Love & Finances: Tips for couples
One area of finances that's been on my mind lately is how to support couples' financial goals. With two unique people in the picture, finances can get a little more complicated, especially if you are coming together later on in life and have a well-established financial pattern. Joe and I just passed our one year wedding anniversary, marking 5 crazy years together. It’s reminded me just how much has changed between us, but also how the building blocks we laid up front has set us up for success.
On the whole, I think our money philosophies as a couple have remained the same — spend on what matters most, be intentional with our money management, give to others, carve your own path. But we’ve also tweaked our perspectives as we’ve grown together — give ourselves grace when we make money mistakes, don’t sweat the small purchases, search for the deal but if it isn’t there move on, and respect your partner’s money flaws and work through them together. I feel so incredibly lucky to have a partner with whom I can have open and honest conversations about finances. And that feels especially true as we wait for a our little baby boy to arrive (one month to go!).
We are by no means perfect, and we most definitely have heated discussions about money too! But there are some core practices we live by that help us through the harder times. And I wanted to share our top ones with you:
Be patient: Joe is the first one who introduced me to the concept of Financial Independence. He shared his ambitions to retire early on our third date. My immediate reaction was, well, fear. The idea of retiring early seemed pretty extreme at the time! It’s only natural that it would take some time for me to process this. Had Joe decided to push FIRE on me in our first few months of dating, I honestly can’t say with confidence we would have made it. I would have felt bombarded and insecure. Instead, he chose to be patient, leading by example, and answering questions with genuine compassion along the way. It took me a solid year to get on board with FIRE, and now look at me. I no longer work a traditional job and am running a nonprofit that teaches financial literacy! Who would have thought :) So yes, be patient, who knows what the future holds.
Be willing to revisit: Just because someone blows up about something in a first conversation you have together, doesn’t mean they’ll do the same in the next. Money fears are real. And they sometimes lead us to have adverse and outsized reactions. Your first conversation on a tough topic might be super heated. And that’s ok. Money stuff is uncomfortable. Take some time to cool down and revisit in a day or two, or even more time if you need it. Schedule that conversation in advance so you can mentally prepare and neither of you are surprised.
Learn together: I find that in most couples, there is one person that takes the charge with finances, and the other follows suit. This imbalance in financial literacy can lead to friction in couples and build on existing, lifelong insecurities. For the person who knows more, maybe they’re thinking “Why do I have to do everything myself?” or “I wish my partner cared more!”. For the person who’s less involved in the finances, maybe it’s “I don’t have time for this!” or “Why do we have to make this such a big deal?” I just want to say it is completely fine if there is one person taking the lead on a certain element of the couple’s finances, but it’s important that everyone has a baseline understanding of what’s going on. That way there is a mutual language you can use when talking and no one is completely in the dark. For example, Joe leads the charge on which credit cards we will apply for as he gets excited about points and bonuses, and I manage our donation strategy because I'm interested in researching effective organizations when it comes to global health and development.
Be Transparent: Share your wants, loves, needs, and fears. Discuss your childhood experiences with money and your parents' perspectives on finances. Be vulnerable. The more open you are, the more your partner will be. Make a financial plan that you both can understand.
Don’t spend in a bubble: It’s hard enough to keep track of your own spend! And it can get even harder when you come together as a couple. You don’t need to discuss every single dollar you spend as a couple, but have an idea of who is spending what and when. Here some ideas: You could come up with a dollar amount, say $100, and for any items you want to buy that cost more than that, you should discuss as a couple. Or instead of discussing specific items, you could set aside a “fun fund” per person, and then you can use that fund for whatever you want. I like this idea because it sets a budgeting expectation, but allows you, the individual, freedom to make choices that work for you without having to run each little thing by someone else.
Don’t Nag: You know what nagging is. “Why can’t you”, “You never", “You always”. It is wholly unhelpful in money discussions, and any discussion for that matter. If you have a problem or concern, bring it up in a kind and caring way. Provide real examples of things you are struggling with. Suggest ideas. Ask for ideas. Be open.
Here are some resources you can explore further when it comes to money & couples:
Karina talks about using Co-pilot with their partner in this student story
I talk about overspending with Joe, and how we used Mint to rectify this problem.
This podcast episode I loved from Earn & Invest on Polyamory and Finances. Non-traditional relationships require you to talk and set expectations. I learned a lot from this.
Ramit Sethi regularly interviews couples on his podcast. I like hearing real problems being discussed by real people, and Ramit does a good job of bringing out the core issues usually hiding behind the guise of money.
And here are some exercises you can try out together to get the financial juices flowing:
Want to create some positive energy? Sit down with your partner. Take 5 minutes, independently, to write down 10 things that bring you immense joy and that you would love to spend money on. Come together as a couple and see where you have overlap and where you might not. Ask yourself, "How can I support my partner's passions?"
Want to get deep? Sit down with your partner. Take 10 minutes, independently, to write down 5-10 money fears that you have. For each fear, write down your earliest memory of this fear...where you think it formed, where it came from. Come together as a couple and discuss these. Be kind. Be gentle in this process.
Set up a mutual time on your calendar to meet once or twice a month about finances. Make sure to set an agenda before each discussion so no one is surprised or sideswiped by a complicated topic. Whatever you discuss should be important to you. It could mean budgeting, investing, philanthropy, and more. My favorite part about this is that you hold each other accountable AND you are creating space to talk about crucial financial matters when both people are ready to sit down and talk about it.
Write down your 10 financial commandments! What do you agree on as a couple when it comes to your finances? These should be deeply personal, but here are some examples: “We will consult each other when we spend more than $100 on an item”, “We will aim to max out our IRA at the beginning of each year”, “We will sit down once a quarter to discuss how our finances are going”. Revisit these commandments each year and adjust as you grow together.
I promise that building a baseline understanding of money as a couple will make your relationship stronger and will help point you both in the right direction. I know it might feel hard to start this ball rolling, but it is well worth it in the end.
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