Managing money can be stressful, especially if you’re navigating finances with a partner who may have different values. But the key to financial wellness starts with a simple conversation — a finance date, if you will — that helps you assess where you stand now and the goals you’d like to achieve in the future.
“No two people have the same money thoughts, experiences and perspectives. This is where having money dates to align financial goals becomes so important for financial well-being and a successful relationship,” said Clare Dubé, a financial therapist who specializes in helping couples work through financial conflicts, and founder of SMART Chats, a financial education service that focuses on saving money and relationships together.
Finance dates are both an opportunity to figure out the basics — like setting a monthly budget and figuring out who’s responsible for making bill payments — and plan for your biggest dreams.
Regular finance dates can also take some of the stress out of weathering unexpected money issues that pop up in everyone’s lives from time to time.
“If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it is the need to pay attention to our finances,” Dubé said. “Life has a way of throwing us curveballs; best to be at bat ready to hit a home run.”
How to plan a finance date
Think of a finance date just like you do any other important activity, like an oil change, a dental cleaning or a call with a faraway relative, and add it to your calendar. Once you’ve set a date, here’s how to plan a stress-free conversation about money with your partner.
1. Pick a calm location
Timing and location can set the tone for your finance date. Setting a time limit (30 to 60 minutes is sufficient) can help you avoid feeling overwhelmed, Dubé said. As for location, choose a place that’s calming for both people — but not somewhere too relaxing.
“Finances are a different kind of intimacy that is better left out of the bedroom. You can hold these dates while on a hike, on the couch or sitting at the beach,” she said, noting that her preference for finance dates is on Sunday mornings over coffee.
Additionally, it’s best to avoid alcohol during these discussions. While other types of dates may involve enjoying a glass of wine, keep your finance date dry.
“Money matters should be discussed with a clear mind,” Dubé said.
2. Cover the essentials
It can be daunting to dive right into hard numbers on your first money date. Dubé recommended that partners ease into the conversation by each sharing a favorite memory as a couple, or a trait each admires about the other.
“It is harder to have a heated discussion when you are remembering why you are with each other in the first place,” she said.
Then, plan to talk openly about some of the key areas of your finances. Here are the essentials you’ll want to cover on your finance date:
Debt: Debt can have a long-term impact on your relationship. Be open about your debts, including car loans, student loans, credit card debt, mortgages, personal loans, business loans, and how you plan to pay down your balances. You and your partner should also talk about your comfort level for future debt, Dubé said.
While you’re on the topic of debt, you might also want to take a look at which type of credit cards you use to make sure you’re maximizing your benefits. Around 13% of people who have a rewards credit card say that it’s not their primary card, according to a recent survey. That might mean they’re missing out on opportunities to save up airline miles for a future vacation or get cash back from purchases that could be used to help get out of debt.
Savings: How will you and your partner pay for an emergency, like a car repair or medical bill? About 63% of U.S. adults say they could cover an unexpected expense of $400 with cash or a credit card that they would pay off by the end of the month, according to a May 2020 report from the Federal Reserve. But what about the other 37%?
The finance date is a chance to talk about your emergency fund and how you’re funding your savings, said Dubé. You can also start exploring the things you’re saving up for, like a new car or home, and how you can work together to make those dreams a reality.
Budgeting: Budgeting allows you to keep track of your money, spending and progress toward your goals. Use your finance date to establish a monthly budget if you don’t yet have one, or review it to make sure it still aligns with your income and goals.
3. Talk about your concerns
Money can be a major source of conflict in a relationship, especially as you start bringing up your biggest concerns. Dubé recommended people follow a communications strategy called HEAR (honesty, empathy, accountability and respect) on their finance date.
Honesty: “Each partner should be honest in how they feel and where they stand financially. If you are in debt and have hidden that fact, now is the time to come clean,” she said.
Empathy: Put yourself in your partner’s shoes as you’re listening to their goals and concerns. Work to understand their perspective.
Accountability: Take ownership of the financial decisions you’ve made, but don’t pass judgment on your partner for their choices to date.
Respect: You may not completely agree on how every last penny is spent and that’s OK — as long as you respect each other during the conversation.
“If any of these four steps cannot be met, the conversation should end and be rescheduled when each party can adhere to these non-negotiables,” she said. Research has shown that financial problems were cited as a major reason for divorce by at least one partner from more than 55% of couples, but making these steps a priority can lead to an open, blame-free conversation.
4. Consider your dreams
Money dates shouldn’t just be about looking at your financial standing. They should also involve talking about your dreams, and how you’ll use your money to achieve them.
“Share ideas without linking costs to them,” Dubé said.
Then, prioritize your goals and put a timeline on each of them.
On a future finance date, you could begin calculating the costs of achieving those dreams, and figuring out which ones you want to focus on. The Department of Labor has a goals and priorities worksheet you can use to plan how you’ll make your financial dreams a reality.
“This is not a one-and-done activity. It’s a great practice to do on your anniversary, (the start of a new year), or any significant day you set as an annual event,” she said.
5. Create a plan
Each finance date should end with a clear list of next steps, along with an understanding of the roles each partner will play in completing those tasks.
One action might be to create a budget and look at expenses to see if they conflict or align with your goals, Dubé said. Other plans of action might include researching high-yield savings accounts to help you grow your emergency fund, reading up on the pros and cons about consolidating debt, or finding ways to cut a certain percentage off your grocery expenses.
6. Schedule your next date
Your finances and goals can (and probably will) change over time. Set finance dates as recurring events on your calendar so you and your partner can make tweaks along the way.
The frequency of finance dates can vary from couple to couple but should be manageable for your schedule. Dubé recommended setting monthly finance dates to review your net worth and budgeting systems. You should also plan finance dates when you’re facing a major life transition, like a job change, new baby or home purchase.
It’s never too soon to talk about your finances. Making finance dates a regular part of your schedule can take some of the stress and avoidance out of talking about money, and ultimately help you avoid conflict in your relationship.