You may hit it off with someone romantically, but finances and money can derail even the most star-crossed of lovers. Sixty-four percent of couples acknowledge that their spending, saving, and investment philosophies are not compatible with that of their partners, according to a survey from fintech firm Bread Financial.
CNBC Select spoke with Wendy Wright, a Denver-based financial therapist and marriage therapist, about how you and your partner keep your conversations about money from turning into bitter arguments.
There’s no one perfect time in the relationship when every couple should start talking about budgets and financial goals. But if it hasn’t come up naturally in conversation, you should definitely bring up money before making any big decisions that will bind you together financially, such as moving in or getting engaged.
If you and your partner are still in the early stages of your relationship, you should focus less on concrete goals and more on discovering if you have compatible financial values. Talking about money can make you (and your partner) feel awkward, so Wright suggests gradually sharing your own thoughts on money to get both of you used to the subject.
“The pressure becomes [the need] to put everything into this one conversation as if you’ve got to get it all in,” Wright says. Instead, couples should aim to have multiple conversations over time, focusing on one or two topics at once. Setting aside a dedicated time and space for these “money dates,” which Wright recommends limiting to 45 minutes and having at least a few days between each session. “That builds trust and also shows that you don’t have to know everything all at once when it comes to money,” she says.
Address any disagreements head-on and try to find a compromise that works for both of you. Most importantly, approach these topics with compassion and without judgment. Try to avoid automatic reactions. If the conversation ever becomes too heated, take a break and come back to it when you are both feeling calmer.
Financial therapy emphasizes the importance of examining the underlying emotions and beliefs that drive financial behaviors. To do this, couples must be able to move beyond surface-level issues and toward a more holistic understanding of how money affects their lives.
One strategy suggested by Wright is to avoid using the word “money” and instead hone in on what emotional issues lie beneath the dollars and cents.
“When they’re saying, ‘I’m stressed about money,’ they’re probably saying ‘I’m stressed that maybe I’ve made a mistake here,’ or ‘I’m stressed that I won’t be good enough,’” says Wright.
By focusing on the underlying emotions, couples can gain a deeper understanding of each other’s values concerning money, and can hopefully find some shared ground.
As couples take on joint commitments and contemplate building a life together, Wright encourages them to create a money map. This is a timeline that visually represents each person’s financial plans. For example, you may want to take a $5,000 vacation once a year or have saved a certain amount of money by retirement. Whatever your goals may be, they should be reflected on the money map.
At this stage, you shouldn’t get bogged down in the details of how to achieve these goals. “Without judging them and without doing the math, just put them on there so that each person is allowed to dream,” Wright says. “Often within a relationship, as soon as one person says, ‘I’d like to take this vacation,’ the other partner starts to feel responsible for it and feels like, ‘Oh now, we’ve got to make that happen.’ Then, there becomes this tension around it.”
Once you’ve laid out your goals on a money map, you should start prioritizing which ones to achieve first. Budgeting apps can help you keep track of your available resources and how much you need to turn those dreams into reality. These apps like Mint and Empower allow you to set specific goals, such as saving for a down payment on a house or building an emergency fund. From there, you can link your bank accounts or credit cards, which will automatically track your spending and categorize your expenses.
App is free, but users have option to add investment management services for 0.89% of their money (for accounts under $1 million)
A budgeting app and investment tool that tracks both your spending and your wealth
Categorizes your expenses
Yes, but users can modify
Links to accounts
Yes, bank and credit cards, as well as IRAs, 401(k)s, mortgages and loans
Offered in both the App Store (for iOS) and on Google Play (for Android)
Data encryption, fraud protection and strong user authentication
If you and your partner are looking for a place to pool your money together for shared goals, such as a down payment on a house or a vacation abroad, SoFi Checking and Savings account topped our list of best joint bank accounts. The 4.20% APY you earn on savings balances (and 1.20% APY earned on checking balances if you set up direct deposit) help make this account a strong choice for couples.
SoFi Bank is a Member FDIC.
Annual Percentage Yield (APY)
Members with direct deposit earn 4.30% APY on savings and Vaults balances and 1.20% APY on checking balances; members without direct deposit earn 1.20% APY on all account balances in checking and savings (including Vaults)
Up to 6 free withdrawals or transfers per statement cycle; transaction amount limits apply
Excessive transactions fee
SoFi members who receive $1,000 or more in total monthly direct deposits are eligible for no-fee Overdraft Coverage (covers up to $50; purchases exceeding this amount are declined)
Offer checking account?
Yes, bundled with savings account
Offer ATM card?
Yes, along with SoFi checking account
Just as your financial situation will continually change, you and your partner should remain willing to review your goals and adjust as needed.
For example, you and your partner might have agreed to split the household bills evenly when you first moved in together. But if one of you lost your job (or got a big raise!), sticking to that division of financial responsibilities could create tension because it doesn’t match the present-day reality.
For this reason, Wright advises couples to stay flexible when deciding who pays for what in the relationship and to approach each conversation on the subject with an open mind. “That’s kind of telling if someone is highly rigid around it, and they’re like ‘Oh I make 32.8% more than you, so I’ll pay that much more,’” she says. “We want more flexibility. We want to be able to talk about it and say, what are some other ways that someone can contribute to the family?”
Couples can benefit from reflecting on their relationship with money, visualizing their financial priorities, and arriving at a plan to achieve them together. Starting financial discussions early on helps you and your partner align your financial goals and develop a strong foundation for your future together.
Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the Select editorial staff’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any third party.
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