Financial decisions. They’re already hard enough as an individual, and even harder to do with another person who has their own independent ideas.
Our relationships with money are a very personal thing. We each grow up with preconceived notions about money and through our own individual experiences develop feelings about money, including how it should be spent and whether it should be saved.
Considering how personal and therefore complicated it already is to make financial decisions on our own, it probably comes as no surprise that doing so with a partner can pose even more of a challenge.
As with any difficult conversation with a partner, deep-seeded personal feelings are involved and that makes navigating money conversations feel tricky. The first step is understanding that financial decision making as a couple may not come naturally, and that’s completely fine! These conversations take practice.
And ultimately, the work is worth it. Arguments about money are the leading indicator for divorce —not disagreements about the children or even a rogue in-law or two. If you and your partner can devise a method for having productive conversations about financial decisions, it could preserve the relationship.
Here are a few strategies to try and ideas to keep in mind when making financial decisions with your partner.
This doesn’t mean that you come into a first date armed with twenty questions about a person’s financial life. That would be weird. But it may not be smart to wait until you’re married to talk about money, either.
As your relationship with a person develops, it could be a good idea to make it a practice to talk about money as you would talk about other important factors in your relationship, such as whether you want to have kids.
At the beginning stages, start with easier topics, like who pays for dinner and whether or not you enjoy your jobs. With comfort and practice, you can begin to discuss weightier topics like debt and future financial goals.
The very fact that marriages are dissolving because of arguments over money makes the case for why it is so important to have these conversations early (and often). Not only are you able to practice without the stress of needing to take immediate action, but you can get a feel for how your partner navigates money decisions.
And if you have found that you are with someone who holds wildly different values about money, you may need to consider this before making any further commitments to this person.
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Make a Date to Talk
Sometimes it feels easiest to dive headfirst into a big money talk in order to get it the heck out of the way. But this may not be your best strategy. Instead of bringing up the topic of money out of the blue, give your partner some notice.
No one is their best self when they feel caught off guard. A conversation about a tough financial decision will be more productive with two calm, prepared people at the table.
Set a time to talk about the financial decision at hand. Maybe, you’ll even want to make it into a “real” date and treat yourself to a coffee at the local shop or a favorite take-out dinner and wine.
No matter how you do it, the most important thing is that you have a designated time for the talk. This strategy can be applied to discussing one particular financial decision, or you can utilize it on a regular basis.
Write It Out
Sometimes, it’s just plain hard to communicate how you feel. This is especially true for topics that affect us deeply and in confusing ways, like money. If you and your partner are people that like to put their feelings down in written word, consider writing each other a letter prior to your financial “date.”
While this exercise may feel unrelated to financial decision making, it really isn’t. There is important work to be done in laying the groundwork for future conversations. No matter how pragmatic a financial decision may seem, feelings may (understandably) become involved.
In your letter, include some background on how you were raised to think about money, your money stressors, and your financial goals. Focus the letter on yourself and from where your financial beliefs stem.
Not only will this help your partner understand where you are coming from, but it will provide you with some very useful introspection about money and your system of values.
Be Prepared to Listen
When financial decision making, your first priority should not be to explain your point of view. To have a truly productive conversation, you must be committed to listening.
This is good practice in all conversations with your partner and loved ones, but especially when talking about financial decisions.
Here’s the thing about making financial decisions; it’s not usually black and white; there is generally no right and no wrong. Being open to listening often translates into being open to learning.
Not only is your partner’s perspective important, but you might even be able to learn something from them. We’re all learning as we go anyway, and by listening, you have a chance to learn and evolve as a couple.
One key to a productive and healthy conversation regarding a financial decision with your partner is to communicate your feelings, thoughts, and fears. Something that seems obvious to you may not be obvious to them, so give your partner the grace of explaining yourself in a calm and thorough way.
When you communicate, stick with talking about how you feel regarding a matter and avoid making declarations about what your partner has done in the past or what you’re hoping that they will do in the future.
Making comments about how a person is spending can quickly turn accusatory, making a person defensive. Even when having tough conversations, do your best to remove judgment from the equation.
Also, accept that just because you have explained something to your partner once, that they understand what you mean and where you are coming from. Don’t lose your cool if you have to remind your partner what’s important or a priority to you, especially if that’s not the way they seem wired to operate.
Crunch the Numbers
If you are making a big (or small) financial decision, you and your partner are going to want to sit down and work out a plan. You might find it helpful to have a Google doc or some pen and paper handy so you can write it all down.
Because while it’s one thing to have money goals and plans, it’s another thing to map them out. Take the time to figure out exactly how each financial decision would play out over the short and long term. Break big costs down into monthly numbers. Enact plans for these reaching goals, such as setting up automatic transfers from checking accounts and into savings accounts.
Sometimes, the numbers help guide financial decision making within a relationship. You and your partner can see, on paper, what is possible (and what isn’t). The exercise may provide a new perspective altogether or at the very least, get you on the same page regarding the different options with your money.
If you feel at a loss for what you should be focusing on or how to accomplish your goals, you may want to hire a financial expert, such as a credentialed financial planner. Some financial guidance from a person skilled in financial planning could be just what a couple needs to step up their money game.
If you’re in a partnership, you already know that compromise is the name of the game. The good news with money is, compromising is not only possible but often ideal. For example, you do not have to pick just one savings goal to work on at a time. Financial decisions don’t have to be “one or the other.”
Also, know that there is no perfect formula for how a couple makes financial decisions. Just because your best friend and her boo may divide up their finances in a certain way or prioritize working on a particular goal with their partner, it doesn’t mean that you have to do it this way. Part of compromise with your partner is abandoning the idea that your partnership should work like anyone else’s.
Compromise is certainly more difficult when partners disagree about big picture money issues, such as whether saving is a priority or paying off debt is important.
Put Plans Into Action
Once you’ve hashed out your money goals and fears with your honey, it’s time to take legitimate steps towards making your dreams a reality. Use the fact that you have a built-in accountability buddy and set weekly goals for accomplishing tasks.
One such goal should be to start a savings account that exists separate from your checking accounts. It may help you avoid the temptation of spending money that lingers in your account for too long.
You could try a bank account online like SoFi Checking and Savings®. You can use any ATM that accepts Mastercard and we’ll reimburse all of your ATM fees. Best of all? SoFi Checking and Savings has no account fees (fee structure subject to change), which means you can try it out without fear of being overcharged.
You (and your partner) are free to use it in a way that makes the most sense in accomplishing the financial goals you’ve laid out before you.
It’s the perfect option for setting up a new checking and savings account whether you’re doing it solo or jointly with a significant other. A SoFi Checking and Savings account can be used for a specific savings goal, or it can be used as your all-purpose money needs.
No matter your financial goals, take steps towards accomplishing them. You give your relationship the greatest gift of all by turning your financial dreams into reality.
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