Talking about money can be taboo even with significant others. We all have different money hangups, approaches, and scripts about our relationship with our finances.
Among couples, one person typically takes responsibility for the daily finances. This allows us to check the box on finances but often leaves one partner unintentionally in the dark. I manage our day-to-day finances. Without setting a time to discuss our financial progress, my wife does not know how our finances are progressing. This was great last March 2020 when she was not worried about the markets selling off. Not as great when she asks me for the 10th time where our high yield savings account is held.
Consider setting up a time this Spring to discuss your finances with your significant other. A little conversation can go a long way. Consider these points:
- 20% of Americans don’t tell anyone how much their salary is, including their spouse or partner, according to a survey from financial firm Aspiration.
- 40% of women and 48% of men do NOT share their salaries with their significant other.
Below are four steps to take to start the conversion. Word of caution: this is a softer conversation. Share your feelings and see how your partner reacts. Not feeling judged can go a long way towards building an agreement on your go-forward strategy.
- Talk about where you want to head.
- What are your financial goals and values? Discuss near-term spending projects, longer-term spending needs, and how you’re using your money to finance them. Are any of them inconsistent with how you or your significant other want to spend your money?
- Consider creating exceptions or thresholds. Many couples find it helpful to have a dollar amount threshold that should be discussed before spending (e.g. over $500). Other couples see fights decrease when they have a certain amount each month that they can spend without judgment. (Yes, my office was incomplete without the MobiPoint Massage Ball.)
- Walk your partner through your salary, bonus structure, and other benefits. You may find out that you’re not utilizing some benefits your company is offering–phone company discounts, gym discounts, life insurance, et cetera.
- Make sure to see what your partner thinks. Do you feel in competition, or aligned? Is one partner controlling based on earnings? Does one of you feel judged?
- Discuss your budget. You knew it was coming. I often compare budgeting to dieting. It works best when you find a diet that works for you. Being stringent typically works for a short period. We plan for our large ongoing expenses, automate our savings, and let the rest be spent without much restriction.
- The easy way: print off your credit card summaries and bank statements for last year, and take an honest look at how you spent your money.
- The detailed way: leverage ynab, Tiller, or your preferred budgeting tool to assess your cash flow in more detail.
- See if there is a way to enhance your credit card rewards. Many cards have different reward plans. It may make sense to charge all restaurant expenses on one card, and book travel on a different one.
- Share bank balances, outstanding loans/debt, and investments.
- How do you measure progress? Peter Drucker’s adage “what gets measured, gets managed.” I look at both our overall Net Worth and our Investments. This helps assess our current financial health (Net Worth), and our progress towards our long-term goals (Investments).
- What progress has been made? Are there any changes that need to be made? This is a great time to log into 401(k) accounts.
Once you’ve gone through these steps, set the next time you’ll discuss. Semi-annually seems to be the sweet spot for most couples. Twice a year creates long enough breaks to see changes with a short enough frequency that you’re not having to revisit all of your assumptions.