The Things You Were Told Not to Talk About
Your parents told you to never talk about politics, religion, or money, yet in a relationship, everything is fair game. Nick and I began to talk about finances early on in our relationship (what we call financial intimacy), and it has resulted in alignment across all parts of our relationship.
When Nick and I first started our relationship, I have to be honest, money was in some ways a shame-inducing topic–that’s right, I’m using the word shame, thanks, Brene Brown(!). But that’s how I would describe my relationship with money at the time and a large part of that was due to my student loans. Looking back, it seems dramatic, but while many of the peers in my friend group had little to no student loans, my number seemed quite shocking: >$60K at the time. On a Sunday afternoon, Nick and I found ourselves talking about goals, financial included, and I knew it was time to share my student loans. Nick being Nick wanted to know the interest rates, the type of loans (private and federal) and the details of how these loans came about.
Money Moves Everything Around Me
At the time, this was a conversation of vulnerability for me, but it made our relationship that much stronger. And why you may ask? As much as talking about money early on in a relationship may seem extra, money can at times be the center of our decision-making process. Money can be a factor for why a couple decides to stay in on a Friday/Saturday vs. going out, takes a week long vacation vs. a weekend getaway, and eventually if all works out, how to pay for shared bills such as a mortgage. So if you are in it for the long-game, then money is 100% going to come up.
And while sharing your student loan status is one piece of it, talking about finances also goes for folks who have no debt at all. In reality, what you want to know about your significant other is their financial philosophy.
I will go on to say that one of the biggest financial decisions you’ll make is actually who you choose in a partner (and this does not mean that I am encouraging folks to just marry a millionaire— that is not the message at all). I’ll let Nick weigh-in on this:
I totally agree that one of the biggest financial decisions you’ll make is who you choose to share your life with. I think everyone at some point asks the question ‘what if I’d been born into a family like X’. You can’t choose the family you were born into, but you can choose the family you die with, and you want to surround yourself with people who you’re compatible with, on a physical, moral, and financial level.
Financial independence is one financial philosophy among many. Another is that you shouldn’t care about money at all, or the ‘keeping up with the Jones’s’ philosophy of consumerism. As Hannah pointed out before[insert link], even if you’ve never thought about your financial philosophy, you still have one.
What’s Your Philosophy?
Financial intimacy involves sharing your financial philosophy with your partner or your other close relationships, in order to make sure you’re aligned on your thinking. It’s not about making sure you have the same amount of money, or the same income potential— that’s extremely short sighted. Rather, it’s making sure that you both think about your finances in a compatible way.
For example, do you both save a similar percentage of your income? How does your spending differ across categories? If your partner loves fine dining, and you cringe at the thought of spending $30 on a meal, maybe that’s an important thing to discuss.
Find a Partner that Inspires You
I was fortunate enough that my parents paid my way through college and I graduated without student loans. When the conversation came up with Hannah, I could tell she was self-conscious about her loans. But during that conversation I found myself falling deeper in love with her. She’d made the intentional decision to live at home since graduating instead of getting her own place specifically to pay down her loans with ‘fake rent’. I thought to myself: here’s a person that makes the best of her situation, who doesn’t worry about what the crowd says and takes her own path to where she wants to go. Who wouldn’t want a partner like that?
While we were at different places financially (I’d been in the workforce for a bit longer, and had been able to invest my savings vs. paying down loans), I knew that we had the same attitude and long term goal with respect to our finances. I knew that we were financially compatible.
Till Debt Do Us Part
To be honest, it seems bizarre to me how little couples talk about their finances. This article lists money issues as the top reason couples get divorced, with apparently 20% of the surveyed people saying their partner either overspent or didn’t budget appropriately. Didn’t you know that about the person before you married them???
Let’s not forget how much finances impact other goals you’d want to set with your partner: how many kids do you want to have? Where do you want to live long term? What kind of house or living situation do you want to have? What kind of travel or vacations do you want to take together? Do you want to have a small or big (or no) wedding? All of these depend to some degree on your financial situation. Why wouldn’t you talk about it up front?
That’s the real reason financial intimacy is so important: your financial situation impacts your options in other areas of your relationship. If it turns out your partner has mounds of credit card debt, are you really going to be able to get the mortgage you want, or raise a family the way you want to?
Stop Trying to Make Fetch Happen, It’s Not Going To Happen
I see it often enough on the financial independence subreddit, “I love my partner, but we have very different ideas about money, can we make it work?” The answer is: probably not. If you want to retire when you’re 40, and your partner is spending like they’ll never retire, do you think you’ll be able to maintain your relationship in the long term? It’s a recipe for disaster.
If you haven’t already, I heavily encourage you to discuss your financial goals with your partner. While I don’t think it’s appropriate for a first date, I think it would fall somewhere before the ‘I’m introducing you to my family’ stage (maybe around the same point you discuss your other relationship goals, like family size). While it might seem awkward to talk about money, I can assure you it’s much better than the alternative. Great relationships are built on trust, and it’s difficult to have trust without a healthy level of financial intimacy.