When you’re in a romantic relationship with someone, you’re bound to discuss everything from your career ambitions to the first place you plan to visit together once quarantine is over. But have you had conversations about money yet?
While it might feel awkward at first, money is the root of so many decisions you’ll make in your life. Talking about it can help bring you closer, know where you’re financially compatible (and where you might need to do some work) and avoid problems down the line.
So whether you’re just starting to get serious or have been together for years, here are five essential money questions to ask that can strengthen your relationship.
WHAT GOALS DO YOU HAVE?
Are you looking to backpack around the world? Buy a home in your favorite neighborhood? Have kids? Be your own boss? Retire early?
While these questions are more big picture than what’s in your bank account, money is at their essence. Living out your dreams and goals is possible, but it’ll take some planning — and the sooner you start, the better. If you want to take that trip next year, how much can you both start setting aside for it? Or if you’re deciding whether to have kids, do you picture both of you working, or would one of you commit to child care full- or part-time?
It can be a lot to unpack, for both you and your partner. But if you’re in it for the long haul, your solo dreams will become shared dreams, so it’s important to get on the same page about how you’ll achieve them. Once you’ve got your goals out in the open, you can talk to your advisor about how to account for all of them in a financial plan, so you don’t have to sacrifice one for the other.
WHAT WAS YOUR EXPERIENCE WITH MONEY GROWING UP?
Maybe your parents were open and honest about the family’s finances, or maybe they didn’t mention money at all. How you and your partner grew up talking about money (or not) has a huge impact on how you feel about it today.
For instance, if you grew up with parents who bought you a piggy bank and encouraged you to save early on, then stashing money away may already be second nature. But if you watched your parents struggle over bills without understanding why, then you may automatically associate money with stress. Whatever money habits your parents had, you may have adopted yourself — or driven you to do the opposite.
Think back to what money meant to you as kids. Talk about your parents’ attitudes, whether you grew up thinking money was a blessing or a burden, and how you handle the financial lessons you learned as a kid in adulthood.
DO YOU HAVE ANY DEBT?
Sure, it’s probably not the first topic you want to chat about (“I’m a Sagittarius, I like long walks on the beach, and I owe $5,000 on my credit card”), but you can’t — and shouldn’t — avoid the discussion forever.
The goal of the question isn’t to judge you or your partner by a balance. But if debt comes as a surprise, it can take an emotional toll on a relationship. The good news is it doesn’t have to. Knowing how much you’re dealing with means you can come up with a plan to tackle it as a couple.
When you’re in a comfortable setting, ask your partner: How much debt do you have, and what kind is it? How are you paying it down? Does it stress you out, or does it feel manageable? Knowing the answers can help you figure out how to pay it down strategically while also making progress on your other financial goals.
WHAT DO YOU CONSIDER TO BE ‘A LOT OF MONEY’?
For some people, spending $500 on shoes could be a reasonable amount to spend. For others, it might send them passing out in shock.
Choose a random item, whether it’s shoes, a car or a concert ticket. Ask your partner: What’s your limit? How much are you willing to pay for these types of things? What’s considered an appropriate amount to pay is personal, so don’t be surprised if you come up with very different answers.
You can do a similar exercise with salary. What do you consider making “good money”? How much would you personally need to make to feel comfortable and secure? The answers will reveal more than just numbers. They can help you understand where the other person is coming from when it comes to financial decisions and help you both align your values around money.
WHAT’S YOUR CREDIT SCORE?
These three numbers are some of the most impactful ones you’ll exchange (next to, of course, the digits you handed over the night you met). Your credit scores are an indicator to lenders of your ability to responsibly borrow money, and they'll have a big impact on your financial future. For instance, if you’re planning on buying a home together — or even just renting a place — your credit health will matter.
If a less-than-stellar credit score has you worried, it doesn’t have to be a deal breaker. Instead, use that as a starting point to figure out what behaviors and choices led to that number, and how you can start fixing them.
As you work through these questions, remember that it's all about setting the tone for a happy future. With a little time and teamwork, you’ll find it becomes easier to talk about money — and the sooner you’ll be able to build a solid financial foundation together.