You’re in love. You’re planning to get married. Ready to talk about money? Apparently 88% of Americans think that conversation is important, but only 51% ever get around to having it, according to a SunTrust survey.
There is a long-standing taboo about money talk in this country. And although two people intend to share their lives together, they often don’t have the skills for an effective and productive financial conversation, said Kathleen Burns Kingsbury, wealth psychology expert, author and host of the “Breaking Money Silence” podcast. But talking about finances is an important step before marriage.
Here are tips on how to discuss debt and money management before you say “I do.”
Start the conversation sooner than later. There’s no right or wrong time to begin talking about money with a significant other, but sooner is probably better. “I joke, ‘Why not have the conversation on the first date?’ ” said Shannah Compton Game, a certified financial planner and host of the “Millennial Money” podcast.
Even if you’ve been together for years, it’s still productive to talk about your finances. “If you’re already in a relationship or married, it’s never too late to break the money silence and begin to openly discuss finances, your feelings about money and how it should be saved and spent,” Burns Kingsbury said.
Create a judgment-free zone. When you sit down to talk about debt and money, you’re sitting down with another adult who has spent years managing money the best way that person knows how. So be respectful. “Too often we want to impose how we think, act and feel about money on the other person,” Compton Game said. “Take a step-back approach and just listen.” What not to say? “You’re wrong” and “I would never do it that way” don’t lend themselves to a productive money conversation, she said.
Get the full picture. While debt might be what you really want to know about, money conversations aren’t solely about facts and figures. Compton Game suggests general questions like “What are your thoughts and feelings about money?” to get the ball rolling. “Almost 100% of the time people haven’t considered why they think about money the way they do,” she said.
Take a goals approach. Money and credit make things like housing, vacations and retirement possible. When you get married, those will become shared accomplishments. Frame your conversations in the context of your shared future. “Coming at it from a goals approach really helps you root in on why you would make these decisions about money together,” Compton Game said. So instead of saying “we need to spend less,” make it about “we should save X amount each month so we can buy a house or travel.”
Make a plan together. Once you know about the debt, it’s time to decide what to do about it — together. That will look different for every couple. “That’s the joy of a partnership because maybe the other person can see something you can’t,” Compton Game said. If you’re discussing your own debt, be honest: “Here’s where I’m at. Here’s what I’ve been doing and what our game plan as a couple attacking this debt going forward will be,” she said.
Don’t be afraid to seek professional help. Talking about money can be tough, and if you get stuck, you might need help with your communication style. Consider counseling if you need help seeing each other’s perspective. But it’s fine if you don’t resolve everything. “It’s OK to disagree. A money talk is more about mutual understanding and trying to put yourself in your partner’s shoes versus winning a fight,” Burns Kingsbury said.
Keep the lines of communication open. Talking about money isn’t a one-time conversation. Check in with each other on goals, savings and debt to ensure you stay on the same page.
Debt is not a deal breaker. Talking to a partner about your debt or having a partner with debt doesn’t have to kill a relationship. “It’s less about how much debt rather than being overt about the debt and having each partner look at how they want to use debt moving forward,” Burns Kingsbury said. “If they have similar values around when, where and how to use debt in their financial lives, chances are things will be OK. It is when they have very different values around the use of debt that problems arise.”