You love your partner – so much you even (mostly) put up with it when they leave their towel on the bathroom floor. However, money has the potential to test every relationship – especially if you don't take the time to talk about your shared financial life.
There are all sorts of ways money can cause conflict in relationships. Your partner might be coming into the relationship with significant credit card debt, they might have a different spending, saving or financial decision-making philosophy than you, or your financial goals might be vastly different. It's for all those reasons that financial planning is critical, says Leonardo Colangelo, CFP® Investment Specialist & Financial Planner at Scotiabank.
— Leonardo Colangelo, CFP® Investment Specialist & Financial Planner at Scotiabank.
Want that kind of financial intimacy in your relationship? Here are some tips for getting started or for continuing to work on your financial plan with your partner:
Finances for married and common law couples
What's the most important things for married or common law couples to work on?
“One of the first things that needs to be figured out is how you're going to share your finances,” says Colangelo. “You can open up joint accounts and both contribute a portion of your income, keep separate accounts and each pay for different shared expenses, or you can combine all of your finances completely. Whatever you decide, it's important to check in every year or so to make sure the strategy you chose is working since it could lead to resentment if your budgeting or savings plan is seen as unfair.”
Keeping separate accounts in addition to a joint account allows you to maintain autonomy over a part of your finances, but could make it harder to plan and budget together. However, making this autonomy might be the best option for you, particularly if you are getting married later in life, have a higher salary, and have accumulated more wealth or, alternatively, more debt.
With couples planning their wedding, many couples choose to create pre-nuptial or post-nuptial agreements to protect their net worth - especially if it is a second marriage for one or both of them.
“It's never a fun thing to talk about,” he says, “but I think that prenups can prevent resentment among couples and ensure they're the ones deciding what happens to their assets if they have to get divorced.”
Both newlyweds and long married couples often struggle to talk about finances because it could be such an emotional topic.
He adds, “Financial planning is really about your goals and plans for the future. Someone might have planned to rent an apartment and travel and enjoy life, but their partner has the goal of buying a home and starting a family. So, a money conversation is really a complex negotiation about the future.”
Getting on the same page about what your financial future looks like is critical, but so is figuring out how to get to that future. Once you have a shared vision for what your future might look like, it's important to get down to the nitty gritty of how to get there.
From how much money you're each going to put towards various savings goals to shared budgets to who is going to make sure which bills get paid — you need to cover all these things. You also should routinely talk about things like life insurance, disability insurance, savings accounts, and retirement accounts - especially if you're planning on a family or a major purchase.
“Dealing with this kind of stuff explicitly will cut down on fights and misunderstandings,” he says. He suggests getting the help of a financial planner or financial advisor if you need financial advice.
Advice for new couples moving in together
Are you about to move in with the (potential) love of your life? Wondering what a new couple should talk about around planning their financial life together?
Colangelo says that the most immediate things you need to talk about is your household budget and the logistics around shared bills. That includes how to fairly split bills if one person makes significantly more than the other. It could also include creating an emergency fund in case something unexpected happens so that you're both covered.
At that point, it could be a good opportunity to begin talking about creating a joint account to make sharing expenses easier and about whether you want to start planning for the future together. You should also talk about what assets or debts you are both bringing into the relationship so that you can take that into account when planning – if you have not already discussed that when dating.
“You might decide to start talking about whether you both want to start saving for a wedding, or if you want kids and if you're on the same page about when you might want to take that step,” he says.
While you might not initially be interested in a shared account and opt to keep your individual accounts when you originally move in, you might find that it makes more sense logistically as time goes on, he says. This is especially important if you are starting to save for a down payment together for a future home.
But you can also just keep dividing up the bills or each paying a portion of them until you get comfortable in the relationship, he says. There is no need to rush and each couple should take things at their own pace, while being aware that planning in advance can help provide a lot more clarity about what a shared future could look like.
Financial planning for young couples
Are you young and in love? Young couples have financial issues that are specific to them because many have student loans, credit card debt, and jobs that don't yet pay much more than a starting salary.
You're also often just starting to develop good financial habits and beginning to think about planning for near- and long-term financial goals.
“I think young couples have a lot more time to spend learning about each other's financial habits and helping each other get better at things like saving, curbing their spending habits, or improving their credit score.” says Colangelo. “But you also want to be aware of each other's financial position such as if the other has student loans or other debt and how they're handling them.”
While some young couples might have scored great jobs in well-paying industries right after graduation, most young couples will have salaries that just allow them to cover their bills, while they're working on becoming debt-free.
“You might then want to talk about where you both see yourselves in your careers in five years and what your goals are,” he says. “You should also talk to each other about budgeting and how you are both planning to save for future shared goals."
Young couples might want to hold back on putting all their money into a shared account until they're certain the relationship is committed since they are more likely to be living paycheck to paycheck than their older peers. They should also make sure that their partner's financial attitude fits well with theirs. It can be hard for a spender to date a saver when there is so little money to go around because of where they both are in their careers.
Budgeting software for couples and financial planning apps
Colangelo suggests that using budgeting software or budgeting apps to work together to create a financial plan could help couples at any stage of their relationship since you can both plan and track your shared and personal spending. However, he cautions that some apps and software risk violating their financial institution's terms and conditions.
“Make sure to check with your bank if the app or software you're interested in using fits their terms and services agreement,” he says.
Many banks, like Scotia, offer budgeting tools on their website like the Money Finder that you can use to plan your budget together. Scotiabank also offers Scotia Infoalerts, which allow you to track your monthly spending as a couple in real time.
Ready to talk about money?
If you're ready to sit down and talk about money with your partner, you want to make sure that you do it in a way that increases the likelihood that it's successful and will bring you closer together - and you want to make it something you do regularly.
“You want to make sure that the money conversation is as comfortable as possible,” says Colangelo. “Schedule a time to touch base - whether it's every week or every month. You can do it during or after a date night even, but it's important to do it so that you can measure progress towards your goals. Make sure to review your budget, expenses, goals, and tax planning each time you touch base.”
If you can get this part of your relationship on track, Colangelo says, you will thrive as a couple.