If you're in the early stages of a relationship, finances have probably already come up in some form: Will one of you pay when you go out, or will you split the bill? Will you go to a nice restaurant and splurge on multiple courses, or go somewhere cheap? Discussing finances might feel awkward, which is why many people avoid it. But knowing the kinds of money talks you should be having with your partner — even at an early stage of dating — can help you get on the same page about your relationship money goals and assess your financial compatibility. It can also help you understand how you might approach larger financial decisions together in the future, like budgeting for vacations, renting or buying a home, and more.
When to talk about finances in a relationship
If you’re wondering how to have the money talk, your first question might be when to even bring it up. Financial planner Cristina Guglielmetti, CFP recommends couples talk about money "as soon as there's a commitment of some kind (being exclusive, for example, or cohabitating)." Financial psychologist Dr. Alex Melkumian agrees, telling O.school that couples should aim to start having conversations about money as early as possible — around the same time that sex enters the picture. "The longer we wait to start the dreaded money conversation, the more emotional weight it will carry. By starting the talk early, we start to shift the narrative, normalize the conversation and reduce the emotional charge."
5 money conversations to have early in your relationship
1. Talk about your money history.
Our relationship to money is often influenced by our upbringings and unconscious beliefs. This can have lots of emotion attached. Guglielmetti tells O.school that your relationship with money is “the sum of all the experiences you had watching your parents, consuming media, and being with your peers and friends.” Witnessing your parents fight about money, experiencing scarcity or hardship, or growing up with financial privilege are all common factors that can influence your relationship with money as an adult. Talking about your past experiences can help bring clarity to the way you relate to money.
2. Disclose your current relationship to money.
Partnerships between people with different approaches to money can succeed — but knowing how each of you relates to money now is critical in figuring out how to meet in the middle. Maybe one of you has a scarcity mindset that prompts obsessive saving, while the other has an abundance mindset, and spends money impulsively. Wherever you fall on the spectrum, from “stingy” to “irresponsible spender,” Guglielmetti says, “it's important to not think in terms of right and wrong here, but rather to try to understand what money represents for the other person. Create a culture of openness, with regular check-ins where everyone feels empowered to share their thoughts."
3. Define your money goals.
"Even if you intend to keep your finances separate, your goals should be transparent to each other and there should be commonality in how you intend to achieve them," Guglielmetti tells O.school. "Maybe someone always envisioned themselves a homeowner, and their partner never even considered it; maybe one is better at day-to-day stuff and the other thinks more big-picture; maybe one is expecting a major career shift at some point. These are all important topics and they should be discussed! Assuming your partner has the same ideas and expectations as you will set everyone up for a difficult future."
Even if you’re not at a stage of your relationship where you’re ready to talk about big picture financial goals, discussing smaller goals for activities like dinners out and vacations, and agreeing on a budget, can be helpful. Do you want to go on one big vacation a year, or would you rather go on several inexpensive staycations? Would you rather go to a nice restaurant once every few months, or get takeout a couple of times per week? Talking about each of your priorities and goals can help you build a budget that works for you both.
4. Discuss how you’ll handle salary disparities.
In most relationships, one partner earns more than the other, and, sometimes, a lot more. If this is the case for you and your partner, discuss how you’ll handle it. Will you each contribute a set percentage of your income to shared expenses, or will you split things 50/50? If you move in together, will one of you take on a greater share of household chores while the other pays more of the bills? Talking about how you’ll address a difference in income before things get serious can help set you up for success.
5. Make a plan for addressing differences in goals and budgets.
Working together to come up with a strategy for addressing financial differences early — before you open a joint bank account or make a major purchase together — can help you stay on track as financial decisions become more complex. Dr. Melkumian tells O.school: "What’s important to note is that quarrels and fights are a given in any relationship, but how you get through the fight as a couple is equally important." He urges couples to keep in mind that "You are on the same team. Neither partner can have everything they want in a relationship including financially." By prioritizing "compromise and generosity" in all of your conversations about money, says Dr. Melkumian, you can help to ensure productive communication about finances in your relationship from day one.
Benefits of talking about money early on in your relationship.
- Reveals deal-breakers. If one of you wants to save up to buy a house and the other wants to spend extra income on travel and experiences, this can be a clue that the relationship won’t work long-term. Getting clear about how each of you spends and saves can help you decide whether you’re compatible.
- Builds trust. Talking about money in relationships "requires a certain vulnerability and intimacy," says Dr. Melkumian. Being transparent with your partner about your worries, fears, desires, and early experiences around money can help to bring you closer and show your willingness to go deep.
- Fosters a healthier relationship with money. Being transparent with your partner can help you to be more honest with yourself about your money habits, values, and goals and force you to confront behaviors that might be holding you back.
- Improves communication overall. "Culturally, the money taboo has made conversations about money awkward. We know more about our friends sex lives than we do about their finances," says Dr. Melkumian. Learning how to talk about money with your partner can give you practice discussing other potentially charged topics, like sexual differences.
The bottom line
Whatever stage of the relationship you’re in, talking about money can help to create trust and ensure that you’re on the same team when it comes to finances. Building on a foundation of transparency and mutual respect, making time for regular check-ins, and defining your values and goals are great ways to start.