They tick all the boxes, parents and friends have been charmed, and you know the name of your future dog. Ain’t love grand!
So I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but the doctor is here to give you a dose of reality.
Money is too hard to talk about
No one likes to have a potentially difficult conversation with your significant other, especially when things are going so well.
At the same time, there’s no denying the facts. Money-related issues are frequently cited as one of the most common reasons for divorce, as well as one of the most common reasons for fighting in relationships.
(Hmm, could the two be related?)
So even if marriage isn’t even a speck on the horizon, it’s certainly worth making sure that you’re both on the same page with respect to your finances to avoid issues down the road.
It’s not always easy to talk about money. People very easily become emotional or frustrated when they think they’re being challenged or judged on their financial positions. I know I’ve been guilty of that in the past when talking with someone who doesn’t share my views.
That said, it’s much better to have the hard talk now than in several years when you may be more tied up financially, such as if you take out a mortgage together, or emotionally, such as if kids come along.
And even if you’re past those points already, it’s absolutely critical to still have this discussion.
It’s a great way to check the financial temperature of your relationship, especially if there are any money-related cracks showing.
After all, it’s far better to deal with them now than further down the road when the cracks may be too big to mend.
What’s important is to make sure that both people are being honest and that any emotions are kept in check.
Some people suggest even having this conversation while on a date night (make sure your partner knows that it’s coming beforehand). That way, you’re both (hopefully!) having a nice time and so the conversation should go well. It also might keep the emotion or frustration in check if you know other people are around.
While you may have some specific concerns that you’d like to discuss, here are some key issues that you should really clarify between the two of you.
1. Do you have any debt?
We’ve all heard the stories of people getting married and one partner not being told that the other is carrying a massive amount of debt. By then, it’s too late, as both become responsible for the repayments.
As such, it’s absolutely critical that you both find out how much debt the other has.
This is definitely not to say that just because one partner has debt, that’s a deal-breaker for the relationship. After all, they may have student loans (if so, suggest re-financing using these tips) or a mortgage that they’re paying off.
But be extra careful if they have a large amount of credit card debt, especially if they don’t seem committed to paying it off ASAP or if they can’t explain how they built it up.
The former implies it could become your problem. The latter could be a sign of a gambling or other addiction.
If they do have debt, discuss just how it’s being paid off. If you’re close to marriage, consider clarifying whose responsibility the debt will be once you’ve tied the knot. For example, will the debt holder be solely responsible for paying it off or will the other partner assist – and, if so, by how much?
2. What’s your credit score?
This is a great follow-up to the previous question, especially if you hope to take out a mortgage for the home you plan to share in future.
A poor credit score could not only be an issue for you in future in terms of borrowing. It could also indicate a more serious problem in someone’s past financial performance.
As with the first question, the “why” is the most important thing to tackle here. Maybe they had a period of unemployment where their credit score dropped because of not being able to afford repayments. If they’re on the right track now though, that may not be a major issue.
But if a low score can’t easily be explained, this may be a red flag that you should look into further.
Want to find out your (or does your partner want to find out their) credit score for free? I always recommend Credit Sesame – it’s easy, quick and doesn’t cost a cent!
3. How would you describe your money habits?
You don’t have to be on the exact same page here. After all, if one person is trying to save for a holiday and the other likes the occasional night out, you can probably make those two positions work.
But if one person is frugal and saves a significant portion of their income while the other likes to buy designer everything and has no savings whatsoever, you may have an issue.
Whatever you do, you don’t want to be that couple in five years where one of you is scrutinising every expense on the credit card bill and exploding because all of your hard work at saving is going out the window.
Don’t take this question as an attempt to change one another. It won’t work based on one conversation and you’ll probably just end up arguing.
It also shouldn’t just be a simple categorisation of one another as “saver” or “spender”.
What you really need to do is to find out how each of you uses your money on a day-to-day basis.
Do you buy lunch every day or bring it from home? How many times a week do you eat out or get takeaway? Do you prefer taxis, public transport or walking? How often do you buy new clothes?
Some of these you may already know, especially if you already live together or have been in a relationship for some time.
But getting an idea of one another’s money habits is of huge importance. After all, you’ll – hopefully! – have many days together into the future. So knowing how your money is used on a day-to-day basis can avoid issues going forward.
4. How do you see your financial future?
Does one of you want to retire by the age of 40 and the other one wants to live in a mansion and drive a Mercedes?
If so: red flag.
Having similar financial goals – and, consequently, agreeing on how to work towards them together – is critical to your relationship’s future.
How often do you wish to go on holiday? What kind of lifestyle do you want to have? Do you want to start a business at some point or change careers or take time off from work to study again?
And then the next step: how are you going to afford those things?
Depending on your partner’s views, there may need to be some compromise on either your income or expectations.
5. What will we do if one of our loved ones needs money?
Your immediate reaction to this question may be “Well, of course I’d help out” but:
- Not everyone thinks like that. Your partner (or you!) may be one of them, especially if his/her relationship with their family has been rocky in the past;
- There are some circumstances where it may not be wise to do this, especially if it seems like you’ll never get the money back. For example, it may be relatively easy to agree to lend money if someone needs it for medical treatment, but not if they’ve made a series of bad financial decisions and have dug themselves into a hole; and
- What if the person needs an amount of money that will make things financially difficult for you and your partner – especially, as above, if the person contributed to their financial difficulties?
It’s hard to agree on a set policy if you or your partner are approached with a request like this. However, it’s entirely possible that a time may come when you’ll need to sacrifice your savings for someone in need.
As such, try to determine a general policy on what to do if a situation like this arises. The best solution may be that you both agree not to immediately say yes and will consult with one another on how to approach the request – with the possibility that the request will not be agreed to in full.
6. Do you want kids and, if so, how do you plan to raise them?
Ah, the million dollar question – well, quarter of a million dollar question, actually!
Firstly, I wouldn’t suggest bringing this up too early in your relationship unless you want your other half running for the hills.
But it’s an important question and not only from a family planning perspective.
Kids are expensive. (I think my room just shook from the sound of one million parents saying “Duh” at the same time)
And if you want one but your significant other wants four, then you’ve definitely got some financial decisions to make. For one thing, you’re probably not retiring by the time you’re 40, if that’s how you responded to question four.
Then there are other related things. Do you both want your kids to go to public or private school? Do you plan to save up for their college fund or have them pay for it? How many vacations will you all take each year? If your parents live in different parts of the country (or world), how often will you see each side’s grandparents?
A major question as well is childcare. Specifically, if one partner thinks that you’ll both work and the other partner thinks that one person will stay at home to look after the kids, this is definitely something to know upfront. Especially if you’re the one “expected” by the other to be the stay-at-home parent.
Not only could this potentially involve one partner giving up their career, at least for some time (which is a WHOLE other discussion), but you’d also be losing one income stream. This obviously has major financial effects on other aspects of your life.
As above, you don’t necessarily need a definitive answer to all of these things. But it’s a great way to see if you’re both at least leaning in the same direction. And if you’re not, here’s your chance to discuss them now to see how flexible each side is – or not, as the case may be. In which case, you may need to have another conversation about this in the not-so-distant future.
7. How will we discuss financial issues in future?
The fact that you’re even having this conversation with one another is a great sign for your future. After all, 80% of people have lied to their partner about spending money (source).
To avoid being one of those couples, you should try to agree how you’re going to continue discussing your relationship’s finances in future.
Will you both sit down on the first Thursday of each month and go through your joint spending from the previous month? Or will you simply check in with one another twice a year to make sure you’re both still on the same page?
How will you approach a situation if one of you doesn’t approve with the other’s financial activities or if you feel guilty about something you’ve bought? What are the ground rules for such discussions, such as that both of you agree not to get angry or that you’ll reach an agreement before going to bed?
Having some basic rules in place will make sure that you both continue to be completely open and honest with one another.
Some money-related disagreements are unavoidable in your future. However, the fact that you’re establishing such a strong foundation now will set you both up to tackle any such problems together.