They say the three topics you want to avoid in conversation are politics, religion and money. I have never been one to shy away from a conversation and believe that most topics can lead to healthy and productive discussion, as long as they are broached carefully. However, it seems like the only conversations we hear about finance come from the talking heads on cable television. It’s rare to find people that are comfortable discussing money and finances, which is fine; after all, it is a private matter. On the other hand, avoiding discussions about finances with your spouse can become an issue.
Talking about money isn’t always easy for married couples, but it’s important to realize that you’re not only partners in life — you’re partners in financial planning, as well.
Here are seven conversations new couples should have about finances.
1. It’s like you’re speaking another language, honey.
You might be thinking, “What does this person know about talking to your spouse about finances? I’ve been married for 30 years, and we don’t talk about money.” You might not take my word for it, but a recent study from Kansas State University might make you think twice. Most of us have heard that money is a leading cause for divorce, but Sonya Britt, the author of the study, found that arguments about money are actually a top predictor of divorce — not money itself. This pattern was pervasive across couples with different incomes, debt levels and net worth.1 The moral of the story? Start the conversation now. If you and your spouse didn’t talk about money before you tied the knot, now is the time to start.
2. So, you’re telling me…you’ve committed to him for life, but you don’t share a bank account?
Sharing a bank account might not be for everyone, and there are many people who believe that being married doesn’t necessarily mean you need to share a bank account. I’m not saying that having separate accounts ultimately means your relationship is doomed — however, it’s imperative for both spouses to have viewing access over each other’s accounts. It’s hard to have an honest conversation about money when you can’t see how much is in the bank.
3. One does not simply max out the credit card and not tell their spouse.
Maxing out a credit card is an issue. Hiding credit card debt from your spouse is an even bigger issue. If you’re reading this and find yourself on the other side of the conversation, now is not the time to admonish or scold your spouse. Instead, make a plan to pay down the debt quickly and then discuss how it happened. Financial planners and debt counselors can also be a great resource for navigating conversations like this.
4. The amount of debt we have is too damn high.
Even if you haven’t maxed out a credit card (or seven), you still might be facing a mountain of debt. This is typically common for younger couples, especially those who have needed to take on more debt later in life. If this is the case for you or your spouse, it’s probably time to take a detailed look at your spending and decide which items can be reduced or cut. This is where the principle of shared sacrifice can come into play. Even if one member of the relationship is responsible for a majority of the spending, both parties should contribute to the cost-cutting process. In the end, bad credit for one of you will hurt both of you. If you can work on this together, you’re more likely to support each other and stick with it.
5. “So, what’s your credit score?” – Dating in the 21st Century
Yes, being financially compatible with your spouse is important. Now, that doesn’t mean you need to grill them about their financial situation on the first date or even the tenth date. However, finding a way to discuss money without arguing is important.
Britt suggests couples “seek a financial planner as part of premarital counseling, pull each other’s credit reports and talk through how to handle finances fairly for both individuals.”2 Talking about your credit score isn’t exactly romantic, but getting everything out in the open from the outset can help keep your marriage in the black, rather than the red.
6. I was really hungry, okay?
Each of you has your own job, your own budget and your own bank account. So, if your spouse is responsible for the saving aspect of your finances, that means you get to be the spender, right? This mindset might work for some couples, but I doubt it will work for most. If you’re spending money on spa days or sporting events while your spouse is pinching every penny, a less than happy discussion about money is likely in your future. Even if most aspects of your finances are separate, it’s important for the two of you to create a budget together. That way, you each have an equal share of the saving and spending, which can lead to an equal distribution of fun and overall satisfaction when it comes to your bank account.
7. Checked my bank account at the end of the month…it went up instead of down.
Start small and don’t forget to celebrate your success. No victory is too small to enjoy.