4 steps to smooth out financial conversations with your partner

Couple having coffee in a cottage and chatting about their personal finances.Image: Couple having coffee in a cottage and chatting about their personal finances.

In a Nutshell

Talking about money is almost taboo, which can make it nearly impossible to have serious financial conversations with your partner. Credit Karma has some tips and tricks to help pave the way for those conversations.
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You’re in love and everything is going well. You and your partner just seem to click, and it feels like you can talk about anything. But there’s one thing you haven’t tackled yet: the money conversation.

Talking about money can be awkward, especially when it’s with someone you love.

When things are going well, it may seem better to avoid the money conversation altogether. But talking to your partner about money may strengthen your relationship — and your finances.

Ready to have the talk? Here are steps that may help.

Step 1: Find the right time and place

When it comes to sensitive topics like money, timing and location are everything. You don’t want to bombard your partner as soon as he or she gets home or start talking about money right before you go to bed.

Find a time and place that’s comfortable for both of you. April Masini, a relationship expert based in New York City, suggests picking a time when you’re not rushed and when you’re both well-rested.

As for the location, “Coffee at the kitchen table or in the den is a great pretext and place for these conversations,” she says.

You can also consider taking the money conversation outside of the home. Masini suggests having a money date somewhere like a coffee shop. Going somewhere else can give the money talk a special focus, while also being fun.

When talking about money with your partner, there’s one definite place to avoid: the bedroom.

“Keep money talk out of the bedroom where it [may] interfere with sleep and sex — which, when disrupted, tend to interfere with everything else,” Masini says.

Step 2: Ease into it

Consider easing into the conversation by framing it around other life goals. Try bundling the money issue into a larger conversation about your future dreams as a couple.

For example, you can discuss how to afford your upcoming vacation together, or share your big life goals and how you plan to reach them.

This may then lead to a discussion on how money is holding you back in some way, or how you plan to pay off your debt.

By framing the money conversation around your goals and dreams, you can talk about your income, saving strategies and any hurdles like debt without focusing only on numbers. Your goals can then help guide your actions.

Step 3: Be empathetic and adopt a team mindset

Many of us have money baggage that we bring to relationships. Baggage can come in a variety of forms — debt, thinking money isn’t important, having a scarcity mindset or not relating to others’ money issues.

Our culture, history, upbringing, work, friends and class all have an impact on our money mindset and the way we view money. In some cases, money can be a sensitive topic, especially for those who know what it’s like to live on less.

Accept that everyone has money baggage and triggers, and practice empathy. You and your partner may not agree on everything. Be sensitive to your partner’s experiences and thoughts, and be prepared to work as part of a team.

“If you can be sensitive to your partner’s feelings and triggers, you’re going to have better results,” Masini says.

Step 4: Focus on the big picture and then zoom in

It may not be wise to head straight for the details — consider starting with the big stuff first.

For example, you may not want to open up the conversation with the exact amount of student loan debt you have or your credit scores. Instead, focus on the big picture and work your way down to the nitty-gritty details of your finances.

“For instance, create a bucket list for each of you. Then, from there, focus on a decade bucket list and an annual one. You can decide what you want individually and together,” Masini says.

You may have different goals, but you can figure out how to work together to achieve them. Once you have laid out all your goals on the table, you can discuss your money situation in finer detail, including …

  • Your annual income
  • Your total debt load
  • Your money goals for the next year, five years, 10 years and so on
  • When you plan on retiring

To get the conversation started, you can ask questions like …

  • How did money affect your upbringing?
  • How do you feel about money?
  • Are you a spender or a saver?
  • What are your life goals?
  • What is really important to you?
  • How can we afford to do X?
  • What are your spending triggers?
  • How can we work together to achieve our goals and use money as a tool to reach them?

Bottom line

Love may be priceless, but money can affect your life and your relationship. Instead of avoiding the money talk, tackle it head-on and treat it like any other important issue in your life.

“Don’t see money as something to avoid,” Masini says. “Taking care of business by prioritizing money means you’re more likely to have a better relationship, and a happier life.”

About the author: Melanie Lockert is a freelance writer and editor currently living in Portland, Oregon. She is passionate about education, financial literacy and empowering people to take control of their finances. Her work has been f… Read more.