One of the golden rules of dating is to never bring up money on the first date—but finances are also the number one source of conflict in marriages. So at some point, you’re going to need to talk to your new significant other about money. But when? And how? Here are some pointers.
How to Talk About Money with a New Partner
You can learn a lot about someone’s relationship to money without addressing it head-on. Does your new partner prefer picnics in the park or expensive restaurants? What kind of car does he or she drive—or does she bike everywhere? Even if money isn’t discussed during the first date, you can probably learn a lot by paying attention. And if the other person’s spending habits seem dramatically out of line with yours… well, maybe that’s a sign that there shouldn’t be a second or third date.
Moving to Exclusivity
At some point, you’re not just dating anymore—you’re a couple. This doesn’t necessarily mean your relationship is on a marriage trajectory, but it’s certainly the time when you should start figuring out if you and your partner are compatible when it comes to running a household together and managing finances together. Gradually start introducing financial questions into the conversation.
Starting the Conversation
When you’re still a new couple you shouldn’t be sharing hard figures about your debt responsibilities, net worth or income—in fact, doing so too early can be really off-putting, and so can pushing the other person to do so. But that doesn’t mean you can start talking casually about money. Here are some things you might bring up during conversations.
- What would you do if you won the lottery?
- How much financial sacrifice are you willing to accept to follow your dreams?
- What was your parents’ relationship with money? Did you grow up poor?
- What does money mean to you?
These questions should be general and should come in the context of getting to know your partner more rather than figuring out whether or not he or she would qualify for a mortgage.
The time to have serious money discussions is when you’re either considering getting married or considering moving in together, whichever is sooner. Once you’re sharing a household, you need to ensure that you have the full financial picture—as well as understand your partner’s relationship to money and how his or her values are reflected in spending decisions.
At this point, you need to both disclose your own financial picture and expect your partner to do the same. This means how much you earn, how much you spend and how much debt you have. This is also the time to discuss, in-depth, how your use of money reflects your values.
No two people are going to have exactly the same financial picture or values, but it’s important to understand your partner and find ways to compromise. It’s also much more complicated than the spender/saver dynamic. For example, my late husband and I were both generally frugal, but he liked to buy new clothes while I consider Goodwill a splurge. On the other hand, I like to buy really high-quality (i.e. expensive) groceries—which he hated.
There’s only one true red flag when it comes to finances and relationships: dishonesty. Even if your financial situation is dire, don’t lie about it. And if your partner isn’t honest about money—or refuses to talk about it at all—seriously reconsider whether the relationship is worth it.