How to talk to your partner about money

Whether you’re getting married, moving in together, or just getting serious about money, you know when it’s time to discuss finances with your significant other. But how do you talk to your partner about money? For most people this is scary, but don’t worry. I’ve included the exact, word-for-word phrases to use, along with the exact information you need.

Bonus: Notice the psychological strategies being employed in this script.

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How to Prepare to Talk to Your Partner About Money

Remember how painful those “Define the Relationship” conversations were back in college?

Now imagine you have to sit down and talk about money while wishing you could use the sweat from your forehead to drown yourself. Sure, you and your boyfriend or girlfriend might have had an occasional chat about money. But when you’re getting serious—whether you’re recently engaged or moving in together or just at a point where your decisions start to really affect each other—it’s important to spend some time talking about money and relationships. Talking about money with your partner might sound painful, but I promise you it doesn’t have to be awkward. As corny as it sounds, it can actually bring you closer together—if you know what to ask and stay calm. And if your girlfriend/boyfriend isn’t a nut job with $300,000 in credit card debt.

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The specific tactics aren’t as important as your attitude going in. The key is to start by asking for their advice. Yes, even if you don’t need it!

Bring the topic up lightly. “Hey, I’ve been trying to learn about money lately . . . What do you think about investing versus saving?” If you don’t get an answer, try this: “Okay, hey, I have another question . . . What do you think about my spending? Is there anything you think I should change?” I guarantee you they’ll have an opinion on that—and although you’re sacrificing yourself, at least it’ll get the conversation started.

After a few days, ask for their financial advice again: “What do you think—should I pay off my credit card or my student debt?” (Of course, you already know the answer from page 220.) Then, a few days later, tell them you’ve been doing some more research. “I picked up a book on personal finance and it had some really interesting stuff in it,” you can say. “What do you think about talking about our money together?”

(It is optional to add something like, “The book is by an amazing, weird, gracious author named Ramit Sethi, and I visit his website every day.”)

When you sit down to talk, once again start by asking your partner’s opinions: “I know you use cash to pay for everything, but this guy says we should use credit cards to build our credit and track spending. What do you think?” The goal of this meeting about money and your relationship should be to agree that money is important to both of you and that you want to work together to help each other with finances. That’s it!

If things go well during your first conversation, ask if your boyfriend or girlfriend would be willing to sit down again to go over both of your finances together. Remember, it’s not about criticizing or noting things that are being done wrong—it’s about figuring out ways to help each other so you can grow together. Some phrases you can use:

  • “You’re really good at [X] and I want you to help me with my finances.”
  • “We’re going to join our lives together, and I want money to be a part of that.”
  • “One plus one equals three,” which explains why you two can combine money smarts to create synergies. Note: Only MBAs or consultants can use this line with a straight face.
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The Big Meeting:

This is the big day when you both lay bare all your finances and work through them together. But remember, it’s not really such a dramatic step, since you’ve been slowly working toward this for weeks.

It should take about four or five hours to prepare for this meeting. You’ll each want to bring the following:

  • A list of your accounts and the amount in each
  • A list of debts and what the interest rates are in monthly expenses (see page 104 for details)
  • Your total income
  • Any money that is owed to you
  • A list of short-term and long-term financial goals

When you sit down, put the paper aside and start by talking about goals. From a financial perspective, what do you want? What kind of lifestyle do you expect? What about vacations in the next year? Does either of you need to support your parents?

Then look at your monthly spending. This will be a sensitive conversation because nobody wants to be judged. But remember, keep an open mind. Show yours first. Ask, “What do you think I could be doing better?” And then it’s your partner’s turn.

Spend some time talking about your attitudes toward money. How do you treat money? Do you spend more than you make? Why? How did your parents talk about money? (One of my friends has horrible money- management skills, which is confusing because she’s so disciplined and smart. After years of knowing her, one day she told me that her dad had declared bankruptcy twice, which helped me understand the irrational way she approached money.)

The most important goal of this conversation is to set up a plan to manage your money, including your credit cards, bank accounts, budget, and investment accounts. Essentially, you want to work through this book with your partner.

Your immediate goal should be to set up a few short- and long-term savings goals, such as a year-end trip and/or something a little more major like buying a car or putting a down payment on a house. At this point, it’s probably better not to run through all the numbers for a really large purchase because it can get overwhelming. Just set up a savings goal or two and set up an automatic monthly transfer for each of you. Longer term, you and your girlfriend/boyfriend should work together to get on the same page with your money attitudes. When you set a goal together (“We’re going to save enough to put a $30,000 down payment on a house”), you’ll both be able to commit to working toward it.

Bonus: Improving your habits will help you manage your money AND relationships. Check out my new Ultimate Guide to Habits.

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This is part of Chapter 9 of my book, I Will Teach You To Be Rich. Notice how this isn’t some abstract advice, it’s the exact steps to take so you don’t spend the next 30 years nagging each other about money.

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