Talking about money with your partner

Whether it’s planning a vacation, moving in with someone, or simply deciding what to eat for dinner, almost every decision we make in our lives involves money in some way. And how you and your partner communicate about these daily decisions will dictate the strength of your relationship together.

Let’s face it, sitting down and having the “money talk” with your significant other for the first time can be a difficult task – which is probably why the subject is often overlooked by couples until its too late. Because unfortunately, it’s usually a financial crisis that forces couples to finally deal with their finances. And if you are faced a crisis, instead of having a calm discussion about goals and your future together, you will most likely be stressed out, with no financial plan to get you back on your feet.

Here are a few things to consider when you decide to have the money talk with your significant other:

When to bring up money in a relationship

Talking about money will never be the most romantic thing to do in the world, but consider that a recent TD Canada Trust poll revealed that 72% of people would not marry someone who was bad at managing their finances, or if they held excessive debt. The poll, which surveyed British Columbian adults currently, or recently in a committed relationship, found that nearly 40% wouldn’t even date someone who didn’t have their finances under control.

A similar ING Direct survey found that 92% of Canadians believe it’s important to date someone with a similar outlook on money, but only 50% of Canadians said they knew everything about their partner’s finances.

So while you don’t need to bring it up on your third date, you shouldn’t wait until you decide to get married to start talking about money either – because by then, it could be too late. You might be compatible in many ways, but if you’re not on the same page financially, it could lead to a relationship disaster. Starting to discuss big picture personal finance goals should happen as soon as you’re in a serious relationship and you start to see a future together.

Luckily, Nic knew I was a personal finance blogger right from the beginning, so there was no need to tiptoe around the subject of money. While he will never be as detailed or obsessed with money management as I am (not that I’d ever want him to!), he does have the basics down – like spend less than you make, and not carrying a balance on a credit card. And most of the time, he’s even more frugal than me!

Observe their spending habits

You can tell a lot about a person by how they manage their day-to-day finances. Do they dine out a lot? Are they constantly complaining about being broke? Do they know how much money is in their bank account? Do they not care about the price of the things that they buy?

You might love your partner, but if he’s a spender, and you’re a saver, will you be able to come to a compromise?  Openly discussing money with your partner is the best way to prevent future arguments. Talk about your spending and savings habits, and what your financial goals are for the future.

I’ve been both the spender and the saver in relationships before, and it can be tough when you and your partner have opposing views on money. It’s frustrating! And it always leads to arguments. But now that I’ve turned my finances around from the disaster it once was, I know that there’s no way I could ever be in a relationship with someone who is bad with money. I need my goals, and hopes and dreams to align with theirs, and if they don’t care about saving for retirement (or saving in general, and living a debt-free life), I can’t stand still and wait for them.

Be honest about your debt and past mistakes

When you enter into a new relationship with someone, chances are you will have to deal with debt at some point. You or your partner may have student loans, a line of credit, maxed out credit cards, or even a mortgage. If you are planning a future together, you both need to disclose exactly what kind of debt obligation you have, because that can greatly impact your household budget, as well as your future financial goals.

Consider your personal finance goals

You will most likely never have every personal finance goal in common with your partner, but it’s important to find some common ground and go from there. Take the time to talk to each other and consider your short-term goals – like saving to buy a flat-screen TV, or that trip to Hawaii, as well as your long-term goals – like buying a home together, paying off your student loans, and what kind of retirement lifestyle you want to have.

Be honest with yourself; if you don’t see your goals lining up with theirs, it’s important to be voice your concerns now – rather than 10 years down the road.

About Krystal Yee

I'm a writer, personal finance blogger, and marketing professional based in Vancouver. I'm a former Toronto Star (Moneyville) columnist, author of The Beginner's Guide to Saving and Investing, and co-founder of the Canadian Personal Finance Conference. When I'm not working, you can usually find me running, playing field hockey, or plotting my next adventure.

20 comments

  1. I think my fiance and I have been pretty compatible in our financial goals and plans.

    We’ve always been completely honest and open about our finances. He has known all along that by asking for my hand in marriage, he would also taking on a huge amount of student debt.

    I agree that is can be difficult for some people though-especially if one of you is traditionally a big spender. I think it’s a muddy area for people in less committed relationships though. Do you go full Dutch? Does one contribute more than the other to living expenses? If so, then who?

    I guess it all boils down to communication and honesty (like all things, right?)

  2. We brought up money right away but we were young. It’s been almost 6 years and everything is still working for us great. Definitely be honest and open.

  3. I think its very important to talk about it pretty early as it is good to be honest up front. I was in a situation where my partner was in a lot of debt but hid it from me. When things accidentally leaked out about how bad the situation was, I was able to sit down with him and set up a plan. We worked through it and are stronger than ever. He was happy that he got the help that he needed and I’m happy that we’re honest with each other.

  4. Well, we got into debt together. We didn’t have any before marriage. Terrible huh?

  5. For everything to work out long term in relationships I think you have to have similar financial goals. Its way easier to work towards something together if you both have the same mindset. The wife and I were probably like a 75% match for the goals that we have, and after we actually sat down and discussed finances in detail we are closer to like 90%. We have the same basic goals and are much happier.

  6. I agree that you have to have these chats and regularly! I am so lucky in the sense that Mrs Scot has extremely similar financial goals and she hardly makes any purchases. All financial decisions are made together in our marriage – the way it should be! :)

  7. We struggle most discussing our goals. Both of us have had a hard time figuring out exactly what we want out of life. We have some general ideas but I would like a specific goal to move towards. My husband doesn’t always like to think about it, I don’t know why so it’s hard to gt him to have a real conversation. I am hoping that our financial advisor might be able to help a bit in this regard but if not, I’d consider marriage counseling or something just to get the dialogue flowing. I often wish that Gail Vaz Oxlade would do a show like Til Debt Do Us Part for people that don’t have a bunch of debt because, even though we don’t have a bunch of consumer debt, I still feel like we could greatly benefit from a third party’s viewpoint and a bit of tough love.

  8. It’s really important that you and your partner is open for financial issues so that you’ll anticipate the problem or deficits along the way. Thanks for sharing this remarkable idea.

    -Andre

  9. My bf and I have recently been discussing how we would want to manage our finances if we got married. He’s a big proponent of the “one pot” model, where there’s one joint account. I’m more of a “two pot” model fan, where we each pay into a joint account for savings, household items, vacation, rent, etc. but the rest stays in our individual accounts. That way, when he wants to spend $300 on a weather station (nerdy but cute), I don’t bat an eye because it’s coming from his funds. Similarly, if I spend $300 on a haircut, he doesn’t need to concern himself about it.

    I’ve been asking around about people’s preferences, and it’s been interesting to discover how personal a decision it really is. And, it seems people are usually pretty committed to one or the other way of doing things.

  10. Communication is everything! Even a difference in money philosophies can be overcome through communication and compromise. But it certainly doesn’t hurt if you wind up with someone who has similar tendencies and values when it comes to money.

  11. Open communication is one of the essential things that help to build up up business partnership very well and indeed…

  12. This was something that took a while for my guy and I to work out. We were both honest about our spending/saving habits and our debt which really helped us. I’m more of a saver (at least I am now) and he was big into spending a dollar if he had it in his pocket. Now we sort of balence each other out. He has stopped spending so much and let’s me know when I’m going overboard (like no fun money or no wiggle room)

  13. When we married neither of us had a particular stance on finances.. After 1 yr of marriage I began to care, and you can’t change other people, so while he still likes to spend spend, i basically give him an allowance, he gives me the pay cheques, and usually i’ll take half, give him the other half to do what he pleases with. poor thing. but it’s facilitating me reaching “OUR” goals.. in other words I care enough about OUR financial situation NOW and for the future for the both of us. he’ll thank me later. : ) just glad he’s cooperative.. he has seen all that ‘we’ve’ acheived so he can trust i’m using half his salary wisely.

  14. My wife is making progress slowly but surely. I look forward to the day that he will help me manage our finances.

  15. My husband and I talk about money all the time (more so about goals and plans and savings). I think we were lucky in that we started dating at the age of 15 and 18, so we came into this relationship with clean slates. Now – at 28 and 31, we’ve dealt with everything together, and know each other’s finances inside and out. For us, money management is a well oiled machine.

  16. My best advice is to not just TALK to your partner but EXCHANGE credit reports. This has happened to me and many of my friends.
    In my case, my husband HID from me the fact that he co-signed cards with his sister and she carried LARGE balances on them.
    In my best friend’s case her husband hid a BANKRUPTCY filing.
    In my other best friend’s case she found out that her husband had credit cards that carried large balances and he really needed her to get a job (this after she was pregnant and had JUST MOVED to a new state to be with him) to help him pay down bills.
    Another friend attempted to tell her boyfriend that she would not marry him until he got his credit cleaned up. Unfortunately, this was taking years and her biological clock was ticking so she eventually married him without him paying off his credit cards. It was a big mess!

    So everyone out there please follow these rules that my friends and I have learned from:

    1. Exchange credit reports.
    2. Make sure he contributes regularly to his retirement account. If he doesn’t – find out why.
    3. See what savings he has outside of retirement. If he doesn’t contribute regularly find out why. There could be an ex-wife or children he’s supporting that you don’t know about.

    I don’t want to make this seem cold but better to find out UPFRONT what you are getting into instead of after the fact.

  17. I faced some challenges in this regard with my ex. We were together for over 7 years, but for whatever reason she never took finances seriously. She never felt the need to put any money away for retirement. She was always more concerned with spending money on dining out and vacations. It created some serious tension between us and ultimately played a big role in us breaking up. Now we’re trying to reconcile, but I realize we need to have a serious talk about finances for that to work out.

Leave a Reply

Scroll To Top