How (and When) to Talk About Money in a New Relationship
Be it at work, a cocktail party, or a family reunion, talking about money can be awkward. But if you don't have "the talk" with the person you're dating, it has a sneaky way of coming back to bite you. According to a recent survey by SunTrust, finances are the leading cause of stress in relationships.
As uncomfortable as it may be, it’s important to talk about money with your significant other. That said, there’s a time and a place to bring it up, and “Tell me about your credit score” might not be the best second date conversation. Or is it? Liz Deziel, senior vice president with the Private Client Reserve of U.S. Bank, sheds some light on when to talk about money when you start dating someone new.
It's true you probably don’t want to share too much information on your second or even third date, but Deziel says it’s still important to start the conversation early. “Take advantage of the early part of your relationship to begin talking about money,” she says. “This is when you're both happy, curious, and kind to one another, and it will help you establish a pattern of calm, respectful dialogue about this hot-button topic.”
Starting early also curbs potential surprises down the road. Let’s say, for example, you’re carrying loads of student loan debt. It may be normal for you (and for many people), but your partner might be surprised by this. If he or she wants to take a luxurious vacation and your debt makes you feel uncomfortable doing so, that could be an awkward issue down the road. Lay it all out early, and you both know what to expect.
“If you're just having fun together and are not too serious yet, don't worry about having a big conversation,” Deziel says. “But pay attention to how your partner spends money. Then, when you have your first few conversations about finances, that's really time to pay attention.”
BRING IT UP ORGANICALLY
We often shy away from talking about money because we think it’s taboo—but it doesn’t have to be. And for the sake of your financial health, it probably shouldn’t be. “Make it normal to talk about money,” Deziel says. “Don't overthink it. People put it off, but that makes it a bigger deal. Aim for calm and casual.”
That said, you don’t want to start the conversation out of the blue. You might have gotten over the money taboo, but your partner may still find the subject uncomfortable, so it helps to ease into things.
“If one person has a certain level of spending in mind and the other disagrees, that opens up a natural opportunity to talk about money,” Deziel says. Another opportune time to bring it up? When you’re talking about goals. It’s easy to talk about the things we want to do in life—travel, switch careers, move to a different city. Typically, those goals require money, so it’s a natural segue into discussing your financial picture.
“Or schedule a time and place to talk about it if you prefer to keep this topic separate from normal interactions and not risk it potentially ruining a special date night,” Deziel says.
One last trick: Let pop culture lead the conversation. You could simply talk about a money podcast you enjoy listening to, an interesting financial article you've read, or an Oscar-winning movie and let the conversation flow from there.
COVER YOUR BASES
Once you get the conversation going, the goal is to get an idea of one another's financial picture. This means debt obligations, financial philosophies, budgeting goals, and so on.
As your relationship progresses, you’ll naturally disclose even more information. Overall, Deziel suggests covering the following topics:
Debt and assets
Savings goals (including debt goals)
Financial obligations to family members
Credit scores and histories
If you get to a point in your relationship where joining your accounts seems like a possibility, you especially want to know what you’re dealing with. The same goes for making any joint financial decisions, like moving in together (a financial commitment that entails more than just splitting the rent).
Revealing such personal, high stakes information can be emotionally charged—and nerve-wracking. “Let your partner know if you're nervous, because you don't want money to be a problem for your relationship," Deziel says. “And that the only reason you're nervous is that this relationship is so important to you.”
She adds that it’s crucial to approach the topic in the right way. “You want your partner to be honest, respectful, and welcome your questions or observations. Defensiveness, hiding things, and unwillingness to discuss financial decisions would be danger signs.”
KEEP THE CONVERSATION GOING
You’ve successfully discussed money in your new relationship and have a clear idea of each other’s financials—congrats! When your relationship gets more serious, it’s important to keep the conversation going and check in with each other periodically.
“Monthly is a good goal, even if it's just a quick mention from whoever is managing the finances about how things are looking that month. Did we spend too much? Couples need to decide what purchases necessitate a conversation," Deziel says.
You’ll find your own stride in talking about money, based on your own relationship. The important thing is to keep the lines of communication open so money doesn’t become a source of stress. “The key is that both partners feel heard, and feel that things are on track to meet the goals they've agreed to with their partner,” Deziel says.