Money Date: Practicing Finance Love
When you think about making a date with your partner, the first ideas that probably come to mind are romantic restaurants, maybe a favorite sporting event or possibly a trip to that winery you’ve heard so much about. But when was the last time you set a Money Date?
A Money Date may not set the same romantic mood, but it is a crucial ingredient in sending your relationship onto the road toward financial success. Just like in your romantic relationship, regular communication and understanding cement a strong financial foundation that can weather any storm.
Despite the fact that a majority of couples say they communicate exceptionally or very well when it comes to financial matters, more than 43 percent couldn’t correctly identify how much their partner makes. In fact, 10 percent were off by $25,000 or more, according to Fidelity Investments’ 2015 Couples Retirement Study. This significant disconnect is one that could be easily remedied with regular Money Dates. But before jumping into a Money Date with your significant other, take the time to know where you stand, financially.
First, get to know the lay of the land
Before you take stock of your own financials, it may help to know what’s average in the nation.1
Next, take yourself on a Money Date
Before you get together to discuss finances as a couple, it is important to know what’s going on with yours. Ask your partner to do the same prep work, so you both can come to the table with the most up-to-date information possible.
- Start by writing down all of you debts: student loans, credit cards, car payments, etc. Be sure to include the APR (interest and fees) on all of them. Tip: Sometimes your credit card APR is on the last pages of your statement, so don’t worry if it doesn’t jump out at you when you check. If some have really high rates, you may want to consider consolidation.
- Then log all of your income. If you are paid a set salary this is easier to predict, but if you work freelance, hourly or multiple jobs, we suggest looking back over the last 12–18 months and jotting down each month individually. Note the average per month as well as trends you see so you can better plan for the future.
- Don’t forget savings, life insurance, child support, 401K, etc.
- Finish by writing up a brief history of your relationship with money for your partner. Think through questions like: How did your parents handle money? What are some of your biggest financial fears or expectations? What are your short-term and long-term financial goals?
Download our spreadsheet template to get started.
Set a “Money Date”
Pick a time and place that is comfortable and free from too many distractions. We’re not suggesting February 14th, but any other day probably works! Some people may prefer a quiet and neutral place, like a local coffee shop. Others find their own dining room table more comfortable and private. If you have kids, get a sitter. And make this a no cell phone time.
Be open and non-judgmental
Now for some fun in the balance sheets. Create a judgment-free zone and bring an open mind. Nearly 38 percent of couples were only somewhat or not at all aware of their significant other’s debts.2 So you’re not alone if there are surprises along the way!
Start with now, then plan for later
The first Money Date should be about sharing where each of you are, individually. If you already have common assets, that can be a part of the discussion too, but stay focused on the present more than the future. The first date is more of an appraisal of now. Once you know where you stand, set a separate date for planning your future. Try setting a monthly Money Date until you discover your rhythm. Eventually they can become quarterly, or even yearly goal setting getaways, if that makes sense.
Reward yourselves afterward
Also, try to plan something nice to do together after your Money Date. Grab a glass of wine, go for a drive, see a funny movie. Rewarding yourselves by creating a fun ritual may actually get you excited for all your future Money Dates.
Plan for the Future
The next step is to start planning what the future looks like. Talk about what you each see and expect out of the next few decades.
- How do you want to split expenses? Some people prefer 50/50 even if one person makes more money. Others divide expenses based on income. Some couples even work out more creative solutions, such as: One person pays all the living expenses while the other does the saving and paying for nice to haves, like vacations and dates. Figure out what works in your relationship and won’t lead to misunderstandings or conflicts.
- Do you want joint savings and/or checking accounts? Depending on how you share expenses, you may want to share savings and checking accounts, too. Create some infrastructure that helps you reach your goals. For example, a joint savings account for your dream home that each of you automatically pay into each month. Or, if you share groceries and other living expenses, you might create a checking account for those expenses, so you don’t have to keep a ledger. The more you can set and forget, the easier achieving joint goals may be.
- Talk contingency plans such as a nest egg, life insurance, and other safety nets. It’s a good rule of thumb to start with savings that can float you for 3-6 months.
- Are you interested in purchasing a home together? What does it look like and what financing would make sense for you? Making a plan together and writing it down can help you reach that goal together.
- Talk children and aging relatives. As a couple you should address the expenses and expectations you have about any dependents in your life before it becomes an issue. From preschool and college to home nursing and eldercare, there are lots of expenses that come with dependents and should be factored into any long-term planning.
- What does retirement look like for you as a couple? Discuss how much you want to live on and if either of you have savings started. Did you know that 60 percent of couples and almost half of Boomers don’t have any idea how much their Social Security benefit might be?3 The information is readily available on the Social Security website if you want to start factoring that into your retirement plans.
There will be struggles and wins on your path to financial security. On one of your Money Dates you should discuss how each of you want to celebrate the achievable milestones. Whether it means hitting an arcade or bowling alley after making the last payment on your student loans, or finally opening that fancy bottle of wine when your emergency savings account can float your family for a few months.
What was once an uncomfortable topic can become the glue that binds your relationship together. Communicating about the future you want to build together can be fun! So, when are you planning your Money Date?