For this blog post, we’re going to discuss something almost everyone wants. It can bring great joy or great pain, but it can be awkward to talk about. We’re of course referring to… wait, is this post about love or money? Oh, both? Yeah, it’s both.
With Valentine’s Day coming up, we’re going through some basics of how to handle money throughout a relationship. Every couple is going to have a different financial journey, but there are some major milestones that most couples will encounter at some point. Here are some tips for when you’re dating, when you’re committed, and when you decide to tie the knot.
It’s fine to leave conversations about money until later, but if you decide you’re comfortable enough, you can open up a financial discussion as early as the first date. Who pays for dates is (somehow) still a hotly contested topic, according to the findings of a 2015 sociological study.1 There’s no clear consensus regarding who should pay for what, and some people have complex feelings toward splitting the bill, so bringing up the subject can be a way to get a money chat rolling.
After you’ve spent some time with someone and you’re considering whether you want to be in a serious, long-term relationship with them, it’s a sensible idea to make sure you’re financially compatible first. A survey commissioned by Ally Bank found that when people were asked to name the biggest source of stress in their relationships and marriages, money was the most common answer.2 Try to head off fights before they happen by checking if you and your partner have similar financial behaviors and goals. If you want to save for a vacation together while your better half wants to start investing in rare tropical fish, that could lead to an argument later.
By cohabiting with your significant other, you’re taking the first major step toward building a financial life together. Now you’re relying on your partner to help pay for food and rent, which means their financial habits have a more direct impact on your wellbeing. Starting to think of your finances more as a duo while setting clear boundaries to make sure no one feels smothered can help keep both parties happy.
Unfortunately, the first step to co-planning your finances can be the hardest for a lot of people: divulging your financial history. That includes the accounts you have, your savings, and most importantly, your debts. One way you can ease into this is to make a budget together, which can act as a neutral conversation that puts you both on the same page. If you’re still anxious, psychological research suggests that honesty is an important part of building strong relationships,3 so sharing your financial situation with your partner may bring the two of you closer together.
You’ll also need to talk about how to split shared living expenses. Two main ways of doing this are to split things evenly or equitably. An even split means you and your partner divide costs 50-50. This may not really be fair if you and your significant other have vastly different incomes, but it can help both of you feel more equal since you’re paying the same amount, and it’s easy to figure out who should pay what.
An equitable split, though, means sharing costs according to each person’s ability to pay. This is arguably more fair than an even split, since you’re both paying an amount you can manage while still leaving money to cover personal expenses. However, it can potentially cause tension if the person paying more feels like their bigger contribution should give them a greater say in the relationship, and uses their economic advantage to push the other person around. Remember that you don’t have to commit 100% to an even or equitable split, so you and your partner can find a balance between these that works for you.
Once you get married your partnership isn’t just recognized by your friends and family, but by the big G… that’s right, the government. The United States General Accounting Office has identified over 1,000 federal provisions in which marital status influences your legal benefits, rights, and privileges,4 and that’s not even getting into each state’s laws. If you have questions about how getting married will affect your rights (such as your property rights), the safest person to talk to is a qualified attorney.
Additionally, now’s the time to start thinking about how you want to organize financial accounts with your partner, if you haven’t already. In general, combining your money using joint accounts can make it easier to pay household expenses and save for mutual goals, but it also may reduce how independent you feel since you have less money to yourself. The exact method you choose is really up to what you and your partner are the most comfortable with. For example, you could keep your separate financial accounts active while opening a new joint bank account for shared expenses, adopting a “yours, mine, and ours” split. Or, you could consolidate all of your money into one person’s account and add the other person as an authorized user. It’s also still valid to keep your money completely separate.
At their core, all of these steps really boil down to communicating and compromising with your significant other. If you’re able to do that, you have an advantage in building a financially healthy and stable partnership.