Money + Your Relationship: What You Need To Know

I am not here to tell you whether or not to date, marry, divorce, or go it alone. Because the fact is that no matter the relationship situation you find yourself in, you are the only one who can take personal responsibility for your finances.

Before we get into discussing your finances from a relationship standpoint, I want to make the point that you do not, in fact, need a partner. Let me repeat that another way: it is okay to be single. In fact, more Americans than ever before are making just that choice: the US Census found recently that nearly half of all American adults—around 100 million people—are now single, the highest rate in recent history. You might be thinking, “I know why that is—it’s because the divorce rate is at historic highs, too! So divorced people are ‘single.’” Yes, that’s true, but 61% of those 100 million folks have never been married. So while it might feel like everyone is getting married and settling down (if your social media feeds are any indicator), that couldn’t be further from the truth. There are lots of single, successful people walking around—and thriving.

But whether you’re a “table for one” or “table for two” (or, hey, “table for three”—who am I to judge!) you need to maintain control over what you bring to the table. The good, the bad, and (especially) the ugly.

At the most fundamental level, that means looking these three things in the eye:

1. What you make (salary, investments, other income)

: Tally up all the money you have coming in, whether it’s your monthly paycheck, interest from stocks you’ve invested in, money you make on the side selling jewelry, etc. These are known as your assets. Know your worth!

2. What you owe (credit card debt, mortgage, loans)

: Get a handle on every single dollar you owe, including monthly payments on credit cards, your mortgage, student loans, auto loans, etc. These are your “liabilities,” and you are “liable” for paying them off.

3. Your money habits (overspending, lack of savings, poor planning)

: Invest in a good LBD (that’s a Little Budget Diary, not a new dress) to keep track of what you spend and save every day. What do you tend to splurge on? Is there a part of your budget where you underspend, so that money could be put to work elsewhere? Know your pitfalls—we all have them, moi included—but be honest about them so you can be aware and catch yourself in a slipup.

These things are going to dictate your financial future no matter if you’re solo or have a partner. They are your responsibility, not anyone else’s. You might not be able to predict future heartache or “conscious uncoupling,” but if you keep the trifecta above in constant check, you will be prepared for just about anything.

You might not be able to predict future heartache or “conscious uncoupling,” but if you keep the trifecta above in constant check, you will be prepared for just about anything. Click To Tweet

Ready to dive deeper?

Arguments over money are the #1 cause of divorce, before cheating, empty nesting, you name it. There is nothing that can end a relationship faster than having financial skeletons in your closet (or stumbling upon them in your partner’s). So do me a favor: before moving in together (make sure to read The Dos And Don’ts Of Shacking Up beforehand!), getting married, having kids—whatever the next step might be—have The Talk. Get it all out on the table now, so you can plan happily and transparently for the future—and avoid nasty fights that stem from “I didn’t know that’s what you wanted.”

Still feeling intimidated? Put on your big girl undies and follow these basic guidelines:

When to bring it up:

As soon as humanly possible! Better to get any uncomfortable or even embarrassing news out on the table before things get serious enough for it to become a deal-breaker. This is where you could make known any unusual health conditions, family irregularities, or even past relationships that may come up in the future. Those are biggies even without the money factor, but there usually is one. And, of course, any pesky credit card debt, student loans, or financial goals that are important to you.

How to bring it up:

This is a delicate topic for men and women. So set yourselves up in a mutually comfortable, nonchaotic, and unrushed environment. The important thing to convey and establish here is sincerity. Your new partner should give you a realistic idea of his financial status so that it is never assumed he is in a position he is not. Ask the tough questions and keep him honest. You don’t want to start the relationship based on unrealistic expectations, and, hey, if you don’t love each other for you no matter how heavy your wallet is, it may not work out, anyway. Women: it is more appropriate for you to reveal your financial status by showing him than by telling him. For example, paying your own way when going on vacation or offering to take over some of the household expenses demonstrates that you are in a financially secure place. Likewise, suggesting dates that are low-budget or ways to save around the house will tip him off that you are more budget-conscious. This way, you can make your situation obvious without bruising his ego or threatening any dynamic perceptions he might have.

Set goals—together:

Discuss what your goals and purposes are for the relationship. Whether it’s just for fun or for life, being on the same page with your goals and purposes aligned is key to the success and longevity of the relationship. Does he want to travel for a while? Do you want to buy a house? Set these big milestones together and adjust them as your commitment and work/life situations change. It will give you something to work toward, together.

Imagine your ideal life:

Letting your mate know about your ideal life is helpful as a navigation point through the day-to-day living with one another. After all, your partner is the one beside you in the rat race, and it would be wonderful to know that you are able to contribute to each other’s world in a way that makes both of your lives easier. Are you an ardent saver who likes to splurge on a nice dinner once a month? Let him in on this and plan a date. Do you make your lunch for work but swear by your morning latte? Maybe it’s a tradition he can participate in, too. These little day-to-day indulgences will keep you both on track with your budgets—and you might make some traditions of your own along the way.

How often you have to talk about it:

You should know how to push your other half ’s on/off buttons by now. Don’t turn him off to The Talk. Keep him turned on to talking regularly about issues that surround a shared goal like a down payment for a house, car, or vacation. Keep the heavier stuff to a once-in-a-while thing. Be gentle (and keep timing in mind) when tackling issues like your credit card debt or contributing to your Roth IRA. Don’t avoid the tough stuff altogether—just adjust your approach based on how sensitive the subject is.

Still scrambling for topics to cover in The Talk? Here are a few you should bring up at some point:

Family Spending: Will you both contribute financially, or will one of you stay home with the kids?

Investment Style: Are you aggressive or conservative?

Nesting: Do you want to buy or rent a home?

Big-Ticket Purchases: How will you handle large expenses like a house or a car?

Now, just because you’re sharing your life with a sig-o doesn’t mean you have to share everything, intangible or tangible. In fact, I’m a big fan of setting up “Yours,” “Mine,” and “Ours” accounts.

Just like it sounds, you each maintain your own individual bank accounts and then have one (or a few) that you share. Here’s what should go into each:

“Yours”: His own personal expenditures like his gym membership, sneaker collection, or trip to Vegas with the guys for the Fantasy Football Draft. Also personal debt, like credit card and student loans.

“Mine”: Your own personal expenditures, like your yoga classes, monthly mani/pedi, or tapas night with the ladies. Also personal debt, like credit card and student loans.

“Ours”: All household expenditures, like rent, utilities, car maintenance, groceries, pet supplies, etc. Also shared debt, like a mortgage or car loan.

There’s a third type of account that you might want to look into, too: the “secret fund.”

In the event that things go south, you want to be prepared. You’re going to end up paying a lot of people to move out and into your own place, or in the unfortunate event that you get divorced. Some could include an attorney, accountant, valuation expert, real estate appraiser, psychiatrist, and financial advisor. The bills will add up quickly. Having an account in your name “in case of emergency” is something you should prioritize. How much? Depends on what kind of guy you’re divorcing. Is he going to be a jerk? Is he going to want to fight it out? Then the expenses could climb into the thousands (even millions). Of course, having a secret fund will have to be disclosed in divorce proceedings. Secret funds might not be best practice in sustaining a happy, trusting marriage, but they have to be disclosed and potentially shared as your other marital assets would. (FYI: you can’t hide a secret fund while you are getting divorced, because “hidden” assets are illegal.)

Regardless of how you segment your funds, make sure you can stand on your own financially—and that you talk through the best options for you as a couple.

If you’re STILL nervous about bringing up the “F” word (finances!) with your partner find an impartial third party, like a relationship counselor or financial planner, to sit down with the two of you and ask the tough questions. Having this mediator in the room can keep things from getting accusatory and also keep the conversation going even when it gets uncomfortable, because it’s one of the most important conversations to have!

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