You’ve been dating your partner for a while and you’re starting to think that they could be The One. That’s great! But be careful… financial incompatibility is one of the leading causes of divorce, with 40% of exes saying that fights over finances and their partner’s (mis)handling of money led to their breakup. To prevent this, we suggest that you plan an open, honest conversation with your partner about money. Don’t just spring this on them; instead, we suggest that you give them advanced notice so that both of you can prepare a list of questions. So… what should you ask?
Don’t take it for granted that this will be a comfortable conversation for your partner. Some people feel anxiety and shame when discussing finances. Others have been raised to believe that discussing money is crass. Forbes has labelled this attitude the money taboo and it afflicts people from a variety of socio-economic backgrounds. If your partner admits that they are uncomfortable discussing financial matters, you can encourage them by remaining understanding and non-judgmental. If they admit to past financial mistakes for example, let them know that we’ve all made mistakes and you don’t think any less of them because of this.
This question has several layers:
Remember that it’s possible that you and your partner may have different answers to these questions. If they want a joint account and you want to retain financial independence it doesn’t mean that you have to split up. Instead, take the time to understand why they have this belief. Chances are you both have the same aim – to be financially stable as a couple and as individuals.
Here you want to get an idea of any debt your partner may have as well as any savings. Debt may include a loan, a mortgage, credit card debt or even money borrowed from friends or family. If your partner has significant debt, it’s worth discussing strategies for repayment. You also need to ascertain your own attitude to debt: will you assist your partner in repaying their debt or is repayment solely their responsibility?
You should also carry out a similar exercise for savings. Remember you need to discuss more than whether your partner has any savings or not. Are their savings earmarked for a specific purpose, such as retirement or an emergency fund? Or are they a saver who only feels comfortable with a significant financial cushion?
Your partner may have both short-term and long-term financial goals. If these goals are compatible with yours then that’s great. However, if your financial goals are at odds then you need to have a heart-to-heart discussion. For example, if your long-term financial plan is to purchase a house and their long-term plan is to buy a yacht and travel the world, then you need to decide how or if the relationship will move forward.
We’ve written before about the different types of investment styles. If your partner has a different risk appetite, then you need to decide on how you will treat with investments. For example, if they’ve got a much higher risk appetite, maybe you can identify a certain percentage of your earnings that can be invested in riskier ventures.
There’s nothing that adds strain to a relationship like the feeling that you’re is fiscally responsible while your partner spends wantonly. If you establish a household budget, is your partner more likely to view this as a loose plan or strict guidelines that can only be altered in case of an emergency.
You may be familiar with some of your partner’s spending habits but you shouldn’t assume you know all their expenses. Maybe your partner helps to support a family member, like an elderly parent, or maybe your partner regularly donates to charity. There is also a serious component to this question; gambling or shopping addictions can have a negative impact on your long-term finances. The occasional splurge is understandable and, many would argue, necessary. But if you have serious concerns about your partners’ spending habits then you should address these before entering into a significant financial commitment together, like a mortgage.
If your partner has identified any bad habits, how willing will they be to change? For example, if they regularly splash out on the latest tech gadgets, will they be ready to curb some of this spending if you have identified other financials goals?
This may be the hardest question to ask. No one wants to hear criticism of themselves and your may even feel a little afraid of hearing your partner’s response. But if you’ve carried out this conversation in a spirit of openness and non-judgement, they should be able to answer this question honestly but respectfully. And it’s much better if your partner can tell you any worries they have in ta safe space instead of blurting out their worries when you are having a huge fight.
Maybe you and your partner are compatible in every way and this conversation has reaffirmed that you’re ready for marriage or a mortgage or whatever you agree is the next step. Or maybe you need to have further discussions to determine whether you can afford a house, two-kids and the yacht they want to sail around the world in. Whatever your situation, you can always reach out to a financial advisor to guide you on the next steps. Know that you and your partner are not alone when making financial discussions.