Did you know that the secret to a healthy relationship may be hiding in your wallet? No, money can't buy you love, but talking about the dollars you have may make a lot of, well, sense. In a recent study, researchers discovered that lack of communication about money leads younger couples to both arguments and added stress.
Here are some financial discussions worth having, especially if you share the bulk of your expenses. Heck, they may even bring you closer together!
1. Where Is Our Money Going?
Have you sat down with your partner to really dig into your bank accounts lately? It may be a good idea. A national survey conducted by Money magazine revealed that 70% of couples fight about money matters more than they do about chores, sex, snoring, and togetherness.
What's high on their hot points? Frivolous spending.
Take some time — over candlelight and wine, perhaps — to delve into your check registers and online accounts. Do you see any patterns? Were you both aware that all that money was going toward the groceries each week? Or what about those online magazine subscriptions? Unused gym memberships? You may be able to quickly spot some areas that need work before they turn into shouting matches.
2. How Do We Each Deal With Money?
Once you know what you're spending your money on, you can move on to what makes your partner tick — financially speaking. Is he a big spender? Is she a penny-pincher? Does he thrive on a cash system? Is she a credit card rewards ninja? Often, these habits are set in family history, internal motivations, or simple habit.
In my marriage, I am the one who loves drafting up budgets, doing taxes, and planning for paying off debt faster. My husband? He gets super stressed doing any of this stuff, even if it's just keeping track of the cable bill. We used to bicker about dividing everything "fairly" between us. In the end, and through many discussions, we decided that my strength with money matters made me a more natural choice for these duties.
What we share is that we are both really bad with credit cards. So, we do cash for more of our variable expenses. The message here is to find your similarities and differences. Discover what makes one person thrive or the other person freak out. Avoid condemning certain behaviors or weak points. Instead, celebrate your differences, split up duties according to your strengths, and find common ground.
3. Should We Bank Together — Or Not?
A 2014 survey uncovered that 70% of millennial couples maintain separate bank accounts until marriage. Not only that, another study uncovered that 15% of partners who do share accounts actually maintain a secret, uh, mistress account. If you share a lot of expenses, like the usual bills and household stuff, you may want to do a pooled account so all your money is in one handy place. But that probably also means coming clean about anything you may have been hiding.
Some couples may actually benefit from or just enjoy the freedom of having separate accounts. And that's fine, too. Benefits here include not having to ask to spend money or having some privacy if you want to buy gifts for the other person. That said, don't financially cheat.
If you wish to have separate accounts, be open and honest about it. If you want to pool everything into one bank account, go for that. You can also do a combination of approaches. For example, if you make $60,000 a year and your partner makes $40,000, you may keep separate accounts. You, then, may choose to pay 60% of your shared expenses while your partner pays 40%.
The key to whatever you choose is communication, which is the cornerstone to many other aspects of your relationship.
4. How Can We Save for Something Big?
If you find money talks hard, maybe sweetening the deal a bit could help. Saving up for a mutual goal, like a vacation, can get you to join forces for good. Travel not your thing? Sit down with your partner and write out a list of five or 10 things you'd like to save for within a defined period of time, like a year, five years, etc. Bonus points if you've written down a few of the same goals.
From there, work together to see how you can turn them from dreams into realities. This activity can be quite romantic and exciting, depending on how you define your wants. For example, my husband and I have a shared dream of creating a first-floor laundry room in the next two years. Nothing gets me more in the mood than pinning design ideas. Swoon!
5. What Do We Want Our Future to Look Like?
One of the more common savings goals is retirement. A survey conducted by Fidelity discovered that many couples nearing retirement age weren't necessarily on the same page with their plans. A third of the respondents explained that they didn't know or couldn't agree on where they wanted to retire. And up to two-thirds didn't know at what age they wanted to retire.
How you spend retirement has a lot to do with how you currently spend and save your money. So, yeah. Your retirement is definitely worth chatting about. After all, it's your future together. While you most definitely need to talk about the dollars and cents, you also need to focus on the lifestyle you want to lead in those later years.
Consider writing out what you want your ideal retirement to look like. Maybe you'd like a second home near the grandchildren or to downsize and move abroad. You may even want to revisit this conversation regularly to make sure you're on the same page. Try updating your plan once a year.
If you still don't think money talk is sexy, you may just be worried about how to start the conversation. And, really, it can be hard. Take a deep breath and try these tips. Your relationship and financial situation will be much more stable for your efforts.
Set up a regular time to chat about money. You may want to do it every week or month, but find a schedule that works for the both of you.
Agree that sometimes you may disagree, and that's OK. Savings goals and spending habits are unique to each individual. Just like you may not be able to change personality traits about your partner, you may also not be able to change what motivates his or her spending style.
Employ healthy discussion techniques into your talks. Stay away from blame and shame. Instead, start your thoughts with "I feel" or "I need" to work toward mutual understanding.
If you cannot easily make a decision on something, work together to brainstorm solutions.
If meeting over the dinner table is too stressful, try taking your financial talk on a walk. The fresh air and exercise will do you both some good.
Image Credit: iStockphoto
Theresa Todman, Managing Partner/CEO of B&M Financial Management Services, LLC . Theresa specializes in bookkeeping, accounting, QuickBooks solutions, small business tax issues and consulting.