help you compromise and negotiate. “It should be mandatory to go to some sort of class to deal with money, sex, and negotiation before you get married or partner-up,” she says. Polk adds that the purpose of being in a relationship is the fact that you two are stronger together. “You two not only combine emotional (support) and physical (affection) resources, but also financial one,” he says. “We have many things to worry about these days, and if couples can take finances off the list, they will have more energy for life and other problems.”