Pour the Wine, Light the Fire, and Talk About Money—Yes, Money—for Your Next Date Night

Photo: Stocksy/Victor Torres
Let's say you're enjoying a cozy night in with your partner, eating your favorite takeout and sipping wine. You're ready to spend the next hour curled up on the couch, talking about…money. (You were with me up until the end of that scenario, right?)

For a lot of couples, money isn't exactly a romantic topic. More than anything, it's a touchy one, so touchy, in fact, that many never even broach it at all. According to a 2010 survey by American Express, only 43 percent of couples talk about money before getting married. Furthermore, the American Psychological Association's 2014 Stress in America report found that 31 percent of people cite money as a major source of strain in their relationship. And even if you're aware that communication is key for ensuring money doesn't become a thing, knowing how to go about it is a whole other ball game. (You know, in a calm, non-judgmental manner—no matter how much your partner spends on vintage T-shirts.)

That's where money dates come into play. The Fiscal Femme founder Ashley Feinstein Gerstley says scheduling regular money parties, as she calls them, are smart for every partnership because it's dedicated time to talk shop and deal with finances. Learn below exactly why you'd be wise and savvy to add them to your calendar, and how to make the most of the time.

Money dates can make maintaining financial health feel more like a party than a chore—here's how.

How to structure a money date

No matter your relationship status, Gerstley recommends setting up a recurring calendar invite for having a money party every two weeks. "This is a time for you to check in on your spending and if you're meeting your personal finance goals," she says, adding that you can also add action-oriented tasks to the agenda, such as paying your bills or finally rolling over your 401(k). Once you're in an established relationship with the goal of planning a future together, Gerstley says it's time to introduce joint money dates to the agenda.

"Some couples do both their money parties a month together. Others do one a month separate, and one a month together," she says. Whatever arrangement you choose, just make sure the money dates are on the cal on a regular basis. Not only do they ensure couples are aligned on short- and long-term financial goals (and that progress is being made toward meeting said goals), but they also keep talk of finances from seeping into other moments of the week and month. Between money dates, add any issues or thoughts that skew financial to the next meeting agenda, so the potentially tense-leaning thought doesn't detract from other areas of life.

Not only do money dates ensure couples are aligned on short- and long-term financial goals, but they also keep talk of finances from seeping into other moments of the week and month.

The subject matter can obviously skew serious, so Gerstley suggests cutting the tension with fun vibes. "Pour some wine. Order your favorite takeout. I have one client who loves ice cream, so he only eats ice cream during money dates," she says. "It's important to keep fun built into the money parties because if you don't reward yourself, you're never going to look forward to them."

She also says to keep them to an hour—90 minutes, max. "One common mistake couples make is having this marathon-long first money date. And by the end, they're so exhausted that they never want to do it again."

What to talk about

The point of the money date is to make sure that you, as a couple, are on track to meet your joint financial goals. If you've never talked about it before, the mere idea of opening up about finances can be overwhelming, which is why Gerstley recommends the early dates to be focused solely on goal-setting. "You can ask each other questions like, 'What do we want to save for? What do we want to create together?' Then, naturally, those conversations will progress into, 'Okay, what does it take to get there?'"

Once goals are established, the following money dates are primarily about upkeep. Similar to the solo money parties, it's a time to see how you've done with sticking to your goals since you last checked in—and what the next few weeks ahead look like. "Inevitably other topics will come up between money dates too, like if you want to renew your lease," Gerstley says.

And as far as actual bill-paying and other action-oriented tasks go, she says money dates are a great time to do them together, but this isn't totally necessary—especially if it's one of those early "goal-talking" money dates.

What not to talk about

Though nothing specifically needs to be off-limits for discussion during money dates, it's important to be mindful of how you're communicating so the environment continues to feel like a safe space. "If your partner's spending is stressing you out, instead of going off on them about it, explain why it's stressing you out," Gerstley says. "Likewise, if you feel your partner is being too restrictive, explain why you feel that way."

Just so everyone feels they can preserve a sense of agency and independence while also respecting each other, Gerstley recommends each person in a relationship is allotted a certain amount of money per week or month to spend on whatever they want, no questions asked. "The amount is going to look different for every couple, depending on what you're comfortable with and your financial goals, but doing this eliminates someone saying things like, 'Why did you spend $150 on ginger shots last month?'"

The guiding principle behind money dates is that it's totally possible to have a productive, positive, and totally non-stressful relationship with money. So pour yourself some wine, and start planning ways to make your dreams with your partner come true.

If you're thinking about giving your partner an ultimatum about money, read this first. Plus, how to fix other common relationship problems.

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