Were you raised with the money taboo? Many people are taught from a young age not to speak openly and honestly about money, even with their loved ones. This might not seem like a big deal, but the money taboo has real consequences. Research shows that arguing about money is the number one predictor of divorce.1 Perhaps surprisingly, more money doesn’t guarantee an end to the arguments. In fact, the financial fighting can get worse as couples earn more.2
The amount of money in a relationship isn’t the problem — it’s how people talk about money. With the right tools, however, you can overcome the money taboo at every stage of your relationship.
START TALKING ABOUT MONEY WHILE DATING
Of course you want to put your best foot forward when you meet someone new and interesting, and talking about money might not be the best icebreaker. As you get to know someone, learn to understand their behavior around money by asking about it. It’s ok to keep it light at first; the goal is simply to normalize talking about money early on, which will make it easier to approach again. Consider asking if your date is saving up for any big purchases. Or if they use a budget in their daily lives. As your mutual trust grows, open up the discussion of how your family handled money issues when you were growing up.
KEEP COMMUNICATION OPEN AS YOU MOVE INTO COMMITMENT
Once you begin a committed relationship, you and your partner enter a new level of financial intimacy. Every couple is different, and together you’ll figure out what financial arrangements work best for you. What matters is that you talk about it. Some ground rules can help, like setting a time limit so it doesn’t become overheated, or rewarding yourselves with something fun afterwards.
Some couples merge their financial accounts, while others are happy to keep accounts separate. People with combined accounts say there’s less opportunity for secrecy and it helps them feel like they are building something with their partner.3 On the other hand, some prefer the independence of their own account and say it keeps the romance alive.4 It’s also helpful at this point to begin working with a financial professional to make long term plans as a unit.
During your money conversations, get into the habit of writing down the key takeaways to share with your financial professional.
SHARE YOUR BALANCE SHEET (INCLUDING DEBTS)
One of the biggest hurdles to future financial plans is personal debt. Even though debt from medical expenses, credit cards, and student loans is common, people can still feel ashamed to talk about it.5 One study found that approximately one in ten people commit “financial infidelity” in their relationship, including hiding debt or having a secret bank account.6
It’s much healthier for your relationship for you and your partner to disclose all your assets and liabilities. It may not sound as romantic as a candle-lit dinner, but consider sharing your credit report. If your partner is reluctant, share yours first as a sign of trust.
KEEP TALKING — AND SAVE FOR RETIREMENT AS A TEAM
It takes practice to face the challenge of talking about money, and financial conversations are essential at every life stage. You might assume that because you were successful at paying off debt early in your marriage, you don’t need to talk about retirement. Plus sometimes couples maintain a “my money vs. your money” mentality even after years of partnership.7 A financial professional can help you and your partner define the best retirement path for you both, choosing between single-life or joining-life pension options, for example.
PASS ON GOOD MONEY HABITS
Parents teach their children a lot. When it comes to money, parents often neglect to talk about it, and the topic becomes shrouded in secrecy. Kids then learn by observing their parents, and as they grow into adulthood, they inherit their family’s unspoken financial habits. If you and your partner have kids, talk openly and honestly about money with them as well as each other. That way, you can avoid passing on the money taboo to a new generation.
For better or worse, the money talk requires patience and attention at every step. From your very first date, to passing on strong values to your children, to planning your retirement with a financial professional, it all starts with breaking the money taboo and having a conversation.
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2021-123901 Exp. 7/2023
1 This common behavior is the No. 1 predictor of whether you’ll get divorced, Marketwatch, Jan. 10, 2018
2 Being rich may increase your odds of divorce, CNBC, October 10, 2018
3 Joint Bank Accounts Make for Happier Couples, UCLA Anderson Review, Feb. 6, 2019
4 I Don’t Share Money with My Husband, and I Think It’s Saved Our Relationship, Buzzfeed, June 11,2021
5 The Complex Story of American Debt, Pew Charitable Trusts, July 2015
6 Love & Money: 5 Ways to Have a Happier Relationship Through Money Talks, TD Stories, Feb. 15, 2021
7 5 Mistakes Married Couples Make With Their Retirement Planning, The Balance, June 30, 2021