How Should My Spouse and I Communicate About Money?

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Submitted by Tim Goodwin

“What’s mine is yours” sounds like a universally wonderful idea until it isn’t. When that idea and other financial expectations are not met, couples often struggle to find healthy ways to discuss them. This failure to communicate often spells trouble for the future. According to a SunTrust survey from 2015, finances are the leading cause of relationship stress with 35 percent of couples reporting it as the primary source of conflict. While some stress is unavoidable, having hard conversations now can save you and your partner pain later. So how can you talk about money without it ending in an argument? 

Step 1: Learn Your Partner’s Money Personality 

You and your spouse-to-be have different personalities. You also probably have different money personalities. She might be a religious saver. He might be a spending fiend. Even if you share similarities, small differences can breed larger conflicts.  

Taking this money personality quiz individually and comparing your results can be a catalyst to deeper discussions. Certainly, you will still have disagreements, but understanding your partner’s habits can reduce miscommunications.    

Step 2: Consider Your Stage of Life 

According to the National Marriage Project study in 2013, on average, women marry at 27 and men at 29. While age offers some insight about one’s stage of life, it isn’t absolute. Other factors such as education, job experience and family background will impact how individuals manage their finances. 

If one partner had been independent for a long time and the other had relied on their parent’s generosity, tension is likely. Additionally, two self-sufficient individuals may have trouble letting go of their financial autonomy. By considering your money personality and stage of life, conversations, such as whether to completely merge, partially combine or keep separate bank accounts, will have more amicable outcomes.  

Step 3: I’ll Show You Mine If You Show Me Yours 

After all these conversations, it’s time to review the numbers. 

  • What is your annual income [combined and individual]? 
  • What are your existing assets [savings, 401k, etc.]? 
  • What existing debt do you have [student loans, mortgages, etc.]? 
  • Do you have any other obligations [child support, alimony, etc.]? 

If you and your partner have similar backgrounds and money personalities, these discussions may be hiccup free. However, answering those questions might help you avoid conflicts. For example, if you earn significantly more than your spouse, consider an allowance system. This can help you avoid heated conversations about miscellaneous purchases. 

Regardless of the specifics, openness, humility and respect are a must when discussing finances. In addition, the money conversation should be an ongoing dialogue, not a one-time talk. Even after you’re married, as life changes, so may your feelings about sharing a bank account. The key is continued communication.

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