Talking about finances is rarely fun, but if you're in a long-term relationship, it's an essential discussion to have. And no, not just once — there are actually several money conversations couples should have before getting married or making a similar commitment. As Jayne Hladio, senior vice president of U.S. Bank Wealth Management, tells Mic, “Just like being married, money and finances are an ongoing process, not a one-time event."
In a survey of over 1,000 American adults, Ramsey Solutions found that money is the number one issue married couples argue about, and it’s also the second leading cause of divorce. Yet the study noted that couples who talked openly and frequently about money reported being happier, with those who said they have a “great” marriage almost twice as likely to talk about money on a daily or weekly basis than those who said their marriage was just “OK” or “in crisis."
In other words, while shying away from finance-focused conversations may feel like a relief now, it isn't going to benefit your relationship in the long run. "[Having those talks early on] ensures that you and your partner stay in control of your relationship; otherwise, financial friction can build up and wreak havoc on your partnership,” says Andrea Woroch, consumer and money-saving expert.
Not only will talking about money prior to making a lifelong commitment to each other show you both what common values you share, she explains, but it’ll allow you to see how you differ in terms of spending and saving. “From meshing your spending personalities to creating a secure financial future, focusing on money as a couple early can pave the way to a happily ever after,” says Woroch.
Below, Hladio, Woroch, and other finance experts reveal the specific money topics you and your partner should discuss if you're serious about your lives together.
1. Your upbringing and mindsets about money
Woroch says that asking your partner about their family's attitude toward money growing up is key. “This can help you figure out what your partner’s spending or saving style will be,” she explains. “The way their parents managed money will directly impact how your partner manages their own personal finances — and potentially yours as a couple.”
Similarly, Hladio says it’s a good idea to also discuss each of your current money mindsets and how see how they match up. “Habits and emotional spending behaviors influence how we manage our finances,” she explains. “Do you have a scarcity mindset, where things are never enough? Or an abundance mindset, where there is always enough?”
If you and your partner are not comfortable with one another’s views on finances, Hladio says it can be good to seek out a financial coach or advisor, who can help you gain clarity around both your needs and wishes regarding future money decisions.
2. Your bank accounts
Julie Spira, online dating expert and dating coach, tells Mic that before getting married or committing to each other permanently, decide how you plan to handle your bank accounts. “While some couples decide to merge everything — from last names to full bank and financial accounts — others keep completely separate accounts,” she explains. There's no one right choice, she adds, but whatever method you choose needs to be decided in advance.
If you and your partner make very different salaries and you're worried the bank account conversation will be too complicated, "you can also split your bill-paying responsibility based on each partner’s income,” Heather Winston, assistant director of financial planning and advice at Principal, tells Mic. “This helps many couples to minimize anxiety about doing enough or having enough each month.”
3. Your debt and credit scores
Suzanne, 32, tells Mic that she didn't find out about her fiancé’s $70,000 in student loan debt until after they were married. “When he lost his job, that debt became mine,” she recalls. “At first, I don’t know what angered me more — the fact that he hid it or the fact that I became stuck with it.”
Sometimes, a person hides debt from their partner out of shame, embarrassment, or fear that the person will leave them. Yet while these feelings are understandable, Woroch says it’s important to be open about any debt you have.
“It may seem like a taboo topic, but it’s incredibly essential to address, especially before being together long-term,” she says. “This doesn’t have to be a turn-off; instead, it can be an opportunity to learn about each other’s financial habits... once you open up about it, you can help each other stay accountable to paying it off."
Spira adds that when talking about debt, don’t forget to also discuss each other’s credit scores, since this can impact future decisions you make together like getting a loan to buy a house. Decisions on paying off debts and increasing credit scores should be made as a couple, she explains. “I recommend having a date night over a drink to access and print out your credit reports, view them together as a couple, and create an action plan,” Spira says.
4. Your short- and long-term goals
It's common for couples to have different plans for the future; you may want to rent a place for years and use the mortgage money, so to speak, for traveling, while your significant other may want to buy now and settle down. Those differences can feel overwhelming, but talking early on about both your short- and long-term goals around money can greatly make it easier.
Woroch says to ask each other questions like: when do you want to have a family (and how many kids)? Do you want to buy a house (and when)? How often do you want to travel (annually)? “These answers will greatly impact your financial choices and how to manage your money together moving forward,” she explains.
While considering getting engaged, Becky, 34, and her boyfriend discussed their goals with their friend, a financial advisor. “He was going over questions with us, and my boyfriend and I disagreed on almost everything; for instance, I thought we’d live in the city for several years still but he wanted to move to the suburbs and get a house,” she tells Mic. “The more we talked about our money goals, the more we realized they didn’t match up.”
Today, Becky's married — but to someone whose financial goals align more with hers.
5. Your emergency fund
If you need money for a sudden medical procedure or an unexpected house repair, having an emergency fund can be huge help, says Elisabeth Kozack, vice president of product strategy and customer experience at Marcus by Goldman Sachs.
Talk to your partner about how much money each of you will allocate to this fund on a regular basis. As Kozach tells Mic, “Unplanned life moments can happen to either of you at any time, and these unexpected costs can impact your financial future together."
6. Your prenuptial agreements
While you may want a prenuptial agreement before getting married, your partner may not, or vice-versa. “Couples are getting married later, and many have built up careers, including stock options, owning real estate, or have a much larger income than their partner,” says Spira. “In these cases, it’s best to talk about your assets, debts, and how to divide things up should the relationship go south.”
She explains that although prenups aren't sexy or romantic, without one, you might end up being resentful toward your partner or having sticker shock when you see the legal bills pile up if you get divorced.
7. Your retirement and insurance policies
Although retirement may seem far off, it’s smart to talk about the ways in which you're each planning for it. “Checking in on retirement funds to make sure you are both saving for the future can be an important conversation to have,” says Kozack. “For instance, familiarize yourself with both of your company’s 401(k) offerings and then see if they have a matching program.”
Winston adds that it's crucial to discuss insurance with your partner, too. “Thinking about this may not seem like the most exciting conversation, but it is a good one to have, especially if there are children involved in your relationship,” she says. She recommends not duplicating coverage with your life, health, or disability insurance policies, and to update the beneficiaries on each policy if you're planning on getting married.
By having an open and healthy dialogue about money with your partner, you'll not only inspire greater trust in one another, but hopefully run into fewer problems down the line.