Stress much about money? Newsflash: 70% of couples say money is a big stressor in their relationship. And it’s no wonder. With TWO people’s grocery spending, bills, paychecks, and housing, not to mention future financial goals to worry about, things can get complicated. Fast. Here’s how to cut the chaos and manage the mess. Hint: it starts with a good old fashioned convo. Read on, lovers.
Find the right time to talk
As much as we love the song Axis of Love, let’s just…not. Instead of twisting and turning on that axis, go forth calmly and straightforwardly. Psychologists recommend finding a neutral time to talk all things money[1:1], so think about a time when both of you are relaxed and have some time to kill. Like a Sunday afternoon on the couch, but instead of football, it’s money. (Don’t forget the nachos and guac.)
Discuss debts vs. expenses
When I started dating my (now) husband, I was shocked to learn how much credit card debt he had. I had zero. But I had also never even owned a credit card—I only used debit. Plus I had some outstanding student loan debt. So when we sat down to talk, we had to prioritize. We decided we’d pay off the debts with higher interest first (the credit cards) and the debts with lower interest could be paid later (the student loan).
Talk about saving
You probably already know that saving money is good. It can create a cushion to handle any future emergencies you’ll face together. Plus, saving may even help you achieve some future goals, like buying a house. Psst! Have you talked about your future goals? More on that down below. But here’s the elephant in the room: starting a savings account is super hard!
The average couple age 34 and younger, without kids, has about $4,727 in savings. Now let’s compare that to the average $1,350 saved by single people with kids. BIG difference. Either way, that’s not nearly enough savings. Experts recommend saving at least 6 months of living expenses. In my experience, that first $500 is the hardest. After that, trust me: it’s gonna get easier.
Face the credit question
Remember when I said I had never owned a credit card? My hubby had a great credit score. Me? Not so much. That was an unfortunate surprise for us when we tried to buy a house as a newly married couple—our first mortgage application was denied. The bank wouldn’t even consider my income because of my credit, plus I was only working part time then.
Don’t worry. Things got better for us eventually. He made me an authorized user on his credit cards, and then I later applied for my own. Eight years later, my credit score is better than his! (Ha!) But you could avoid my mistakes and start this convo with concrete information from the start with each of your credit reports. Get a free copy from www.AnnualCreditReport.com.
Spending and budgeting: to share or not to share
This one is tough, and it really depends on your relationship. Interestingly, 28% of millennial couples (ages 23-37) keep finances completely separate. On the other hand, some people have joint accounts and share everything (that’s me!). And others do a combo of separate accounts for personal expenses and a joint account for shared bills.
Considering how stressful money is, it’s kinda surprising that pooling your money with a long-term SO can actually make you a happier couple. Weird right? Whatever you choose to do, talk about how to split the bills fairly (including who actually clicks the button or licks the envelope to pay) AND how each of you plans to spend…or not.
It’s never too early to plan for the future
Retirement, home ownership, starting a small business, investing…these are all future financial goals that you could do together. Remember that AARP recommends saving $1 million for retirement. (#*$%?) But lots of people don’t save for retirement at all. In fact, almost half of U.S. families have ZERO retirement savings.
So if one of you is NOT on board with the future planning, or isn’t able to contribute, it could really derail your dreams. You could start this topic by talking about each of your overall values. Then treat it almost like that classic interview question: Where do you see yourself in 5 years? Then take it up a notch. What about 25 years?
Be willing to compromise
As with everything in a relationship, compromise is key. You could be the best financial planner in the world, but if one person in the relationship feels completely screwed (and not in a good way), chances are the relationship is gonna get real awkward real quick. Just maybe make sure you’re not sacrificing your financial security for your SO’s Amazon addiction. (Boundaries, baby!)
If you haven’t had the money talk yet with your SO, you might want to do it. Like, soon. Choose a chill time and talk about all the things: debts, expenses, saving, credit, spending, budgeting, and planning for the future. Try to focus on each other’s strengths. If you’re ready, you could even use a money workbook to guide the conversation. And whatever you do, remember that if you can master money as a couple, you’ve mastered one of the toughest things you’ll ever face in a relationship. So congrats, and have a great Valentine’s day.
Orbuch, T. (2010, August 27). Don’t Let Money Ruin Your Relationship. Retrieved from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-love-doctor/201008/don-t-let-money-ruin-your-relationship. ↩︎ ↩︎
Martin, E. (2019, March 12). This chart shows how much money Americans have in savings at every age. Retrieved from: https://www.cnbc.com/2019/03/11/how-much-money-americans-have-in-their-savings-accounts-at-every-age.html. ↩︎
Staff. (2018). Bank of America 2018 Better Money Habits Millennial Report. Retrieved from: https://bettermoneyhabits.bankofamerica.com/content/dam/bmh/pdf/ar6vnln9-boa-bmh-millennial-report-winter-2018-final2.pdf. ↩︎
Fried, C. (2019, February 7). Joint bank accounts make for happier couples. Retrieved from: https://phys.org/news/2019-02-joint-bank-accounts-happier-couples.html. ↩︎
Waggoner, J. (2020, September 17). How Much Money Do You Need to Retire? Retrieved from: https://www.aarp.org/retirement/planning-for-retirement/info-2020/how-much-money-do-you-need-to-retire/?cmp=RDRCT-3c5a7391-20200917 ↩︎
Morrissey, M. (2016, March 3). The State of American Retirement. Retrieved from: https://www.epi.org/publication/retirement-in-america/#charts. ↩︎