So you've started dating someone new and learning all sorts of new things about them: where they grew up, what their hopes and dreams are, how they feel about the latest season of Game of Thrones, the list goes on. The only thing you're totally in the dark about is their financial situation—and it seems awkward to ask.
So many things are already awkward in a new relationship. Add money to the mix, and most people just avoid the topic altogether. Considering the fact that money is a top predictor of divorce, however, it's probably a good idea to start the discussion early.
When to talk money
"As a Divorce Financial Specialist, I see the adverse effects of not discussing finances in a relationship," says Jamie Minster, CDFA, MBA "People have ingrained ideas about money and those [ideas] do not typically change. The right time to discuss money is early in the dating process."
Of course, that doesn't mean that, on the first date, you have to blurt out, "So! Tell me how much is in your 401(k)?" Before things get serious, you can pick up on a few financial clues.
"When you first start dating someone, just observe how they talk about and handle money," says author Christine Luken." Do they allude to the fact they have a ton of bills, credit card debt, or big student loan payments? Do they always insist on paying for dates, or insist on you paying? These observations will give you clues as to how they handle and think about money."
Once the relationship gets more serious—you start talking about moving in, you're dating exclusively, you've been together for several months—it's time to have more indepth conversations, Luken says.
How to break the ice
"You don't necessarily have to set up a formal meeting and say, ‘Now we're going to have a serious talk about money!' You might say something like, ‘I notice you rarely use cash to pay for things. I'm just curious why you do that,'" Luken suggests.
This helps you ease into a conversation naturally. But Luken warns to keep your judgment in check. "Remember, just because your significant other does something different from you with their money, it doesn't necessarily mean it's wrong," she adds. "Our past experiences and what our parents taught us, or didn't teach us, about money can influence our behavior today."
What to talk about
Minster says there are several important topics to discuss and questions to ask, including:
- What concerns you about debt?
- Do you carry a lot of debt and are you comfortable with the amount you owe?
- How do you feel about budgeting? Do you live on a budget currently?
- How do you run your personal finances?
- Do you see yourself merging resources with your partner or spouse?
"Another way to talk about money early on is to find out what the other person values and how they like to spend their money now," says Maggie Reyes, a marriage coach. "Often how a person spends their time is how they spend their money so it's great to find out what do they like to do in their free time."
Reyes suggests some additional questions:
- Growing up, how did you feel about money?
- What are your financial goals? Or do you have financial goals?
- How did your parents manage their money? What would you like to do differently and what would you like to do the same?
Money might not be the most romantic topic, but it's a crucial one to kick around if you want to avoid financial fights in the future. As Minster puts it, "If you are committing to spending the rest of your life with this person, you need to know about their spending and saving habits."
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