He Said/She Said

How and When to Talk Money in a Relationship

How and when to talk about money and financial decisions in a relationship.

This is a guest post from Joanna and Johnny of OurFreakingBudget.com.

So you think you’ve found a new Mr. or Mrs. Right? Congrats! Now that you’re both feeling ready to declare your relationship status on Facebook (pretty serious stuff), it’s probably time to start talking about the “M” word ... money.

Though talking about money may not be quite as intimidating as the other “M” word (hint: it rhymes with carriage), it’s still a conversation that can be downright awkward. After all, your personal finances are just that—personal. But part of understanding and growing closer to a significant other is figuring out each other’s financial expectations.

Part of understanding and growing closer to a significant other is figuring out each other’s financial expectations.

So What Should You Talk About?

By default, most people in a relationship already have a number of financial relationship questions swirling around in their heads: Who pays for what? How much should our dates cost? Are our spending and saving habits compatible? Is my boyfriend an heir to Donald Trump? Is it bad that I hope the answer is “yes”?

As if dating and relationships didn’t provide enough twists and turns, money’s a whole different beast. But don’t fret. Many have survived to tell the tale—including yours truly. In fact, we’re here to tell you that having the money conversation actually helped our relationship AND our bank accounts. So here are some topics, tips, and coulda-woulda-shouldas from our dating days.

Joanna Says: Paying on Dates

I’m a Southern girl, and thanks (or no thanks) to my heritage, I was taught to expect to have my date pay for me. Luckily, Johnny passed the “gentleman test” with flying colors on our first several dates.

But when we started dating exclusively and hanging out/eating dinner together almost every night, I realized Johnny’s wallet had to be taking a big hit. So I decided to bring up the subject with Johnny and offered to start paying for myself. Johnny seemed quite relieved, and I happily went fifty-fifty for more casual occasions (for special occasions such as anniversaries and birthdays, Johnny still covered the bill). Take that, Southern tradition!

Even still, I wish Johnny and I could have realized earlier in our relationship that the monetary value of dates had nothing to do with their quality. Looking back, our most memorable and meaningful dates involved no money. In fact we recently did the numbers and calculated that our very first week of meeting and falling in love only put us out 15 bucks!

Johnny Says: Buying Gifts

How to set ground rules around buying gifts for your significant other.

Johnny and his wife, Joanna, set ground rules for buying gifts for each other.

Despite being married for five years, we still struggle with buying gifts for each other. Especially as a guy, I really feel the pressure every birthday, Christmas, Valentine’s, Arbor Day (OK, I made that last one up) to get Joanna the perfect gift. But something that has made gift exchanging a whole lot easier is having a chat about spending expectations.

Almost every gift-giving holiday, we set a spending limit. The limits change depending on the occasion and our current financial situation. When we were working to get out of debt (which you can read ALL about right here), our limits were usually pretty low—never more than $50 each. But since we were working toward the same goal, it wasn’t a huge deal that we weren’t spending hundreds of dollars on each other.

Joanna Says: Revealing Your Financial Standing (and Skeletons in Your Closet)

Be honest with your partner about your student loan debt.

Joanna was honest with her husband, Johnny, about her student loan debt.

If sharing your financial standing with your BF/GF makes you want to run and hide in a corner, I know exactly how you feel.

When Johnny and I got engaged, I knew it was time to be open with Johnny about my school loans, which he previously knew nothing about. I wanted to start off this new phase of our relationship by being completely open and honest (both important keys to a healthy relationship), but it didn’t make the discussion any easier. I was afraid that Johnny would think less of me. But all of my anxiety ended up being unfounded, and Johnny really appreciated me telling him since my debt would soon become our debt once we tied the knot.

Johnny Says: Sharing Your Money Goals and Values

Unbeknownst to us, Joanna and I had very different opinions on saving and spending money. When we were single, Joanna preferred zeroing out her checking account on J.Crew, and I preferred saving a few bucks for a rainy day (like, say, buying an engagement ring).

We had to get on the same page with each other about our financial goals and what we saw in our financial future together.

But as soon as we started sharing our expenses as newlyweds, our differences became quite clear. We had to get on the same page with each other about our financial goals and what we saw in our financial future together. Once we had “the talk” on money, it made it easier to put down the plastic and save more. There were still some night and day differences in how we spent and prioritized our finances (this awesome quiz will show you where you stand), but we figured out our goals together. Without that, we’d probably still be agreeing to disagree on the topic.

It’s important to remember that relationships should be fun! Duh! These financial conversations don’t have to be blah (Bueller … Bueller …) or scary. Rather, look at this as an opportunity to strengthen your relationship and financial standing together.

So where are you in your relationship? Have you already had any of these chats? How’d they go? And if you haven’t, what’s holding you back? Let us know in the comments section below.

[Any reference to a specific company, commercial product, process, or service does not constitute or imply an endorsement or recommendation by the National Endowment for Financial Education.]