In a long-term relationship, there will inevitably be occasions when you and your partner need to have difficult (or even downright unpleasant) conversations. One thing that can be particularly tough for couples? Figuring out how to talk about money in a relationship — because finances are a tricky topic to navigate, particularly the very first time the subject comes up. Money is a very personal and often touchy issue, and it can be hard to open up to your partner about things like how much you make and any debts you have. But as difficult as it is, talking about money with your partner is also necessary if you want to continue to intertwine your lives as your relationship progresses.
"Talking about money in a relationship is non-negotiable," Brianna McGurran, student loans and personal finance expert at NerdWallet, tells Bustle. "Consider it as important to the health of your partnership as supporting each other’s hobbies or being polite to each other’s moms. Opening up about your financial life means you’re showing each other the real you, and that honesty and vulnerability helps the relationship grow. Keeping secrets about money erodes trust, and avoiding the conversation for too long means you won’t have the tools to deal with money issues as they come up."
Will it be fun to sit your partner down someday and reveal the exact amount of your student loan debt? Probably not — but mutually opening up about your finances is an important step in any long-term relationship. If your relationship is getting serious and you want some guidance before broaching this sensitive subject, here are seven expert tips that will help your first conversation about money go as smoothly as possible.
1Bring The Topic Of Money Up When You Feel Ready
First thing's first: don't rush into talking about money if you don't feel it's the right time. Every relationship moves at its own pace, and it's up to you and your partner to decide when the right time to start talking about money is for you.
"You don’t have to talk about money right away," McGurran says. "Just take note of your partner or potential partner’s approach to money for the first few months. Do they live more lavishly than what their likely income would allow? Do they mention being in debt and whether it causes them stress?"
2Keep It Light At First
Instead of hyping up your first conversation about finances as some big, scary talk, think of it as an opportunity to better get to know your partner and grow as a couple.
"When you talk about money for the first time, try to keep it light," McGurran says. "Frame the talk as something you want to do to strengthen your relationship. Come to the conversation with openness, empathy and curiosity, not fear or blame. And if it gets intense or your partner is very uncomfortable, put it on hold and try another day."
3Start With Goals
When you broach the subject for the first time, you don't have to do a deep dive into your extensive financial history: start small by talking about your individual financial goals — or even some goals you can tackle together as a couple.
"If you’re having trouble getting that first money conversation going, try starting with your financial goals in the next three to five years," Sam Schultz, co-founder of Honeyfi, a free app to help couples manage money, tells Bustle. "Compared to something like budgeting or spending habits, goals are usually a more positive and fun way to start talking about money. Then, once you open a dialogue about finances, it’s easier to naturally get into the nitty gritty like planning and budgeting. Discussing financial goals is also a great habit to start early in your relationship."
4Schedule A Money Talk
Having a hard time committing to having this convo? Rather than just saying "we'll get around to it next week," block out an actual time slot for it on your shared calendar.
"If you find yourselves pushing off your first money conversation, you might want to try putting 15-30 minutes on the calendar," Schultz says. "You’ll be more likely to actually have the conversation, since you’ll both have agreed to be available at that time. On top of that, it will give your partner a heads up that you’re serious about discussing money, which makes you both more likely to give the topic some thought beforehand (always a good thing). Last but not least, delineating time to discuss money will help create a safe space to talk about an uncomfortable topic, which is half the battle."
5Know When To Bring Up The Serious Details
The first few conversations you have about money don't necessarily need to cover the minutia of your financial situations, but the longer you're together, the more opportunities there will be for you and your partner to intertwine your finances — which calls for more detailed convos.
"Get into the details when you get serious and you’re talking about building a future together," McGurran says. "For a lot of people, that’s around the six-month mark, but the precise timing really depends on your relationship. The full talk should include sharing financial details like your income, debt loads, credit scores and the amount you have saved. You should also discuss any big financial goals you have, like wanting to buy a home in five years or retire early."
6Talk About Your Money Beliefs
Another thing you should do with your partner? Talk about how you view money, its role in your life, and what you were taught about money growing up — all things that can help you better understand each other's financial point of view.
"What did your parents teach you about money?" McGurran asks. "Did your family avoid the topic altogether? Was money seen as something negative, or on the other hand, the only thing that matters? Taking a money personality quiz might help you understand beliefs you didn’t even know you had."
7Keep The Convo Going
Of course, you won't just have one conversation about money: as your relationship progresses, you'll need to revisit the subject of finances more and more often — especially if you someday totally combine finances or share expenses.
"Money should be an ongoing topic of conversation, so get into the habit of talking regularly, even for just a few minutes a week, about what’s going on in your financial life," McGurran says.
For a relationship to last long-term, it's important to be able to talk about any subject — no matter how difficult — with your partner. It might not be easy to talk about money with your partner the first time around, but practice makes perfect: the more you talk about money, the less stressful it will be... so start talking!