Questions for new couples to consider in creating a shared financial life
Every new couple wants to know the secret of a long-lasting, harmonious relationship that also includes financial health. Here is one key ingredient: communicate openly about finances.
Is money an easy conversation? Surely not. Yet, research shows that having shared goals and values about money is a strong predictor of relationship satisfaction.1 And couples who engage in conversations about their economic situation, even if these conversations are stressful, are more united, resilient, and thriving.2 So we recommend that new couples start by talking about wealth early and by continuing with this habit as the relationship evolves.
What do couples need to talk about?
Financial conversations can cover a wide range of topics from the monthly budget for restaurants, to selecting an advisor to help with investments, to how each one feels about differences in earnings. Past influences, current situations, and future opportunities also are part of the picture. Here are some examples of questions to discuss with your partner.
A good place to start is the past. What did you learn in your family of origin about money: How did you experience earning, spending, saving, and giving and what values did you learn from those early experiences? What do you observe about your parents and other relatives in relation to how they handled family finances; which practices do you want to continue and which you would like to change? Who taught you how to use money wisely? Have you ever experienced financial hardship and/or financial freedom? Do you and your partner come from similar or different economic backgrounds?
The here and now is also an important and practical focus. What is our budget? Who will be in charge of managing our day-to-day finances? How will we make financial decisions — big and small? What is our strategy to be smart with money? How do you feel when I spend in certain areas? Shall we keep our accounts together, separate, or a combination? What is mine, yours, and ours — which assets are shared and which are not? What level of transparency are you comfortable with? If there is inherited money in the mix, what is the plan? Do we want to use credit as a strategy for growth?
Planning ahead is important too. What do we want to achieve financially in the long term? What are the most important financial responsibilities we need to prepare for (buying a home, children’s education, retirement)? What is our financial responsibility toward parents and other family members, if any? When we buy a house, how will we title and insure it?
Research shows that having shared goals and values about money is a strong predictor of relationship satisfaction.
Start slowly and thoughtfully
If you are overwhelmed by the array of topics, you are not alone. If you are feeling anxious about even considering some of the topics mentioned, you are not alone either. Start small. Begin with the aspects that you find most comfortable and build upon those until you are able to cover larger and more difficult ones. But first and foremost, make a routine out of trying to understand each other’s perspectives. Make a practice of not assuming you can “read each other’s minds.” Once you understand more how each partner is thinking and feeling, you can make coordinated decisions without the fear of hurting each other or creating undue tension.
A useful practice for maintaining alignment in relation to finances is for both of you to participate actively in calls with advisors, portfolio reviews, estate planning meetings, and the like. Even if one of you is more knowledgeable about managing money, both of you should be present so that you can learn along the way and voice your ideas and concerns. At the end of the day, the financial health of the family is a joint responsibility — a team sport! There is certainly room for both individual decision-making and joint decision-making, but you want to be very clear about when to apply one or the other.
One final thought: A couple who can openly discuss their financial life and who consider their financial health a family affair is a robust and resilient couple. While disagreements are inevitable, addressing them head-on is better than letting these differences of opinion turn into conflict. So set aside dedicated time to talk about money, listen to each other respectfully, and know that consensus is the best way to move forward, and you can be more successful in managing finances together.
2. T.D. Afifi, S. Davis, A.F. Merrill, et al, “Couples’ Communication About Financial Uncertainty Following the Great Recession and Its Association With Stress, Mental Health and Divorce Proneness,” Journal of Family and Economic Issues, Vol. 39, 205 – 2019, June 2018