When assessing a potential long-term partner, many factors must be considered. Their values, emotional management, political leanings — and so much more. One facet that sometimes gets glossed over in new relationships is the subject of money. While you don’t want to kill the vibe by inquiring how much student debt they have on the first date, it is a subject that should be discussed early on.
We all have different relationships with money. Some of us are cautious-minded savers, others are profligate spenders. Some are always padding their rainy day fund; others can’t resist purchasing new stuff every paycheck. When you’re in a relationship, it’s paramount to find out how your partner operates when it comes to money — because if the relationship continues for the long haul, it will come up. A lot. Here’s how to lay the foundation for ongoing financial intimacy.
Do it early on (and ramp up gradually)
It’s easy to let the subject of money slide due to discomfort. But if you want to avoid a large, emotional misunderstanding down the line, cut to the chase early on. Within your first few weeks or months of dating, start asking questions to uncover their financial situation. It can begin casually with questions like, “Are you more of a saver or a spender?” or “Do you pay attention to the stock market?” or “What’s your favourite thing to splurge on?” to get a glimpse into their general money perceptions, and ramp up to more specific questions about their credit score, salary, and debt as time passes.
Keep in mind, disclosure isn’t a one-way street. Be prepared to share your own behaviours, habits, debts, and financial history, in due time.
Give advance notice
While some conversations will arise organically, if they don’t, make it known you want to have a conversation involving money. Rather than ambushing them over sushi with, “So, how much do you contribute to your 401(k) every month?” try something like, “When we have some free time next week, I’d love to touch base on this money goal I’m working towards and get your thoughts.”
Ask about their childhood
We all come with a money “story”or particular set of beliefs and fears around the green stuff that we absorbed from our families while growing up. Asking how they were raised is one of the easiest ways to gain insight into their attitudes about money. Some grew up in households where discount shopping reigned, every receipt was saved, and Ziploc bags were washed and re-used. Others were allowed to spend hundreds on trendy clothes for the first day of school and went to a different island every winter break.
To find out more about the money attitudes they absorbed, ask questions like: How was money handled when you were growing up? Were you encouraged to save from a young age? Did your parents give you money when you went to the mall, or did you have to use your own? Did they fight about money often? Where did your family take vacations?
Use a personal financial goal to start the conversation
To make it more subtle and less awkward, use one of your own money goals to get the conversation going. Share your desire to get better at budgeting, save enough that you can quit your job to freelance, pay down debt, or buy a new car. Saying something like, “I’m working towards saving enough to make this down payment. Do you have any suggestions?” can open up a candid conversation and lend insight into their money behaviours without putting them on the spot. This can (and should) eventually segue into questions about their short-term and long-term financial goals.
Ask hypothetical “what if” questions
If it’s early on in a new relationship, or you’re not sure where to start, try framing questions as “what if” scenarios to get an idea of where their financial opinions stand. Things like: What if you wont the lottery — what would you do with the money? Would you rather spend your life at a job you don’t love but pays really well, or one you’re passionate about, but will never make you rich? If you had to save 50% of your salary one year, how would you do it?
But also ask real-world questions…
Some conversations will revolve around general opinions and attitudes about money, others should be designed to reveal answers to specific questions you have. Whether you want to know if they save for retirement, ever gamble, have an emergency fund, how often they invest in the stock market, or simply their daily spending habits, devise those questions beforehand. These specifics will round out the more general picture you’re getting of their overall relationship with money.
Mention an article or statistics
As millennial money expert Allison Kade told Business Insider, “Admittedly, it’s a little awkward to say, ‘Let’s have a money conversation — bring your credit score and bank statements.’ But if you want to understand where your partner stands financially, you can take some of the heat off yourself by foisting the attention on someone else and say, ‘I read this online article about having a money talk with your partner. Why don’t we just play along and try it out?’”
Seeing as how money disagreements and “financial incompatibility” are one of the leading causes of divorce, it’s a topic that shouldn’t be ignored.
Discuss future real-life scenarios
While you won’t want to do this in the first month of dating, as you get more serious and begin to broach subjects like marriage and children, don’t give money short shrift. This is the time to get specific on how the two of you would handle money as a long-term team, with questions like:
- “When you’re married, do you want to keep a joint family account, separate personal accounts, or both?”
- “If you wanted to make a large purchase, would you consult your spouse beforehand?”
- “How do you feel about setting joint financial goals?”
- “If your kids wanted to do an extracurricular or take a trip you couldn’t afford, what would you do?”
- “What age would you ideally like to retire?”
Have regular money talks
A couple’s discussion about finances should never be a one-off. Once you’ve laid the foundation for open and honest communication about money, make it a habit. If you’re living together, engaged, or married, set up monthly “money dates” to review bills, budgeting, spending and savings, or large purchases. You can use the time to review current expenditures, air any worries, discuss goals, and create long-term financial plans.
But, as relationship counselor Pater Saddington told The Guardian, try to keep the dates brief, ideally about 20 minutes. “This will make it more likely you’ll stick to the points and avoid old arguments. Limiting the time potentially avoids it becoming a heated conversation, and don’t have the discussion late at night, or when you’ve been drinking alcohol.”