Money: It’s an important part of our daily lives. It may also be the most off-limits topic of conversation there is. Surveys have shown that people would rather discuss almost anything other than their finances. People often rate similarly taboo subjects—politics, religion, and even sex—as more desirable topics of conversation.1
Despite our discomfort, we really should be talking about money. And having a conversation about finances is especially important for couples.
Why we don’t like talking about money
Talking about money makes a lot of us uncomfortable, but we may not fully understand why. For many people, their financial worth is, rightly or wrongly, tied to their own self-worth. Society often associates financial success with positive personality traits such as intelligence, likability and work ethic. It’s easy to feel stupid, lazy or even worthless if we experience money troubles.
In relationships, discussing money can leave many feeling especially vulnerable. We want to be deserving of our partner’s love, and equating self-worth with financial worth can complicate our feelings. We may experience guilt or shame over how much we make, any debt we hold or how much we spend.
And let’s face it, talking about money is not very romantic! In the early stages of a relationship, there are so many other topics to discuss whilst getting to know a partner. However, far too many of us continue to put off the “money talk,” sometimes until it’s too late.
The risks of staying silent
Avoiding a conversation about money may seem harmless, but it can have real consequences. Some 28 per cent of New Zealanders2 say they have been hurt financially by a significant other.
This most often takes the form of small secrets. Hiding spending from your partner, maintaining a credit card they don’t know about or not telling them about your debts may seem innocent. However, keeping your partner in the dark about your finances isn’t doing either of you any favours.
Secrets have a habit of coming to light. The longer you’re with someone, the more likely they are to discover that you’re hiding something. A poor credit score or loads of debt could affect future goals, like buying a home or funding your retirement. Neglecting to think about the household budget may mean you’re underinsured, which could create financial stress for your loved ones if you were to pass away suddenly. By avoiding an awkward money talk, you may be putting your financial and romantic future at risk.
Why we should be talking about money
Discussing finances with your significant other is important. It can help you both spot potential red flags and learn how to better work together.
Arguments about money are the leading cause of stress in relationships3 and a strong predictor of divorce.4 This is true regardless of a couple’s income level, the amount of debt held or their total net worth. But that doesn’t mean you should dodge tough conversations just to avoid a fight.
There’s a strong correlation between being financially fit and talking about money. An Australian survey found that 61% of couples who like talking about money together rarely or never fight about their finances.1 This only holds true for 34% of couples who don’t ever discuss money. This same study found that people who were willing to talk more openly about their finances were also less worried about them and more likely to actively manage their money.
These findings make a lot of sense. We often choose romantic partners that we can rely on for emotional support, who are empathetic to our feelings. If you’re stressed about money, a caring partner can be a compassionate listener or offer help and advice. In relationships where the finances are joined, both people can shoulder some of the burden.
After all, you’re not alone! One third of Kiwis admit to feeling stressed out when it comes to thinking about money.5 If you’re one of them, there’s a good chance your partner might be too.
How to start the conversation
So how can couples talk about money, in a calm and productive way? Try these tips to start the conversation.
- Start talking early
This probably isn’t a first date conversation, but discussing money early in a serious relationship can help couples identify potential conflicts and start to work through them. If your partner becomes immediately defensive or refuses to talk, there may be underlying issues they might be embarrassed or worried about sharing.
- Be up front
It may be difficult, but be honest about your financial situation. If you’re truthful, your partner will be more likely to open up too. Let them know your assets (bank accounts, credit cards, property) and disclose any liabilities (debt, loans). You may also want to review your weekly budgets and spending.
- Learn your money personalities
You may start to notice patterns whilst reviewing your individual finances. Does your partner put most of their paycheck into savings? Are you carrying balances on multiple credit cards? Whether you are “savers” or “spenders,” understanding your and your partner’s money personality can help guide you through any conflicts that may arise.
- Bond over shared goals
You and your partner may already have a vision for your future. Marriage, buying a house, starting a family, travel, retirement… the life you’re building together can be impacted by the money moves you make now. Start thinking about how you’ll fund your future, including paying off debts, setting a shared budget and considering life insurance.
- Keep the conversation going
Talking about money should become a part of a healthy relationship. Schedule regular “money dates” to evaluate your success, review your goals and make changes to the budget.
- Know when to get professional help.
Money can trigger strong emotions. If your financial discussions often end in a fight, consider seeing a relationship counselor. There may be underlying issues to work through, or you might need strategies to help make your disagreements more constructive. If you both feel in over your heads when it comes to money, a financial advisor can provide expert advice.
Few of us enjoy talking about money, but when it comes to relationships, it’s important. Your first few attempts may be awkward, but the more you and your significant other talk, the easier it should get. Starting your financial life together on the right foot can help strengthen the bond you have as a couple.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is of general nature, and does not take into account your personal situation. You should consider whether the information is appropriate to your needs or seek professional advice, where necessary.
1. MeBank, Sex and money are our top taboo subjects
2. Stuff.co.nz, Kiwis warned of sexually-transmitted debt epidemic
3. CNBC, Fighting with your spouse? It's probably about this
4. Science Daily, Early financial arguments are a predictor of divorce
5. NZ Herald, Survey reveals Kiwis' money stress