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'Help! My partner, who has trust funds, has no idea how his money works — and he won't discuss it'

Ramit Sethi

Welcome to Asking for a Friend, Grow's new money advice column. Got a question for one of our money experts? Email us at getgrowing@cnbc.com.

Dear Asking for a Friend:

While I was hard at work building my design consulting business, I always figured eventually I'd meet The One, and he'd be like me: Someone who bootstrapped themselves from the lower middle class to, well, slightly higher middle class. Instead, my partner comes from a wealthy family, with a small constellation of trust funds and investment accounts in his orbit.

His situation is the kind of setup I have dreamed about since I opened my Roth IRA, but the problem is ... he has no idea how his money works! Once we got serious about getting married, I tried to have a talk with him about our finances, and his take was, "Other people handle it. It will be fine."

Am I just acting like some poor kid for wanting to know how his money is growing and his burn rate and if I will be the only one with a credit score in this relationship? Should I trust the well-tended garden of his family affairs or am I right to poke around? And how do I talk about money to someone who has never known what it's like to want for it?

— Alexa F.

Dear Alexa,

This is a great question. Let me start off by saying that it's totally reasonable for you to expect your partner to have this conversation with you. It's also expected that for many people money can be a very sensitive and taboo topic. In fact, research shows that 4 out of 10 people don't know how much money their spouse makes. And what may equally be as disturbing is that 40% of couples don't even talk about money before they get married.

Money is too important a topic to avoid discussing with your significant other. Choosing your life partner and sharing your views on money and what a rich life looks like for you are crucial.

Yes, talking to your partner about money is difficult. This is not like discussing what to have for dinner. Or what movie to watch. You have no idea how they'll react or what they will say. I remember when I first had money conversations with my wife. They were some of the most challenging things I've ever done. These types of conversations are never easy for anyone, even if you've been writing about personal finance for over 15 years!

The truth is, you won't agree on everything — and that's OK. What you want is to eventually work together to a place where you and your partner can align on goals and values. And then work as a team to figure out where you want to go.

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I won't try to ascertain where your partner currently stands on his finances or finances in general, but it is important to approach the conversation with an open mind and be free of judgment. You can try to start the conversation with something like, "A secure financial life is important to me. Let me tell you how I handle money, and you can tell me how you deal with finances."

This communicates to your partner that money is important to you: that you're willing to be transparent with your finances, and that it's important to you that he does the same.

Another great question to open up the conversation about money is something like, "What did your parents teach you about money?" This type of question gives you some insight into what money beliefs existed in his household. Some examples of money beliefs include, "We don't talk about money in this family" or, "Money doesn't grow on trees." He mostly likely still thinks about money this way. These preplanned questions can be a great way to break the ice and begin to have a conversation about money and other shared values.

The goal is to ultimately build up to a bigger conversation about money. In my book, I call this "The Big Meeting." The Big Meeting is when you lay it all out. It sounds scary, but if you've made an effort in making conversations about money feel more normal, like with the scripts I gave you, then it's the next step to take. It'll probably take you about four to five hours to plan for it.

Here's what I suggest you have prepared:

  • A list of your accounts and the amount in each
  • A list of debts and what the interest rates are in monthly expenses
  • Your total income
  • Any money that is owed to you
  • A list of short term and long term financial goals.

The most important goal of this conversation is to set up a plan to manage both of your money, including your credit cards, bank accounts, budget, and investment accounts. It's also to figure out where the two of you can be a team to work toward a shared vision of your life together. If you still have trouble getting your partner to open up about his financial life, that's an issue in itself.

I hope this helps you and your partner get on the same page about money. Getting married is a huge step, and one of the biggest financial decisions you'll ever make. If you want more info on how to handle money conversations with the people you care about, you can check out on my blog here or read about it in greater detail in my book.

Best,
Ramit

Ramit Sethi is the author of the New York Times bestseller "I Will Teach You To Be Rich" and writes about personal finance, psychology, and entrepreneurship for more than 1 million readers on his website, I Will Teach You To Be Rich.

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