Navigating finances for new couples
New couples have a choice to make. They can choose to open up about their finances or not. Those who are successful will watch their nest eggs grow and progress towards shared goals.
Success simply starts with an open dialogue. When it’s missing, arguments are inevitable.
“While fighting about money is not necessarily common, those arguments tend to be longer than other arguments, and more damaging to the relationship than other types of arguments,” explained Sarah Newcomb, when she was Morningstar’s Director of Behavioural Science. Hence, it is very important for couples to find ways to communicate in a healthy way about finances.
You will be surprised to know that money is the top reason for stress among adults. This is regardless of the economic climate.
If money is the number one reason for stress in people’s lives, we need to talk about it. Talking helps reduce stress. Unfortunately, not many do so.
People who feel that they are moving towards a committed relationship need to start a dialogue about finances. When you go out with the person, you get a sense of what their values are around money, family history and debt.
How do you start chatting about money?
The first conversation shouldn’t be about your credit scores or how much you earn or how much debt do you have. Neither should it be about how to merge your finances as a couple.
Newcomb suggests “get-to-know-you” questions that make the person open up. What was money like in your household growing up? What does the good life mean to you? Does money keep you up at night? Do you think of money as a necessary evil or as freedom and opportunity?”
Tell your partner that you are curious and want to learn more about him/her and their family. It is not about judgement, but about developing a deep understanding of who your partner is and what the stories are that are driving the financial decisions that you two will eventually make. Share your experiences too.
You need to talk even if you never combine bank accounts. Learning how to talk about difficult things together is the key to having a solid financial life together.
What debt does your partner have? What is their attitude towards clearing it? If your partner has a huge credit card bill and is least concerned, it is a red flag.
Credit scores are important when you’re contemplating buying a home and taking a loan. So your potential spouse’s credit score may have a significant impact on your financial ability together.
If both are earning, then the conversation must move to sharing expenses and splitting bills.
Splitting expenses comes down to asking each other “what feels fair”, says Newcomb. Let’s say one person makes three times what the other person does, then they might want to split the bill proportionally. That would mean one partner pays 25% and the other pays 75%. Others may just want to split it 50/50.
Be partners, not judges.
At some point, there needs to be an ‘I’ll show you mine and you show me yours’ numbers conversation where you will show one another your debt and your assets. So many of us will combine our lives, and never sit down and have that conversation where you just simply show one another your accounts.
Avoiding the subject is detrimental. The truth will come out and partners’ finances affect each other.
Financial intimacy is what a lot of couples don’t have. It’s a scary intimacy because it requires trust to show someone your situation. Often we are afraid of being judged and what our partner will think of us if they know our financial situation. Some people are afraid to be judged for having too much. Some people are afraid to be judged for having too little. People are afraid to be judged for being disorganized.
It’s important to tell the truth. As a basis for a committed relationship, being dishonest about how you manage money is a shaky foundation for your marriage.
Have the financial planning and financial future conversations before you get married. Talk about the way you will manage money. The goals you want to accomplish as a couple.
After the most difficult conversations take place, it will make what you have stronger. You’re setting yourself up for success because you did the scary, courageous thing.
Decide the path ahead.
Budgets are not sexy. Budgets are not romantic. But that’s the reality. Sit down at the end of each month and go over the expenses and savings.
It is just as important to keep the romance alive as it is to have financial discussions.