Starting a relationship with someone new is an exciting time filled with moments of giddy anticipation. As you and your new love interest progress beyond getting to know each other’s likes and dislikes to sharing the more intimate details of your lives, you’re likely going to want to have the money talk. We know — it’s not exactly a sexy topic. But finances are undeniably an important part of any relationship and getting on the same page can help strengthen your commitment.
Here are some tips for how to talk about money with someone you’ve just started dating — and how to expand the conversation as your relationship progresses.
THE FIRST DATE
It's never a good idea to dive right into the intimate details of your financial situation until you're convinced a relationship is going to last. After all, you don’t want to be discussing your 401(k) balances before you even know if you’re a good fit.
Still, there are ways to ease into the subject naturally. Alexis Taylor, a psychologist who specializes in relationships, notes that simply paying the check is a good place to start. “Your first date can be a great opportunity to test the waters and see how the person you’re meeting responds to a simple conversation about money.”
Or, without overtly focusing on dollars and sense, ask about your date’s passions and goals in life. This will tell you a lot about how they spend their money and what they want to accomplish.
AS YOU GET TO KNOW EACH OTHER
As you settle into the relationship, you’ll know a bit more about what kind of life you both dream about and long for. This is the time to start introducing money into the conversation and seeing where it leads.
Nicole Iacovoni, a financial and couples therapist, suggests beginning with a lighthearted approach. “Make the conversation playful, inquisitive and filled with fun and curiosity,” she says. "Instead of asking, ‘What’s your financial situation like?’ ask, ‘If you got a windfall of an extra $500 this month, what would you do with it?’ or ‘If you had a magic wand that would wipe out one of your debts, which one would you choose?’”
Broaching questions this way not only reduces judgment but it can also develop your communication skills as a couple.
“If you're one to four months in and your partner has responded negatively to money issues, you might want to hold off on discussing finances,” Iocavoni says. “Develop a sense of trust with your partner before you start discussing all the nitty-gritty details of your financial life. If you have any doubt the relationship won't last, there's little point in airing all your dirty money laundry.”
Just don’t wait too long. “Many people think of money as a taboo topic and delay talking about it, which creates relationship issues later,” Iacovoni says. “If you’re discussing family dynamics and your dreams for the future, the money convo should be on the table.”
Taylor adds that navigating money issues early on should be done in a nuanced and sensitive way. "Money is a major cause of anxiety in relationships,” Taylor says. “Always listen to each other’s fears about money — then you can work out a plan for dealing with them."
While this might seem hard to do, this kind of sharing is the fun part of a relationship. You’re getting vulnerable with each other in many ways, which includes finances. Good things will come from that.
Your first date can be a great opportunity to test the waters and see how the person you’re meeting responds to a simple conversation about money.
WHEN YOU’RE READY FOR THE NEXT STEP
Once your relationship is established, taking advantage of opportunities to share about money issues will allow you both to keep adding degrees of intimacy to your money conversations.
Iacovoni suggests focusing on topics that will inform how you work together financially as a couple: Whether you budget, how often you overspend, how much debt you each have and what steps you’re taking to pay it off. “Full transparency and honesty is the best policy,” she says. “The answers to these questions will give you a good sense as to how your partner thinks, feels and behaves with their money, which can help you pinpoint problem areas.”
But don’t forget that the sharing needs to go both ways. “Whatever you want to learn about your partner, they should get to learn the same about you,” Taylor says. “If you’ve accrued a significant amount of debt, you owe it to them to be honest about it."
If you’re at the point where you’re planning to take a big step together, then you need to establish some ground rules. “A stable relationship often involves planning a future: renting together, buying a house, owning cars, having kids, taking vacations,” Taylor says. “Money will define your lifestyle as a couple.”
ONCE YOU’RE COMPLETELY COMMITTED
You know how the other person folds socks and takes their coffee. You’re actively working on financial planning together. You’re committed — so what should you do to stay on top of your finances?
Iacavoni suggests setting up regular money dates to keep those skills sharp. "Simply set aside time to see where your money is going, make plans for it, and discuss how you both want to use money as a resource to create the lives you want," she says. "Sharing how money will be used to bring your combined vision to life can bring deep value, intimacy and excitement to your relationship.”