What are you doing for your partner for Valentine’s Day? Going to a candlelit dinner at a favorite steakhouse? Buying a box of chocolates or a dozen long-stemmed roses, or perhaps dusting off the lingerie that’s been tucked away in the bottom drawer for the last 364 days? Or are you and your partner the type of couple that thinks Valentine’s Day is corporate propaganda designed to brainwash the masses into buying sh*t we don’t really need? (There’s no right answer here.)
Whether or not you choose to celebrate Valentine’s Day in a way that can be digested or discarded, why not gift your partner a conversation about your financial future? I’m a finance geek and therefore not your average Romeo or Juliet, but it would really rev my engine if my partner whispered the following sweet nothings into my ear: “I love our life together; let’s sit down and financially map this out so we can make sure it can continue.”
Considering that couples fight about money more than any other topic and that it’s a leading cause of relationship stress, lack of intimacy, and divorce, a money conversation is actually the greatest gift that you can give your partner and your future together. Flowers won’t fix a relationship built on a crumbly foundation of financial trust and understanding. Here are five tips for having the money conversation and what to keep in mind as you create your joint financial roadmap.
1. Set Aside a Dedicated Time to Talk Money
No need to have this conversation on Valentine’s Day or on date night. As a couple, it’s smart to isolate your tough conversations to times specifically dedicated to those conversations. This will help you avoid ruining what should be a fun night out, of which are also important for a healthy relationship! Similarly, initiating the conversation while one of the two of you is in the heat of an angry money moment is unlikely to result in true progress.
Both parties should do their best to enter into the conversation in a calm and open state, not one of obligation, frustration, or defensiveness. Simply remembering that regular, healthy money talks are one of the greatest things you can do for your relationship will help keep this in perspective. If you and your partner cannot have a mutually rational discussion about money, it may be a bad sign for the staying power of the relationship.
2. Talk About Your Money Histories
People formulate their money habits and feelings early in life, and continue to develop this intensely personal relationship through adolescence and young adulthood. Much of our opinion on money can be traced back to how our parents or caretakers dealt with money, whether we grew up with or without money, and so on. Even something like a grandparent’s distrust of financial institutions or a best friend’s obsession with status symbols could imbue our opinions of money and how best to manage it.
If you’re interested in a long-term relationship with your partner, you’ll need this context in order to be fair and empathetic, and to devise the best solutions to the money disagreements you’ll inevitably have. From a pragmatic and planning standpoint, you and your partner need to understand one-another’s balance sheets—including both active debts and assets, credit scores and history, and annual salaries.
3. Share Your Financial Goals
This one might seem obvious, but it isn’t. Not everyone’s goal is to own a house, two cars, and have two kids (yes, kids are a financial goal). Share goals with your partner to get on the same page before you devise a financial plan.
Sometimes, it can be difficult or even embarrassing to share financial dreams, especially if they feel too out of reach given your current financial situation. The same could be true if you think your financial goals are more basic than your partners, such as learning how to budget. To make an easy and thoughtful segue into the conversation, try writing down your goals on index cards, alternate reading them out loud, and discussing each.
4. Do the Calculations and Prioritize
Once you’ve had the talk about financial goals, it is time to devise a plan. Put a dollar figure on each financial goal, and calculate how many years it would realistically take to achieve that goal. For example, if you want to save up for a down payment, how much will that cost and how long will it take? Break all costs into years and months. If you want to buy a house in five years putting down $75,000 CAD, this means saving $15,000 per year or $1,250 a month. Is this feasible given your incomes and your other financial goals? You will only know if you line each of these figures up to one another.
Related: How to achieve your financial goals
If you’re like the majority of people in the world, money trade-offs and sacrifices will need to be made. Maybe you need to cut big vacations while you save up for a wedding, agree to forgo dining out to pay off credit card debt, or commit to renting while you build up an emergency fund and improve your credit scores. Prioritizing together will help you avoid disagreements later.
5. Discuss Common Money Dealbreakers and Rift-Makers
There’s some disagreement about whether money problems actually lead to divorce, or if money is just the scapegoat for deeper problems of insecurity, imbalance, or control. I’m a firm believer that every relationship is nuanced and therefore there is no correct answer to this, but we can all agree that money touches nearly everything we deal with in life. To ignore this or to think that your relationship is above common money traps is unhelpful at best and harmful at worst.
Here are a few common problems for which to have honest and open conversations about:
-Power dynamics within relationships, especially if one of the two of you works or one does more housework
-The shame and guilt of being the partner with debt, the resentment of being the partner without it
-Misaligned goals or values, such as one person wanting to save while the other prefers to spend
-Mental health issues that involve money, such as addiction or depression due to debt
-What happens during a financially stressful life event, such as caring for a sick parent or loss of a job
-The best way to invest for the future, and how to put this plan into action
-The finances of raising children. It’s not always straightforward and there’s much room to disagree
-One partner is uncomfortable giving the other partner financial autonomy or control over joint finances
The last example is a trademark of abusive relationships. So is being unwilling to speak in a calm and rational way about any of the above topics. We have all made money mistakes! And while past money mistakes are not necessarily a deal-breaker, being unwilling to improve or to speak openly about finances might be. Use your best judgment, be kind to your partner, and know that issues won’t be fixed in one meeting nor will financial goals automatically be achieved. But you are doing the right thing by putting your relationship on a path to a healthy, successful financial partnership.
6. Be Open to Getting Help
Money is complicated and sometimes an objective party can do wonders for a couple’s money communication. Just like anything worthwhile in life, money and relationships require hard work and learning. It’s okay to admit that you’re unsure of the best path forward or to know what makes most sense to work on first. It would behoove many couples to seek assistance through financial planning services or money counseling. Never be afraid to ask for more help!