Almost all couples argue about money at some point, no matter their income level, net worth, or debt loads. And arguments around finances are one of the top predictors of divorce, according to researchers at Kansas State University, who also found that fights about money tend to be particularly intense, and take a while to get over.
So, experts say, start having the tough financial talks with your significant other as soon as you can — ideally before you even tie the knot.
Stefanie O'Connell is a millennial personal finance expert who has built a career advising young couples on navigating their finances, including during their engagements. She says couples can and should address finances early and often so that you can make sure you share the same values — and make compatible financial choices.
"I'm an advocate of full financial disclosure before you even move in with someone, let alone sign a legal agreement," says O'Connell. She recommends "sharing your full debt, your savings account balances, your checking account balances, where you are with your investments, and what your goals are for the future."
With that in mind, here are here are three money conversations to have before you even think about saying "I do."
As uncomfortable as it may be, it's important to discuss issues related to debt and credit with your significant other.
You owe it to your partner to be forthcoming if you're deep in debt, O'Connell says, as that can affect their lives and finances going forward, too. And if you have a credit score that needs work, it may affect your ability as a couple to get loans for a car or home, or what apartment you're able to move into.
Credit card debt is different than medical debt, for example, she says, so remember that it's important that you share not just numbers but the story behind what's owed.
What are your beliefs or guiding principles around money? These financial values, O'Connell says, determine what it is that you're working towards, and how your finances align with those goals. "The only way you're making sure you do that is by having a regular, honest, and open dialogue about your finances," she says.
Make those dialogues part of your routine: "I'm a big fan of money dates once a month or once a quarter," she says. O'Connell recommends grabbing a bottle of wine, pulling up some spreadsheets, and looking at your financial behavior to see where you're aligned with your goals.
Growing old together could mean planning to buy cars together, or a home, or paying college tuition for kids. It also usually means getting yourselves ready for retirement. Talk about your ideas for the future at the outset to make sure you both agree about your plan — and your strategy.
"It's about what you're working towards, and then the finances are what steps you need to take to support those goals," says O'Connell.
Take the time to get the tough money talks out of the way so that you and your partner can focus on your life together and not worry about any financial surprises that may be waiting for you.
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