How do couples start talking about money?
Over the last couple of months, Love Intently has received many questions on how to talk about money. We took it upon ourselves to interview relationship therapist, financial counselors, and couples to get a holistic perspective. As we approach tax season, we thought this would be a perfect time to launch our Navigating through Money Together series. Many times it can feel like a huge storm you'll never get through. However, with the proper perspective and tools, we'll bet you'll make it out better than before. Jessica Heaney, a relationship expert starts off this series by giving us her insight on the best ways to navigate through money and finances as a couple. Take a peak, it might just save you from a fight or two ;P
1. How should couples approach talking about difficult topics such as money?
The first aspect I always clarify with couples is the fact that money is hugely emotional. We often think money is only tangible, logical, and structured. But money evokes complex emotions that are different for everyone! When approaching money topics, couples need to keep the emotions in mind. I encourage couples to approach their first conversations about money with curiosity while understanding that each of them will have different values around money. The goal is to learn about one another and to move toward co-creating a plan together.
2. How soon or what stage of their relationship should couples think about talking about money?
If you’re dating to have a lasting and committed relationship, money conversations need to be present early. You want to pay attention to money habits and begin talking about money within the first stages of dating. This is solely because you need to know if you can continue investing your time and energy into the relationship. Money beliefs and patterns can tell you a lot about a person.
3. What are some mistakes you see couples making when it comes to navigating finances?
The biggest mistake I see in marriages is the decision not to combine bank accounts. Couples who have chosen to keep completely separate accounts have not been able to or willing to explore the tough conversations about money. They often lack a shared goal and plan regarding finances. And therefore, they continue to live more separate than connected lives. And I see this separateness coming from a place of fear. It might be tough, but it could save your marriage to learn how to share accounts and share a financial vision together.
4. How frank and open should you be about your finances at each stage?
While I encourage paying attention to aspects of money early in relationships, having in-depth or focused conversations about financial topics can wait until there is established commitment. Once you are considering marriage or engaged, it’s important to step up the money talks. Too often couples brush aside these money conversations because they might be challenging or conflictual. But the more we practice these types of talks, the easier they become! A great place to start is with savings. What do we want to save towards? How do we want to commit to saving money together?
Once you’re committed in your relationship, you need to know about debts, loans, savings, and what’s coming in on the regular paycheck. Use this information to sit down and plan together. Create a budget starting with your shared income and expected expenses. Then look at your debts and create a plan for savings.
I think the most common fear is that we’ll be judged or shamed for our not so wonderful money habits. If this is true for you, help your partner understand by telling them about your fears or concerns. Be gentle, compassionate and supportive with one another. These are tough emotional conversations!
5. How would you advise people to make financial decisions together?
If you’re committed and especially if you are married, financial decisions need to be shared. Sorry! You’re no longer living in the singe-hood! So accept it and understand everything you do impacts your partner, especially with money. This is where having a shared plan is crucial! You will then know what is budgeted for you to spend freely and what needs to go in the shared pot of savings. When a big purchasing decision comes up, schedule a money date. This is where you protect time to sit down together to talk about the decision. You might need a few money dates to wrap up the discussion. I suggest keeping money dates and conversations to an hour, to prevent being overwhelmed or stressed.
6. If financial stress is the main catalyst to fights and disagreements, what advice do you have for couples to navigate through these disagreements?
Financial stress comes when there is no plan, or the established plan is being disrespected. Step one, follow the advice given above to create and solidify your plan. Step two, follow the plan. It may sound to simple and easy, but honestly, that’s all there is to it! If you struggle to follow the plan, then I may suggest working with a financial planner and/or relationship therapist who can help support you both.
7. Are there any resources or literature you recommend couples to read or go through together in regards to finances?
There are so many wonderful resources out there! So, I’ll suggest my top few. First, I guess I’ll toot my own horn, and offer a podcast where I talk about Money + Relationships
He’s direct and bold, but Dave Ramsey’s methods work. Start by listening to his daily podcast.
Lastly, Daily Worth is also a fantastic resource for navigating through finances.
Jessica has a Master's Degree in Clinical Social Work and a post-graduate degree in Couples and Family Therapy. I've spent a lot of time studying and practicing to gain my expertise in relationships. Outside of empowering couples and people to have their best relationships, Jessica is an creative adventurer who is always up for enjoying the Earth's beauty.