Being a personal finance writer, I thought a lot about how my husband and I (who I married just a few short weeks ago) would merge our finances. Despite writing about finance daily over the last seven years, it may shock some that even after living together for a year and a half pre-marriage, we waited until we were legally husband and wife to merge any element of our finances.
But that’s not to say we didn’t discuss money along the way. In fact, having open and honest discussions pre-marriage has helped us sail smoothly into our first year of married life, although getting there wasn’t without its trials.
#RealMoneyTalk When You’re Dating
As privy as I am to the most intimate details of people’s finances, getting to the point where I felt comfortable talking about my own took longer than I thought. I’d never been at the point in the relationship with anyone else prior to meeting my husband.
I always admire couples who know they’re getting serious and decide to just lay it all out there. My friend and fellow blogger and author Erin Lowry famously calls this “getting financially naked.”
But for me and my now-husband, our overall approach to money talk was like peeling back the layers of the onion. Slowly, as we became more comfortable, we began to let one another “in” to our respective money situations a little bit more, and perhaps now I prefer this approach.
Here are the most common money conversations couples have when they’ dating:
- Sharing salary information
- Discussing large debts
- Sharing money priorities
- Communicating how much you’d each like to spend on items like gifts and trips
- Revealing and discussing expectations, including who pays for what and when (If you want to go to a concert, do you buy the tickets? Or if she makes 3x more, should she buy the tickets?)
As the relationship progresses, eventually you’ll discuss more serious conversations like moving in together, and how much you can afford jointly and how you’ll split the bills. You’ll have to discuss credit scores (if you apply jointly for a loan) and how you’ll split payment for items like furniture or a new television.
#RealMoneyTalk in Marriage
The #RealMoneyTalk you and any new partner you’re dating might be initially uncomfortable, largely because everything is so fresh and you’re still getting to know one another. But it can be awkward still once you’re married and the “real money talk” becomes “actual money practices.”
Here’s what my husband and I have covered so far in the short time we’ve been married:
- Our savings goal and how we’ll get there together
- How we’ll spend for our fixed expenses and utilities
- How we’ll handle our personal spending (video games for him, Sephora runs for me)
- Saving for retirement
But it hasn’t been a breeze.
For example, my husband and I applied for a mortgage and for the first time he found out my actual credit score (it’s 720) but his was over 800 and my score cost us a lower interest rate. He teased me about it, but I still remember feeling slightly anxious and embarrassed. Revealing details about your personal money situation is no joke, even if you’re willing and prepared.
I also remember those first feelings of indignation when my partner would see packages from Sephora arrive and comment on their frequency or remind me to pay the water bill.
We were both older when we met: both in our 30’s, we both owned homes, had both (unsuccessfully) lived with other partners, both paid off significant amounts of debt (him his law school student loans, me and my credit card debt.) The slow pace of our financial merger was due, in part, because we’d both been managing our finances completely on our own for over ten years and were comfortable and strongly preferred doing things a certain way.
We’d cleared the hard money convos, but we were both set in our own financial patterns and habits. In the end, it took us coming to the table with our feelings around money, instead of actual numbers that helped us get on the same page and start fresh managing money as a team. It’s different than how others would do it, but it’s how we’ve done it and it works for us – which is the most important goal.
Perhaps, I’m so enamored with how couples manage money because, quite frankly, I’ve never met two couples who managed it in exactly the same way. There’s the couple where one partner is the only earner, and the other stays at home yet completely controls the bank account. I met a couple who even after having several children still split everything 50/50 (“Do you Venmo one another for diapers?” I asked, “Yes.” She replied.) I even met a couple who has just one joint bank account and both agreed they’d never spent a day fighting about money.
No matter how you and your partner decide to manage your finances, remember that the first step is getting the courage to have the talk.