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Tips for couples: Improving money talks

Key takeaways

  • Making sure you each have easy access to your shared financial information can help you both feel more empowered and avoid misunderstandings.
  • Choose a time and place for your money conversations when you'll both feel focused and be free from interruptions.
  • Working with a financial professional may help you clarify your long-term financial goals and find agreement on day-to-day money issues.

Good news for hopeful romantics: When it comes to communicating about finances, the state of most couples' unions is strong.

According to Fidelity's most recent Couples & Money Study,* about 7 out of 10 partners say they communicate very well or exceptionally well with their significant other about their finances. A majority of partners say they work together on making day-to-day financial decisions, and even more report working jointly on decisions about longer-term financial goals, like retirement.

Strong communication can be a key to lasting relationship success, but it's also tied to feelings of greater financial security. Couples who feel they communicate well are more likely to report that their household finances are in good shape and that they expect to live a comfortable lifestyle in retirement.

That said, if you and your significant other aren't exactly of one mind when it comes to your money, you're not alone. Many couples still report that it's difficult to start conversations about money, and almost 1 in 5 partners say that money is their greatest relationship challenge. But adopting strong communication habits could help you improve your money talks and joint financial decision-making.

Whether you and your significant other are on the same page—or reading totally different books—when it comes to your money, here are a few tips to consider to help strengthen your financial communication.

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1. Put all your cards on the table

Keeping financial secrets might help you sidestep a difficult conversation in the short run, but in the long run it will only serve to erode trust and sabotage your communication.

Start from a place of honesty and openness by giving each other full disclosure of your finances as early as appropriate in your relationship (including all debts, plus assets, income, and expenses). Even if you've been together a long time, going through this exercise could help set a new tone for better communication about your finances.

2. Make sure you both have equal access to financial information

Weave the spirit of transparency into your daily lives by making sure you can both easily access your financial information (such as account balances and transactions), whether by sharing passwords or keeping statements handy.

Even if one partner typically takes the lead on certain financial issues, try to make sure that you both understand the basics of your finances and know how to access key documents and accounts. That can help both partners feel more financially empowered, and it's also important in case something was to ever happen to one of you. (Read more about how to protect your family if you're the key financial decision-maker.)

3. Choose your time, place, and agenda for your money conversations carefully

Starting a conversation about finances when one or both of you are tired, rushed, or distracted probably won't set you up for success. Consider setting aside a dedicated slot of time for your financial check-in so you can give the issues your full attention. Try to choose a day of the week and time when you'll both feel fresh and focused, in a setting where you'll have sufficient privacy and be free from interruptions.

Coming up with an agenda in advance can help you set your intentions for the conversation and help you stay on track. For example, maybe you need to review your past month's or quarter's expenses, or plan your budget for a major upcoming purchase. If you have a long decision-making to-do list, don't rush to tick off every item in your first meeting. Instead, having a regular weekly or monthly money date can help you get into the habit of staying on top of your financial decisions together.

4. Focus on your shared goals

It's not uncommon for couples to have different financial habits or values. Maybe one of you is more frugal while the other prefers to live in the moment and spend. Or perhaps one of you has a higher comfort level with investing, while the other has a low tolerance for risk.

Instead of drawing up battle lines along these differences, try to stay focused on your long-term financial goals. Agreeing on your big-picture goals, like a secure retirement, helping your kids pay for college, or paying down your debt, can give you a shared sense of purpose to rally behind. It can also help you find agreement on the day-to-day financial practices you need to adopt in order to reach those goals.

5. Be open about your concerns

Although you may need to accept and live with some differences, that doesn't necessarily mean you should keep quiet if you have worries. Some 23% of partners in Fidelity's study say that they're often frustrated at their significant other's money habits, but that they let it go to keep the peace.

While avoiding conflict may work in the short run, it could lead to mounting resentment in the long term (or mounting bills, if your partner has truly problematic habits). Finding a constructive, respectful way of raising difficult concerns, rather than avoiding them altogether, may serve your partnership better in the long run.

6. When in doubt, seek out more information

Perhaps a major financial decision is coming up, and you and your partner are already landing on different sides of the issue. Maybe you're about to face a big-ticket spending decision, a question of financial support for your kids, or a career turning point.

Before you each start digging trenches, spend some time gathering additional information. Try running the numbers a few more times, then try running them under alternate scenarios. And think about how the decision at hand could affect your ability to meet those big-picture goals you've set for yourselves.

Once you've spent a bit longer working through the issue, you might find yourselves on the same side of it after all.

7. Consider enlisting professional help

Working with a financial professional can bring a number of potential benefits for your relationship's financial health. A professional can help you each identify your own goals, and then work together to prioritize them. They may also help you come up with a plan for your investments, budget, and debt that helps you balance each partner's preferences, while putting you on track to bring those goals into reach.

Of course in the end, communication is complex, and there isn't an easy fix or one-size-fits-all solution for all communication problems. If you're having deeper struggles communicating about money (or communicating in general), keep at it and try to find the right approach for you. Because the reward of a stronger financial foundation—and stronger union—is worth it.

Are you ready to take the next step to strengthen your financial union? Consider scheduling an appointment with a financial professional, read about money tips for newlyweds, or use our financial checkup tool to take the pulse of your household's financial health.

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* The 2021 Fidelity Investments Couples & Money Study analyzed retirement and financial expectations and preparedness among 1,713 couples (3,426 individuals). This survey was conducted by Ipsos using the KnowledgePanel® between March 25 and April 22, 2021 on behalf of Fidelity Investments. Respondents were at least 25 years old, married or in a long-term committed relationship, and have a minimum household income of $75,000 or at least $100,000 in investable assets.

This information is intended to be educational and is not tailored to the investment needs of any specific investor.

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