All you need is love, right? Well, it’d be wonderful if that were true. But in fact, a long-term love story comes with a great deal of responsibility, and communication is key if you hope to work through any challenges that come your way—especially when it comes to finances.
But talking to your one and only about money—how much you have, how much you owe, whether you’re a rockstar with your finances or a total disaster—can be stressful for both parties. “It’s an odd taboo we’ve clung to,” says Sallie Krawcheck, co-founder and CEO of Ellevest. “You have sex on the third date, fine. But if you bring up money on the third date, there may not be a fourth date.”
“You have sex on the third date, fine. But if you bring up money on the third date, there may not be a fourth date.”
Alas, there’s no such thing as Making Cents of Money in Your Relationship 101. But that doesn’t mean you need to muddle through alone: Krawcheck shares her expert take on when and how to have “the talk.” So grab your partner, tell them the hard truths, and get on a path to financial security (and understanding) together.
Here are 6 tips for tackling the f-word—finances, of course!—with your significant other.
Do: Talk early
“The talk is so awkward and fraught, it’s very easy to put off until it’s too late,” says Krawcheck. “The majority of women put it off for way too long.” But avoiding the discussion can mean blindly hitching your wagon to someone who’s buried in student loan or credit card debt, and if that ignorance-is-bliss mentality goes on forever, well, things get grim.
“I know women who are literally figuring out their financial situation while preparing for their spouse’s funeral—and these are women who worked in investment banking,” says Krawcheck. To make sure that’s not you, initiate the conversation early—like, before you start picking out a joint apartment or an engagement ring.
Don’t: Ambush your boo
Spring this conversation on your partner from out of nowhere, and both parties might wind up feeling flustered and defensive. Instead, let them know the money convo is coming, suggests Krawcheck. Tell them you want to share numbers and talk financial futures, and suggest a specific time and place. “No surprises, no distractions.”
Do: Own your truth
As much as you want your partner to own up to their own debts and financial concerns, you owe them the same courtesy. “You can’t change the past,” Krawcheck says, and trying to brush that giant credit card bill under the rug isn’t doing your relationship any favors. Instead, be candid. And remember: “Everyone makes mistakes with money—everyone—but things can be repaired and debts can be paid off. There’s aren’t many of these things that you can’t improve,” Krawcheck says.
Don’t: Forget what you already know about your partner
“If you’re in a relationship that’s serious enough to talk about money, it probably means you’ve already talked about other challenging topics,” Krawcheck says. “Use what you’ve learned to figure out how to approach it.” For Krawcheck, whose husband finds these financial discussions to be very emotional, she found that email took a lot of the extra anguish out of it. “I just shared everything he needed to tell me in a straightforward email, and I included everything he needed to know about me,” she says.
But for someone who prefers to process together, an email of facts and figures might feel off-putting and cold. Think about how you and your partner communicate best, and let that be a starting point for this conversation as well.
Do: Talk about big-picture dreams
It’s important that you and your partner are on the same page about what you want from your future—and that encompasses way more than just dollar figures in a bank account. “It’s not about how much you have, but about what’s important to you,” Krawcheck says. “Do you want to travel to four-star hotels and eat ramen noodles the rest of the year? Do you want to buy a home? What are your payment patterns on your credit card?” Don’t flip if your answers aren’t in perfect alignment—it doesn’t mean you’re incompatible, but rather that communication and compromise might be needed to get your goals synced.
Don’t: Be afraid to push
If your partner is avoiding the topic despite your best efforts to ease into the convo, Krawcheck offers up some shameless (and timeless) advice: “Nag. Nag. Nag. I don’t know of any other way,” she says. Talking about bank accounts and student loan debt can feel uncomfortable—especially when your partner doesn’t want to engage—but remember that your financial security is at stake. If your partner brushes off your first invite or clams up when you initiate a money talk, keep pushing. And if you still hit a wall, it might be a sign that this duo isn’t built to last.
Another thing to keep in mind before you launch into the money talk: You feelings about finances may stem from childhood memories. And here are 5 simple tips for taking control of your finances.