Our modern culture is obsessed with love. We talk about falling in love, falling out of love, fighting for love and dying for love. However, we don’t often talk about what it really takes to keep love alive — and money management has huge ramifications for serious relationships.
There are several reasons why many lovers find themselves shipwrecked over money matters. Speaking frankly about money is a cultural taboo in many social circles. Some people communicate poorly through financial difficulties, leaving their children few positive examples of how to discuss money with their partners. Others may feel financially behind in their careers or personal lives, adding a layer of shame that contributes to toxic silence.
But what’s the risk of staying silent in a relationship when it comes to financial management?
For starters, your relationship will almost certainly be in jeopardy at some point if you cannot agree on how your resources should be managed. Research shows that financial disagreements are the strongest predictors for divorce amongst both women and men, with adults between ages 18 to 54 almost twice as likely to cite finances as the dominant stressor in comparison with adults 55 and over.
Mismanaged finances also create additional strain on any relationship, whether you’re fighting over emergency funds, health issues and medical bills, or simply trying to decide if you can afford a vacation or new car this year.
So how can couples navigate their financial communication into safe waters?
- Establish a safe zone where money discussions are involved. Let your partner share their thoughts without judgment, just like you want them to do for you in turn. And be honest with each other about where you fall on the spend/save spectrum.
As a silver lining, the skills you learn from healthy financial discussions will positively influence other aspects of your relationship as well — and vice versa. Experts say that couples who constructively communicate with each other tend to find better success when discussing money matters.
- Speak frankly with each other about your past financial history, as well as your personal ideology around money. How did your parents handle money, and what aspects of their mindset did you inherit? What would you like to change about your current habits, and what do you think you’re doing right?
- Work with each other to create a financial system together. It doesn’t have to work for other people; it just needs to work for the two of you. Be honest about all debts, as well as how much personal privacy you want on financial matters.
For some couples, it might make sense to consolidate all expenses onto a single credit card or two, to maximize rewards and help each other build credit. For others, going cash-only might be the best option. And for yet others, maintaining separate bank accounts might make sense.
- Understand that one of you may need or want a little additional financial security. For example, someone who grew up in a family that lived paycheck to paycheck may feel more comfortable with an emergency fund that can cover nine to 12 months’ worth of expenses, while the other partner may feel comfortable with just three to six months’ worth of expenses put away for a rainy day.
No matter where your partner is coming from, don’t use shame to get your way. Instead, try to communicate your perspective and find common ground for compromise.
- Schedule regular check-ins to make sure you’re still on track — and make them fun. “Talk money to me” doesn’t have to be a scary statement. Set aside a day of the month to check in with each other, and make your discussion time more like a date night than a chore. Bust out a nicer bottle of wine, order in some food and make a great night out of it.
And if you pick a regular day, such as Wednesday evenings or the second payday of each month, you can schedule your financial date nights in advance. Building a consistent check-in habit not only gives you something to anticipate, it also keeps you from falling behind on financial goals because you ran out of time or forgot to plan around life.
- Determine how hands-on you want to be in your money management. If one partner is passionate about stocks and investments, perhaps the other can balance the books for household expenses. If you both hate managing money, it might make sense to budget for a financial advisor or an accountant. It’s not worth the relationship strain to do everything yourself. Just make sure you keep both partners equally in the know.
- Devise a budget that builds in some fun money, no matter how much (or how little) you have. Even if you can only afford couch change worth $5 each month to share a milkshake, you’re more likely to stick with a budget that includes some financial wiggle room.
- Begin and maintain an emergency fund. The amount you’ll want to put away will vary based on your individual needs, but most experts recommend starting with $1,000 and working your way up to a fund worth three to six months’ worth of expenses, including mortgage and car payments.
- Pay off your debts using the snowball method to build momentum. This popular financial strategy utilizes a little bit of psychology to get the ball rolling.
- Increase your income with a side hustle or two. If you discover yourself spending more than you have, keep adjusting your budget until you are living within your means. If you can’t make ends meet without going into debt, look into starting a side hustle or picking up a second job such as driving for Uber, selling homemade baked goods or pet-sitting and dog walking.
A strong financial partnership is one of the surest foundations for true love. Give these 10 steps a try, but don’t stop there: Adapt them to fit your unique needs, and don’t be afraid to change things up as your finances evolve through the years.