4 conversations to have about money before taking your relationship to the next level
- You and your partner should discuss how you view money, says licensed therapist Patrice Douglas.
- Debt, spending, and how you’ll split bills and bank accounts should be part of the conversation.
- Be honest with yourself about whether money issues will be a deal breaker down the line.
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If you’re thinking about taking your relationship to the next level, it’s important to have the conversation about money. In fact, you’ll probably want to have more than one conversation — but you have to start somewhere.
As unromantic as that may sound, it’s a step you don’t want to skip. Insider talked to licensed marriage and family therapist Patrice N. Douglas to get the four most important conversations about money to have with your partner, and how to approach them.
1. Does your partner have debt? And if so, how did they get here?
While you may not be responsible for debts your partner incurs before marriage, spending habits that caused them to compile high-interest debt, like credit card debt, it could be a sign of how they will continue to behave in the future. Before coming to any conclusions, Douglas recommends having the conversation about what debts your partner has and how they incurred those debts.
“All debt is not bad debt,” Douglas says. For example, a student loan is considered a good debt because getting an education has the potential of increasing your net worth, and debt that’s relatively low compared to income generally isn’t a red flag.
On the other hand, debt could come from purchasing an out-of-budget luxury vehicle, or going on shopping sprees or expensive vacations that they can’t afford. Bad debt like this typically comes from high-interest credit cards or private loans used to purchase products or services that depreciate in value over time.
It’s also important to ask how long ago they acquired that debt. If it’s an old debt they are working to pay off, it could be a lesson learned. However, if they’re still piling up the debt, then Douglas says that’s another thing to consider.
She encourages couples to take financial literacy classes or enlist the help of a financial planner who can assist with the process of organizing finances. This is also an opportunity for you to address your own debts if you have them, or learn how to save and invest.
2. What purchases are important to your partner?
You and your partner may value things differently. You may enjoy spending money on quality cloths, while your partner may prefer to save up for a vacation. That’s why Douglas says it’s important to understand what needs or items your partner values. Once each partner’s priorities are understood, you can talk about finding ways of using money as a tool to create a life you both want and can enjoy as a couple.
Knowing why something matters to your partner makes it easier to find a compromise. For instance, if they have a long commute to work, an expensive car that is comfortable and durable may be essential for them. But if you spend a lot of time at home, your partner may be willing to consider a different neighbourhood where you could get more home for your budget.
3. Are you comfortable with having separate accounts?
Some couples choose to combine their finances completely, but for couples that have financial differences, Douglas says having separate accounts can help avoid tension in a relationship. Talking about what you and your partner prefer can help you reach a solution that fits both of you, while easing some of your concerns.
One option could be having a joint account where both partners contribute money to pay household bills, but also keep a separate account for their own personal purchases.
A second option may be that each partner has their own account and bills are split based one who will cover what. For example, one partner can have the mortgage withdrawn out of their account, while the other can cover utilities and household expenses. “It’s a healthy way to not let financial responsibilities affect your relationship,” Douglas says.
4. Is money a deal breaker?
This conversation starts with yourself, Douglas says. Before going to your partner to have the money talk, you need to establish whether your partner’s money habits could potentially be a deal breaker for you, now or down the line. Be specific: What’s acceptable? What’s not? Are you OK with your partner gambling? How about keeping an account you don’t know about? Does it matter if they make big purchases without talking to you? How big is too big?
This includes reflecting back on your past. If you’ve been in traumatic situations around money, you may need to do some reflecting. Douglas says unless you address that and work through it for yourself, it may impact your relationship.
“Sometimes people get into relationships where it’s uncomfortable, but they love their partner and they don’t want to disappoint them,” Douglas says. “Because the issue is not resolved, they end up growing resentful and it creates turmoil in the relationship.”
Once you’re clear about any deal breakers around money, communicate those terms with your partner. Being honest with your partner and yourself can help you both take the right steps so that you can be present in your relationship rather than preoccupied and concerned about money.
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