Whether we don’t have enough of it or don’t know how to look after what we do have, it seems like many of us have difficult relationships with money. Add in the concerns and worries of another person — especially a significant other — and it’s a recipe for stress and discord. The money talk is rarely something couples look forward to, but it’s vital to both healthy relationships and healthy finances. Fortunately, like so much else in our relationships, managing finances together can be tolerable, even pleasant, by learning to listen, empathize and share a little bit better. Here are six essential tips for managing your finances with your significant other.
1. Schedule regular money talks. Where the money is, where it’s going and where that might change in the future should be discussed on an ongoing basis. Your money should not be something you talk about only when you’re dealing with a crisis or emergency. During your talks, be open to sharing your financial goals and financial habits, so you can map out a plan together. The honesty and frankness you devote to these conversations will open you up to honesty and trust in other parts of your relationship. Schedule time every month to focus solely on budget and financial matters. For many, when everything is on a track, a quick check-in is all that’s necessary, and you won’t risk money stress leaking into other parts of your lives.
2. Identify your partner’s money personality. If your significant other is a liberal spender while you’re more frugal-minded, you may have more heated money discussions than others. Identifying your partner’s “money personality” — the way they handle and think about money — can help you better understand why they do what they do. This can help you approach the money subject with less stress and open you up to thinking about the other person’s perspective. From there, you can build plans together that work for both of you.
3. Share the responsibility of managing your finances. Even if one person has better financial skills than the other, it’s usually a good idea to share in the work of household money management. Managing your finances needs to be a joint responsibility and something that you can talk openly about, so there is less conflict. Work on your budget together, discuss financial challenges and work through any financial problems as a team instead of letting one person carry the burden on their own. While it’s important that one person take the lead, both partners should have a hand in the work.
4. Agree on boundaries. Do you want to keep separate or joint accounts? Does each person want to share a main account and have their own private accounts? You need to decide what you’re most comfortable with when it comes to co-mingling your finances and keeping them apart. Some couples may prefer to keep entirely separate accounts and contribute to household and lifestyle expenses independently. Others may want to divide the income of both parties by giving each other an allowance to keep the household budget on track. However you decide to manage your cash flow, you need to set some specific guidelines and boundaries around who has access to your money.
5. Commit to financial goals together. Sit down and consider what types of things you both want to work toward, so that you can support each other and stay motivated. Whether it’s setting a retirement goal, saving up for a vacation or making investment decisions, decide what you both find rewarding and commit to working on those goals as a team. If you aren’t on the same wavelength as your partner, it may be difficult to keep your financial house in order and achieve your goals.
6. Consider counseling. If money is always a heated topic between the two of you and ends up turning into an emotional argument, there may be some deeper relationship problems triggering overspending or financial negligence. Consider working through any underlying issues with a relationship counselor who may be able to open the lines of communication about money in a healthy way. If your biggest issues are centered on a lack of knowledge or money-management skills, consider working with a financial advisor, so you can both learn how to get a better handle on your financial situation. Reaching out for help could be exactly what you need to keep your financial house — and your relationship — on an even keel.
Sabah Karimi is a columnist for the blog Wise Bread, where you can find consumer tips like how to select the best balance transfer credit cards. Her personal finance articles have appeared on Time Magazine, MSN Money, Business Insider, AOL Finance, Yahoo Finance and USA Today. Sabah is the author of Financial Fitness for Freelancers, which helps freelancers learn how to thrive on a irregular income.