The most unromantic and unsexy sentence ever written, but one that can add to the foundations of a strong relationship.
Much of our romantic lives follow a pretty standard path, first date, the first sleepover, the first vacation and then moving in together. Money talk, possibly one of the most central themes to our existence is so seldom a feature of this rosy hued getting to know you time. We talk our first heartbreak, past lovers, political views, most embarrassing moments but money? No way!
This stark avoidance of an uncomfortable conversation can set us up for years of harrowing experiences and disappointments as it is more often than not the difficult conversations that bring up the biggest issues.
When to start the money conversation
This is definitely a conversation topic to start early in any relationship. Not in a creepy “I am assessing your financial prospects as a future partner “ way but more to start setting money talk as a comfortable topic.
On a very high level, just as you would go about discovering other areas that might interest your partner start getting their views on spending, saving, investing and how they view money in their lives. As with anything relationship related if you get a certain sense of money incompatibility it is possibly an area to spend a little more romantic time exploring.
When is it an acceptable time to get financially naked
The best time to get down and dirty with the money talk is before a big financial commitment together. Typically this would be at the point where you plan on cohabiting in some form, either moving in together or marriage. Hopefully by this point you have established a very strong level of confidence that you are on the same page financially, however you may not as yet have disclosed any financial baggage that you are working through, such as a spending problem, credit card or student debt and you can be sure that neither has your partner. No matter how open your money talk has been up to this point this is going to feel uncomfortable. From personal experience this is when your own guilt, possibly shame and fear is going to be on high intensity and it is likely so are your partners. Approach this conversation like you would any romantic first, set the tone, candles, wine (not too much, this is important stuff !) and get to talking non judgementally, openly and knowing this is going to take your relationship to the deepest level of intimacy.
What are the most important points to get agreed initially?
Creating a budget is the first milestone in your merged financial life. Plan how you will share the household expenses, include creating an emergency fund, paying off debt, saving for goals and investment portfolios. Be sure to listen fully and to speak freely with the objective that what is important to each of you is factored in. For me it was very important that I have my own investment portfolio and that each of us had our own monthly budgeted cash. I value my independence and have somewhat irrational fears around being left destitute possibly as a result of my mother ending up with the short straw when my parents got divorced! So for me having some autonomy was vital.
What happens if one of us makes a money mistake
I have to stick my hand up here and give a “real life” story. I am an over spender. Whenever something remotely stressful happens in my life I revert to my old spending habits. I am working on it, but it still happens. The first time (and probably next 100 times) it happened I hid it from my partner. I didn’t go into debt or anything as financially significant but I blew our budget irresponsibly and regularly. My partner never said anything and I assumed my hiding it was successful. I lived with years of shame and guilt over this (yes, unfortunately it was years) before I confessed as part of my getting on top of my finances story. My husband had always known what was going on as I set us back from achieving vital goals and must have lived with years of resentment before I came clean. The bottom line of this story is that I could have irrevocably damaged our relationship just as I damaged our finances but being open and receiving forgiveness from my spouse but more importantly myself has created a new level of intimacy and team work. By being open which each other you become each other’s most supportive and committed cheerleader in terms of achieving your financial goals. The years of shame and guilt around my money actions were exhausting and destructive, my biggest regret is that I didn’t come cleaner sooner but that in itself has been a valuable lesson and one that helps to keep me on track now and that drives me to commit to keeping an open, honest and non-judgemental dialogue with my partner.
Not getting clear on your respective financial goals and money views early on in a relationship is the recipe for future disaster. Choose to commit to financial clarity from the outset and set your romantic and financial future up on a strong footing.