How do you talk about finances with your spouse or partner? These six prompts for financial conversations for couples can help.
Money conversations can be tough—especially in relationships. Take honesty about finances: 39% of spouses or partners admit to hiding purchases or bills.1
Learning how to talk about money can make it easier to talk about money. That includes realistic expectations and consistent check-ins. These six money conversation starters—to have before you get married, while you’re married, or if you’re in a committed relationship—can help.
Money talk No. 1: What do you think about money in general?
When you’re in a relationship, you bring your history and feelings about money with you. That can create conflict if there are differences in approach, or if you’re unsure how your partner thinks about finances. No one is right or wrong—the goal is to make sure your short- and long-term financial plans respect both your needs. This question can launch that important talk.
“Start the conversation small,” says Heather Winston, financial professional and product director for retirement income solutions at Principal®. “Learn each other’s history with money, what you think about it, and how you make financial decisions. It’s OK to feel awkward at first. Keep talking until you’re both comfortable.”
Money talk No. 2: What’s your financial history?
Have you made a financial decision, only to regret it? You’re not alone: 77% of people always, often, or sometimes regret major financial decisions after making them.2
Regret (and the financial obligations that come with it) are just part of our money histories. For some, talking about that history stokes anxiety, even fear. But transparency matters when you’re planning a financial future together. “Avoidance won't make money problems go away,” Winston says. “In fact, it could make the situation worse. No matter what your circumstance, the sooner you face reality the better.”
This means revealing debt, sharing credit scores, and generally being forthcoming—regrets, too. From there, you can address root issues, build realistic goals, and determine what financial success means to you as a couple.
Money talk No. 3: How should we combine finances?
Wherever you are in sharing expenses—living together, for example, or thinking about marriage—there are options that can help you make the decision that’s best for you. They may include:
- Merge finances 100%. That consists of past savings, new income, inheritances, and debt.
- Gradually combine finances. Contribute some income to your own accounts, and the rest to shared accounts; adjust over time as needed.
- Maintain separate accounts and income streams. Some couples split bills and expenses 50/50 or proportionally based on income.
- Maintain separate accounts but open a joint checking account to cover shared costs. Each person deposits a fixed or income-proportionate amount monthly.
- Maintain separate accounts and name one person the “spender” and the other the “saver.” The “saver” puts aside all of their net income for long-term goals, while the “spender” prioritizes where the dollars go.
Money talk No. 4: What’s our budget?
For many, a budget may signal restriction—but it doesn’t have to. A shared budget can:
- help you save for retirement,
- include realistic short- and long-term goals,
- allocate for housing, transportation, and debt repayment, in amounts that work for both of you, and
- allow for independent spending.
“Couples can run into problems if they’re not realistic about what something will really cost or how long it’ll take to reach a goal,” Winston says.
Money talk No. 5: How do we share financial responsibilities?
This conversation starter dovetails with your talks about budgets and account-sharing, and how you divide responsibilities might align what each of your financial skills. For example, maybe you like lists (and checking things off) and have time to tackle bill paying.
By connecting routinely, you and your partner can help keep money conversations out of the shadows, says Winston. “Initially, it can be difficult to talk about saving and spending. Like any skill, if you do it routinely, it becomes a habit,” she says.
Follow-ups can help you adapt to stresses and opportunities such as:
- A check-in before big purchases
- A change in cash flow—good or bad
- Major life events
Money talk No. 6: How do we protect each other financially if something happens?
The what-ifs are hard to talk about, too—but the end goal is protection for both you and your partner. “These types of conversations aren’t necessarily fun,” Winston says, “But thinking about how you’ll manage if something happens to one of you should be part of the mix.”
Topics might include:
- Beneficiary designations of all your accounts, including 401(k) plans.
- Estate plans
- Life and disability insurance
Checking in on your retirement savings regularly can help you with decisions related to your money conversations. Log in to principal.com to see how much you’re saving. Don’t have an employer-sponsored retirement account or want to save even more in addition to a 401(k)? We can help you set up your own IRA. Ready to continue building your financial foundation? Our learning library has information on everything from building a budget to buying a home.
1National Endowment for Financial Education
This content is intended to be educational in nature and is not intended to be taken as a recommendation.
Investment advisory products offered through Principal Advised Services, LLC. Principal Advised Services is a member of the Principal Financial Group®, Des Moines, IA 50392.