When my now-husband and I got engaged, we were repeatedly warned about the three dreaded “Fs” that threatened to wreak havoc in even the most stable relationships: family, faith, and finances. I (foolishly) wasn’t fazed. I adored my husband’s family, treasured our shared beliefs, and felt lucky with our stable careers and lack of debt. A few months into our marriage, I excitedly texted him a photo of a dreamy off-white accent chair I was lusting over.
My excitement was short-lived when he answered with “ANOTHER purchase? When will the bleeding stop?” Was he insinuating I was spending too much money? How could he, when he was the one who bought a $900 suit a few months ago? Needless to say, we went to bed with our backs to each other that night.
Thankfully, my husband and I can laugh about that conversation now. What started as a standoff over apartment furnishings opened the door to some honest conversations about financial behavior. Whether you’re getting married or moving in together, combining finances with your significant other can feel unnerving. Fortunately, there are a few simple steps you can take to make the transition smoother.
1. Identify your beliefs
It’s essential to understand and acknowledge the powerful effect that your upbringing has on your current mindset. Consider the financial values you were raised on. Who made the financial decisions in your household? Was money openly discussed? Identify which behaviors do or don’t mesh with your lifestyle today. Just because you’ve always done something one way doesn’t mean there isn’t a better way out there. Let go of the “should do’s” your parents, friends, and society have set for you, and take ownership of your own financial health.
2. Know where you are financially
Come to the table with a complete picture of who you are financially. Before discussing finances with your partner, bite the bullet and assess your spending habits as well as your debt, net income, and any expenses. Carve out a few hours to review your purchases over the past three months, making note of the three to five highest categories. Some areas may surprise you (TBT to the summer I spent $400 on Ubers in one month). You may already begin to see areas you’d like to cut back on, and coming to the conversation fully aware can help when you’re assessing your finances as a couple.
3. Be open about your financial situations
Don’t wait until you’ve gotten married, moved in together, or otherwise committed your life to each other to share your financial profile with your significant other. Communicate often and openly about finances while you’re still dating. No one likes surprises (unless you have a secret inheritance, in which case, please surprise me), so be honest about what’s in your bank account, your savings, and any current debt.
Overall, let your partner know what it costs to be you (this cut and color ain’t cheap) to avoid stress down the line. Your significant other should do the same. Also, pay attention to how your partner spends money. Are they constantly living above their means? Do you generally spend money on the same types of things? It’s important to take note of your partner’s relationship with money while you’re dating and address red flags early on.
4. Get on the same page
Before you take that next step, discuss how your finances will work. The first big decision most couples make is whether or not to have a joint bank account, but there are many more administrative items to flesh out. Consider whether you will have a budget, which party will be responsible for paying the bills, and what kind (and how much) investing you’ll be doing. The good news is that whatever you decide now is not set in stone. Come back to the drawing board in a few months if your current system isn’t working.
5. Check your attitude at the door
For most couples, talking about finances is vulnerable. Use gentle and non-judgmental language when discussing your financial concerns and approach each conversation from a united standpoint by using “we” statements. Consider your partner’s feelings and preferences, and decide on a price point where you both need to check in with the other if you’re going over it. I’m not suggesting that you ask their permission every time you want to buy something, but shoot them a text along the lines of, “I’m thinking of buying this pair of boots, but they’re expensive. Thoughts?” While they probably won’t have a strong opinion on the boots, including them in your decision-making process will initiate an environment of respect and consideration.