As advisors, we know that money is a leading cause of friction in many relationships, but it doesn’t have to be.
Creating and agreeing on a plan for financial balance will help ensure you both know what to do when money conflicts arise. Whether you’re married or not, combining households means you’ll need to address financial questions like shared bills, housing costs, and planning for the future. Communicate early and often to forge an economic partnership that helps support shared goals while preserving the emotional health of the relationship.
One way to create a plan and communicate updates is through regular Money Dates. Money Dates are a thoughtful and fun (yes, fun) way to integrate everyday money conversations into your partnership.
What is a Money Date?
A Money date is a regularly recurring time you agree to set aside every week or month to discuss finances together. You can make money dates into a regular habit by scheduling a time on your calendars.
As with any habit, the sooner you begin, the more significant the impact.
Making time for a money talk shows respect for your partnership and your shared goals. Over time, regular money dates will create a solid framework to articulate what’s happening in the moment and how it relates to your shared future.
How to create the best money dates:
- They don’t have to be long and involved. I recommend an hour or less and aim to tackle one or two items. Write down the points that you want to cover.
- Establish a cadence that works for you, typically once every couple of weeks. Or, start with once a month. They do have to occur regularly to be effective.
- Design your money dates according to what works for both of you. (Go for lunch, a walk, or have your discussion over coffee and dessert.)
- Allocate time for each topic and stick to it.
- Establish rules of engagement, which include allowing each other space and time to express feelings and thoughts.
- Use plenty of “I” statements and avoid accusatory statements or assigning blame. Think of this as a “Yes! And” exercise.
- Vary your approach depending on what you need to discuss.
- If you find yourselves dreading a money date, change the environment in which you meet. Go for a walk or gamify the process. There are lots of ways to make this “date” special.
- Agree on the next steps, deadlines, and calendar your next date. Write it down. Be each other’s accountability partner.
You’ll have much to talk about, especially if you intend your cohabitation to lead to a formal partnership or marriage, a family, and home ownership. Here are four conversation starters to consider for your first money dates. These are areas of discussion that apply to all of us.
- No matter your income, you’ll want to share your debt amount because it can impact your credit score. Whether you’re planning to rent together or buy a house, take a look at your credit reports and scores.
- It’s important to talk to each other candidly about your approach to debt today and in the future. Do one of you have a lot of debt? If so, what are your plans for paying it down? Does one partner own multiple real estate properties or a business? Is one partner financially responsible for family members? With higher income often comes more complexities, and every facet of this should be discussed.
- Refrain from combining your debt.
Budget and Spending
- Setting a budget is about creating transparency, clarity, and a shared path forward for how you plan to spend your money. Establish how household expenses will be paid and intermittently review how it’s working for each of you. Automating bill pay is helpful.
- Run your household like a business. Develop an annual cash flow, manage that plan, and check in monthly or quarterly for needed changes. Put proactive thought into maintaining a prudent emergency fund and discuss the “right” amount of cash reserves. Create plans for upcoming capital expenditures like home renovations or milestone trips.
- Suppose you haven’t yet combined finances. In that case, it’s essential to understand your expenses and how checking accounts, investment accounts, 401(k)s, etc., are allocated and know how your spending habits can impact and integrate with your partner’s finances. For example, if you take a luxury vacation together and agree to split costs, does the expense make more of a financial impact on one partner over the other? This thought process and discussion can foster empathy and be a further building block towards a strong partnership.
Values and Goals
- Often couples have several shared values but may articulate them differently. Getting on the same page about what’s most important to you as individuals and as a couple can help be a guide as money decisions come up. In the future, you can run decisions through your shared value system to determine if a choice/purchase/life decision is a good fit.
- With accumulated income, sharing big-picture goals for your financial future becomes increasingly important. Decisions on how to allocate bonus payments, plan for liquidity events, or get to “work optional” are all topics to discuss along with your investment strategies. The earlier you get dollars working for you in the market (versus spending aimlessly or sitting in cash), the more years you have for those dollars to compound and grow your nest egg.
- If your future together might involve children, this adds another layer of values and goals to consider and discuss. What is your educational philosophy? Public or private schools? Funding – do you want to fund 529 plans for each child? And further down the road, how do you intend to talk to your children about money? Do you see your children participating in their education funding as they go to college?
- No matter your income level, if you’re moving in together, consider a contingency plan for your new shared life by composing and signing a cohabitation agreement form. It’s great to have in place, as it signals mutual respect.
- What are the rules of the road? Specify rights and duties for the short term and the long term.
Regardless of your ultimate plans for your relationship, you’ll encounter financial tethers to almost every decision. Regularly checking in with each other can promote open communication, trust around money habits, and a positive experience around money conversations for both partners.
Understanding your partner’s money values can only be beneficial to your relationship in the long run.
Everyone knows it’s essential for married couples to consider and discuss financial issues like saving, spending, credit use, and retirement planning. Money Dates will help you navigate personal financial decisions at any relationship stage.