Financial Literacy

How to Talk about money in a relationship (without starting a fight)

Whether you’re getting married, moving in together, or just getting serious about money, it’s always a good time to start discussing finances with your significant other. 

But how do you talk to your partner about money? 

For many, this is scary or awkward, but don’t worry. We’ve put together a guide with some word-for-word phrases to use, along with all the tips and information you need.

When should you talk about finances in a relationship?

When you’re newly dating

Money talk probably isn’t a big feature of your conversations when you’re newly dating, but it doesn’t have to be that way. You can slip in some money talk about things like who pays for dates, your salaries, and general conversation to get started.

At this stage, you probably don’t want to divulge major information about debts and mortgages. That might be coming off a bit too strong…

When you’re making a big life decision together 

By this point, you’ve been dating for a while and are now in a solid relationship. Money should be something you have serious conversations about. Now is not the time to gloss over it. 

If you’re about to move in together, you need to discuss bills, rent, insurance, and how you will divide expenses. 

Getting engaged is an exciting time, but it’s also a time for some key money decisions. How will you get married? What will the budget look like? Are there any deal-breakers that you need to know about BEFORE you get married? How will you divide assets in the event of a divorce? Not very romantic but still worth considering.

If you’re having a baby, things to work out with your partner include parental leave, loss of income during that time, and all the money you need to spend on the little bundle of joy. Get those conversations done BEFORE any of these life-changing events. Future you will thank you for it. 

After you’re married

By now, you should have had lots of money conversations. But surprisingly, many couples still don’t discuss money much, even after they’ve been married for ten years. 

This is often because someone is just better with money and takes on that responsibility, or one person doesn’t work so the breadwinner handles it all. 

Whatever your living and money situation, you should make an effort to talk more openly about finances. It’s never too late to start checking in with your partner so you stay on the same page. 

Your goals and financial situation may change, so get into the habit of talking openly now. It’ll make any potential changes a lot easier to handle. 

Want to know how to discuss finances with your spouse? Prepare for the big money talk…

How to prepare for your first money talk

Talking about money with your partner might sound painful, but I promise you it doesn’t have to be awkward. As corny as it sounds, it can actually bring you closer together.

The secret to starting your first big money talk is to head in with the right attitude. One way to broach the subject is to ask for their advice or thoughts … even if you don’t need it. 

Scripts for starting the money conversation

If you’re worried about bringing the topic up, start slow. 

“Hey, I’ve been trying to learn about money lately . . . What do you think about investing versus saving?” 

If you don’t get an answer, try a more specific approach:

“Okay, hey, I have another question . . . What do you think about my spending? Is there anything you think I should change?” 

I guarantee you they’ll have an opinion on that — and although you’re sacrificing yourself, at least it’ll get the conversation started.

After a few days, ask for their financial advice again: “What do you think — should I pay off my credit card or my student debt?” 

Then, a few days later, tell them you’ve been doing some more research. “I picked up a book on personal finance and it had some really interesting stuff in it. What do you think about talking about our money together?”

When you sit down to talk, once again start by asking your partner’s opinions: “I know you use cash to pay for everything, but this guy says we should use credit cards to build our credit and track spending. What do you think?” 

The goal of these mini-meetings about money should be to agree that money is important to both of you and that you should work together. That’s it!

If things go well, ask your partner if they would be willing to sit down again to go over both of your finances together. 

Important money talking points

When you head into your big money talk, here are a few things to consider and discuss:

How much money do you both make?

The starting point of any conversation about money should begin with your income. By knowing each other’s income, you can decide how to use that money together. You could even chat about ways to boost your income, either by finding a new job or starting a side hustle.

How much debt do you have?

Knowing how much debt you each have is another very important conversation to have — especially if you’re getting married and want to join finances.

You want there to be zero surprises in store for either of you. If someone has eye-watering credit card debt, you need to know that now. 

Other things to discuss include student loans, personal loans, car finance, and any mortgages either of you has. These will all affect your credit score, so you both need a full picture of each other’s finances. 

Give yourself an overview of all the debts you both have and write it all down to be clear. Try to write down the interest rates, monthly payments, and the end dates. 

This can help you plan what to do next. Perhaps refinancing to a better rate is something you can do. Maybe you can use the snowball or avalanche method to clear off debt faster. 

What invisible scripts do you have about money?

Invisible scripts are truths so deeply embedded in our society that we don’t even realize they’re there. They influence our habits and behaviors without us even knowing. 

For example, “I need to go to college to become successful.”

At some point in your life, invisible scripts like this have probably popped into your head. Personal finance ones could look like: 

  • “Credit card debt is evil.”
  • “You should buy the biggest house you can afford.”
  • “Budgeting is about cutting back on stuff you love. So it’s impossible!”

These may not be the word-for-word scripts you have in your own head but take a moment to think about what yours are. These invisible scripts can influence us (either positively or negatively) so it’s important to pay attention and challenge them.

If you’re struggling to save because “budgeting is about cutting back on fun stuff,” this is an invisible script that’s holding you back. If you have a partner who’s good at budgeting, this can cause a little rift between you. 

To get on the same page with your partner, don’t overlook this step. Spend some time evaluating your unconscious thoughts about money. Discuss them, challenge them, and look at alternatives if they’re holding you back.

What are your long- and short-term financial goals?

Talking about your money goals is a great way to frame the whole conversation. Not only do you need to know how to manage the day-to-day expenses, but you also want to plan ahead for the future. 

Having some joint money goals in mind is only really achievable once you’ve done the groundwork and spoken openly about money.

Money goals might include:

  • Saving for a down payment on a home
  • Saving for a wedding
  • Investing in the stock market
  • Making home renovations
  • Saving for a new car
  • Planning a vacation
  • Saving for an emergency fund

Whatever it is, it all starts with an open conversation and a solid plan. 

Knowing all your income and expenses then leaves you free to decide how much money to put away for your goals. It helps to have some solid figures in mind and a deadline so you can stay on track to achieve them. 

What not to do when talking to your partner about money

Don’t make it feel like an ambush

Money is a sensitive topic. Not everyone likes to talk about it, so in some cases, it pays to be cautious here. You don’t want anyone shutting down. 

That’s why we suggest going easy in the beginning and broaching the topic with a few harmless questions. 

This lets you gauge how open the other person is to discussing finances. It saves them from being ambushed, which is never a good start to any conversation.

Don’t try to change your partner

Where a lot of people go wrong is they try to “fix” their partner. Now, if they have a massive gambling problem and you’re about to lose your home … perhaps it’s time for an intervention.

But generally speaking, we all have our different ways of doing things. Don’t go in all guns blazing demanding that your partner changes their ways. 

The problem with that approach is that you’re assuming your way is:

  1. Right
  2. The only way

Which may or may not be true. Instead, have some patience and discuss money habits on an equal level. If anyone needs to change or adapt their habits, do it together. 

Don’t shame or blame your partner

Don’t, whatever you do, make your first real conversation about money a negative one. If someone overspends or gets into debt, don’t make your first talk about why they shouldn’t have done that.

It doesn’t change anything and starts the conversation with tension and emotion when it should be open, friendly, and productive. This only works if you want both of you to succeed together. 

Talking to your partner about money doesn’t have to be scary or awkward. Plenty of people are open about discussing money and that’s great. Not everyone is, so in those cases, smaller steps and mini conversations along the way are the perfect way to ease into it. 

Improving your habits will help you manage your money AND your relationships. Check out Ramit’s new Ultimate Guide to Habits.

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