Married couples who manage their finances together are more likely to say they’re in a happy, stable partnership, according to a recent University of Arizona study. But, according to a LendingClub member survey, nearly 70% of people admit to hiding some form of debt from their significant other.
So, why are we avoiding money talk? For starters, 2020 was a volatile year for most. And while vaccine news brings hope, many people will need time to recover from nearly a year of financial instability. So, whether it’s out of embarrassment, wanting to avoid another argument, or trouble budgeting, we get it—talking about money, especially right now, is not a romantic subject.
A money date is special time dedicated to opening up to your partner about money. It’s all about coming clean with your financial past, present and future. It’s about revealing your attitudes, habits and tendencies (good and bad) when it comes to spending and saving. Just as you shared your romantic history with your partner in the beginning of your relationship, trading your financial history is just as important. In fact, regular conversations about money can help you create and focus on shared money goals.
Most Americans would rather talk about marital problems than credit card debt. Obviously, just thinking about personal finances and debt can bring up feelings of shame, guilt, and isolation—which is why it’s helpful to know you’re not alone.
Here’s a breakdown of the average amount U.S. households owed by debt type.
Plus, when you consider that only 40 percent of Americans have enough saved to cover a $1,000 emergency expense, and 78 percent of workers are living paycheck to paycheck, being on the same page about money (and coming clean about any hidden accounts) is crucial to any long-term relationship.
Can a money date can work for you? There’s only one way to find out.
Before you go on your first money date, it’s best to prepared. Start by taking a close look at your own personal money situation. You can also use this end of year financial checklist to assess where you spent most. Grab a notepad and your partner and, each separately, take 30 minutes to:
Include student loans, credit cards, average monthly car payments, paying back Aunt Mary’s loan, etc. Be sure to include the APR (interest and fees) on all of them for you to have a full view of your debt management plan. Keep in mind, even if some debts—like student loan payments—have been put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic, you should still include those totals in your overall debt plan.
Add up your W-2 income, 1099, child support, side-hustle, and any tips or hourly work. Note the average per month as well as any seasonal trends which might give rise to an irregular income budget. Include a list of any personal savings, life insurance, or retirement accounts. If you’re receiving boosted unemployment benefits due to COVID-19, be sure to note when those extensions will end so you can create a plan together to manage the anticipated lower amount.
Take a moment to contemplate your past and present relationship with money, and be open to sharing all of it with your partner; think of it as practicing financial self care. You can start by asking yourself some questions like: How did your parents handle money? How did that influence your thoughts about money? Do couple budgets work? What are some of your biggest financial hopes, fears, and dreams? What do you want your finances to look like in six months, two years, five years?
When breaking the money silence, pick a time and location that’s comfortable, private, and free from distractions. A quiet cafe, a blanket on the beach, or a picnic table at your favorite park are all good options. If you have young children at home, ask a neighbor to watch them for a couple of hours—you need time to focus. And that means cell phones are out of sight.
When you’re ready, take turns sharing your financial data and history with each other. Talk about your money attitudes and beliefs, and anything you might be hiding or afraid to admit. Approach what your partner has to say with an open mind. Listen, and remain judgment-free. This may take some patience. Be prepared for surprises and feeling a bit uncomfortable at first. Remember that honesty and taking it slow builds trust in any relationship.
If you’re dealing with a sudden job loss, healthcare expense, personal loans for home improvement, or a cross-country move, mapping out immediate, or short-term, money goals can help you work on addressing how to adjust your spending and how to grow your savings plans together. For example, teaming up to figure out how to tackle student loan debt together, personal loan taxes or any money issues can be incredibly bonding. And even if you’re not in a money bind at the moment, you can still write down what you each want more of in the short term, e.g., more dinners at home, save money for the holidays, a job closer to home, or agreement on sticking to a budget.
Regular, ongoing money dates are for solving problems or inconsistencies that inevitably crop up in daily life together. Here are some topics you can address to keep the money conversation going strong on your first, and any future, money dates:
Some couples prefer splitting everything 50/50, even if one makes more money. Others divvy up expenses based on income. Some couples opt for more creative solutions, such as one pays all the living expenses while the other saves up for a big purchase or vacation. Figuring out what works for the two of you will help prevent conflict down the road.
Depending on how you split expenses, discuss whether sharing a savings and/or checking account would make sense for you. For example, jointly saving for a large purchase or down payment on a new home, or sharing a joint checking from which you pay for groceries or recurring expenses can help you streamline and simplify your money life.
Having a financial safety net is critical to long term financial health. A good rule of thumb is to start building emergency savings that will cover your total living expenses for three to six months. Once you’ve got that tucked away, then you can drill into your options for life insurance, disability insurance and retirement savings.
If buying a home is important to one of you and not the other, it’s best to get on the same page. Talking to a lender can help you figure out your loan options and how to avoid loan scams, why your credit score matters, and how much of a down payment you’ll need.
Many people today face the double-whammy challenge of raising young children (or paying for college), as well as managing aging parents’ nursing and eldercare needs. If this is you, factoring tips for the “sandwich generation” into the conversation is essential.
The earlier you start saving and investing for retirement (whether you choose to stop working or are unable to continue) the better. Many helpful retirement planning tools like this retirement income calculator can help you analyze your personal situation, identify what you may need to work on, and help you create a plan for for the future.
If you’re building your lives together, the path to money stability and financial health requires a commitment of time and energy from both of you. Keep scheduling money dates monthly until you discover your own rhythm. Before you know it, having conversations about your personal finances will become second nature, and eventually, a normal part of your daily life.