Money may not buy happiness, but it can drive a wedge between couples even in the best relationships. Money matters are frequently at the root of conflict or even divorce, but this is not inevitable. Couples who learn to talk openly about finances early on can avoid this pitfall. In fact, one reason some attorneys, financial professionals and relationship counselors suggest prenuptial agreements is not just to protect assets but because it forces couples to be honest about their financial situation and to explore their attitudes about money. However, you don’t need a prenup to have these conversations. The steps below can help ensure that your relationship stays healthy when it comes to matters of spending, saving, debt and more.
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Whatever arrangements you make in the future, you need to start out by being up front with one another about how much you make, how much you owe and how much you have in savings. This talk should happen ideally before you move in together and definitely before getting married since you could then become responsible for the other person’s poor money management. It’s important to have this talk in a non-accusatory way. If you are appalled by your partner’s debt or spending habits, this is not really the time to bring it up. Think of this stage as a fact-finding mission.
Talk About Attitudes
Without drilling down to the nitty gritty of what each of you is presently saving or spending, talk about how you feel about money and what your goals are. Do you feel anxious if you don’t save a little from each paycheck, or are you an impulse shopper? Perhaps even more importantly, what was your family’s attitude toward money? This can be very telling in how people go on to manage their own finances, often unconsciously.
You may want to consider setting some specific goals at this point. For example, if one of you has taken out student loans, you can use a student loan repayment calculator to get a rough estimate of what your monthly payments will be like. You may want to consider figuring out how you can pay more on your credit card bill each month or put more away in savings. On the other hand, if you tend to save as much as possible and have trouble splurging, you might want to try to set aside a little more just for fun.
Make a Joint Plan
These conversations do not mean that you have to pool all your resources. In fact, you may decide to keep your bank accounts entirely separate, but you do need to agree on a plan, whatever it is, that feels fair to both of you. For example, if one of you makes significantly more money than the other, the higher earner might cover more expenses. You might want to sit down with a financial professional and talk about what kind of investments to make or the most efficient way to save toward your joint goals.