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Let’s Talk About Money, Baby

Money is a major stressor on nearly everyone, but it can cause rifts in relationships when priorities differ or communication is lacking. There’s no secret. You have to talk about money.

Our stress about money makes sense: we need it to survive and it’s required for many of the things we want in life. If money doesn’t buy happiness, then how else do you buy a plane ticket? It’s frustrating and discouraging because the money in our pockets never seems to be enough to live the lives we desire.

However, I think it’s especially sad when money is a main source of stress in a relationship. When you’re committed to someone, you should face the world together, not turn on each other.

When finances are entangled, there are some implicit questions that come up; it’s your responsibility to make sure those questions are addressed explicitly.

For example, sometimes one person in the relationship makes more than the other. Do they get to spend more, then? Other times, one of you prioritizes saving while the other prioritizes enjoying the now. Who is right? One of you might want to own a house soon, while the other would prefer to continue renting. Which person has to give up what they want? There’s no shortcut for having a conversation about these questions.

1. Discussing money should be enjoyable, not taxing.

For short-term stuff, share some Pinot Gris, and log into all your financial accounts at once. That way, you can see what you’ve both been spending and where you can cut back. At the same time, you can confirm all bills are paid, and there’s nothing incorrect in your accounts. This could become a weekly routine which is equal parts relaxing and productive.

Conversations about the long-term may be trickier, but they are more important. By long-term, I mean big-picture stuff, like whether you want to purchase a house someday, have ten children, or travel the world for five years in your fifties. It’s a cinch if you both happen to want the exact same things, but that’s not always the case.

My advice? Stay positive about your goals and your partner’s goals, no matter how different they are. This isn’t meant to be a scary conversation where you expect to attack or be attacked; this is an opportunity to talk about your aspirations. It’s exciting! You get to share what you’re dreaming about and hear what your partner is excited to do. If those futures don’t look exactly the same, that’s okay. At least you’re talking about it now rather than later, right?

Again, stay positive. I assure you, your partner doesn’t have goal X to spite your goal Y; just like you didn’t come up with goal Y to spite their goal X. Maybe you can each compromise to make room for both goals, or you can talk it out and decide you both prefer goal Z, after all. If your priority over everything is to be together, then you’ll figure out a solution you’re both happy with.

2. You also have to discuss who will do what.

Splitting responsibilities equally works great for tasks like cooking and cleaning because it’s obvious when tasks are accomplished. It’s right in front of your face. For finances, though, it can be helpful to designate one of you as the money guru because it avoids any miscommunication. If we both took responsibility for the finances, we might leave a bill unpaid because we thought the other person did it (or we might pay it twice).

It was a no-brainer for us who should be the financial guru; while he is more of a calculated and particular guy, and I’m more scatterbrained and spontaneous, these traits are somehow reversed in our financial lives. We have vastly different spending habits, priorities, and strengths. I’m awesome at keeping track of bills and allocating our funds, while he’s great at making a dollar stretch.

This goes for more than monthly bills; long-term priorities only work if you’re planning for them in the short-term. That means if you wanna buy a house, one of you has to take charge of pushing the “transfer” button from your checking to your down payment savings account. After you’ve figured out your mutual goals, make sure one of you is up to the task of making them happen.

3. You also have to make room for both of your wants. 

Sometimes, our money goes towards items that we don’t need, and thus aren’t in our long-term benefit. I bought a 26 dollar skin serum which my husband thought was ridiculous, but he recently spent even more on video games. When we look at our short-term spending, it’s easy to pinpoint the others’ purchases as a place where we can cut spending. That’s unfair.

Unless there’s some seriously questionable spending going on, respect their choices. They’re allowed to buy things you don’t see the value in, and you’re allowed to buy things they don’t understand.

Money is a challenging subject, but it’s worth discussing with your partner. After all, you’re there to make life more enjoyable for each other, not more stressful.

About the Author

Natalee Desotell

Natalee graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2013 with a triple major in Political Science, International Politics & Economics, Languages & Cultures of Asia, and a minor in Global Public Health. After a couple years in the working world, she recently returned to her alma mater to study Cartography and Geographical Information Systems. A self-proclaimed public health nerd, her dream job is to communicate epidemiological information visually through beautiful interactive maps and graphics. She enjoys iced black coffee, punk rock music, and surprising people.

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