Money Talks: How to Talk Finances in a Relationship

5 tips for getting that all-important “money talk” off on the right foot

Having “the money talk” with a partner or significant other isn’t easy, but like most tasks we dread at first, the hardest part is getting started. While it can make or break a relationship, it doesn’t have to be a taboo topic. In fact, it’s one of the most important (and necessary) conversations for couples to have, because what tends to be the biggest factor in ending relationships—disagreements over money—also happens to be the one many couples avoid discussing candidly. 

Nearly half of Americans (48%) who are married or living with a partner say they argue over money, according to a survey of more than 1,000 people by The Cashlorette, which is owned by personal finance site Furthermore, one study in the journal Family Relations found that arguing about money early on in a marriage is the number one predictor of divorce.

Matthew Paxton, Veritas Counseling Center

One way to preserve your relationship for the long haul—and avoid tension and arguments from arising in the process—is to talk about money. Whether you’re married, in a long-term relationship, or just starting to get serious with somebody, it’s a good idea to come clean to your significant other about your financial situation, learn to share your financial goals, and start talking about your spending habits. 

It’s certainly easier said than done, however. From bringing up debt, to deciding when the time is right to combine finances, to day-to-day family budgeting, bringing finances into a relationship can feel complicated and overwhelming. But money is part of life, and addressing it sooner rather than later is how you become better at managing it. 

Matthew Paxton, a former assistant principal at West Feliciana High School, is a provisionally licensed counselor at St. Francisville’s Veritas Counseling Center, soon to be fully licensed.

“A large percentage of separations and divorces revolve around financial problems or money fights,” Paxton says. “In the counseling realm, it’s one of the things that couples cite most often as an issue.”

So, from a counselor’s perspective, here are 5 rules of thumb for how to set your relationship, and your finances, up for success.

Communication is always key. 

When it comes to money, being open and honest with your partner at every step is how you ensure the discussion is productive and that resentment doesn’t build up over time. When you need to broach a difficult issue, such as pre-existing debt, or approaching your partner about their spending, be transparent about the problem—but bring a solution to the table, too.

“When it comes to having a healthy relationship with money and with each other, the biggest thing I can emphasize is communication,” Paxton says. 

Timing matters.

But timing matters, too. Paxton recommends addressing any potentially difficult money-related issues early on in the relationship; in his own case, being upfront about his student loan debt ensured that there were no surprises for he and his wife, Lauren, further down the road.

“I remember that being such a hard thing to bring up to her, but thankfully she understood and it became something that we were going to work on together. I think a big thing that helped me was the fact that I talked to her so early on about what I was bringing into our relationship.” 

A great way to ensure that you and your partner are on the same page is to set aside a regular time to sit down together and address your joint financial planning needs and goals. This way, you have a pre-planned, non-judgmental time and place to talk through the issues. Paxton and his wife set aside a time once a month to discuss all things money-related.

Understand your partner’s values when it comes to money.

Your upbringing has a huge impact on how you view money and what you deem important. That means talking about your spending priorities, because it’s not just about numbers, but the value placed on them, too. For example, if traveling widely is more important to you than maintaining a lavish lifestyle from day to day, then you might prefer to see your discretionary income go towards a plane ticket rather than a new car payment. If your partner sees things differently, conflict can be the result.

“We place so much emphasis on whether a couple shares the same religion and values, but money values are a part of that, too,” says Paxton. “I think early on in the relationship is when to make sure that you and your partner share the same money values and if you don't, then that's something to discuss and see how you can get on the same page.” 

Set financial goals together. 

While joint financial planning includes managing the day-to-day expenses, it’s equally important to plan ahead for the future. As your family grows or lifestyle circumstances change, you’ll find your wants and needs changing along with it. Money-related goals may include saving up for a new car or home, taking that dream vacation, or paying off your student loans. It all starts with an open conversation and a solid action plan. At your weekly or monthly check-in with your partner, take a look at your mutual goals and make a plan for how to achieve them together. 

As you journey through the different phases of life together, your spending priorities will likely change. Your financial plan should evolve, too. For example, as you get closer to retirement, contributing more to your 501k or Roth IRA accounts may become more important. “Here we are with two kids, one a newborn, and saving up for that vacation isn't as important to us now as it was a year ago,” Paxton says. “One of the things that has really helped us is learning how to pick our battles.” Meaning that a $20 purchase at Target does not necessarily require the same discussion as a $300 shopping spree. 

Create a joint budget, and stick to it. 

It's important for both parties to be involved in your financial planning, and not just placing the responsibility onto one person. “Know that nothing's going to be perfect when you work on your budget, and it's going to be something that you as a couple learn how to do,” Paxton says. “My recommendation, it's not my money. It's our money. That's what we signed up for.”

  • Want to get on the same page with savings? Open a Savings Made Simple account with Bank of St. Francisville. Click HERE to get started by making an appointment or call (225) 635-6397.
  • Connect with Veritas Counseling Center at First Baptist Church of St. Francisville by filling out the contact form HERE or calling (225) 255-1150.

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