Financial stress is a common experience for many people, especially those who live month to month. This pressure is often compounded when you try to manage money with a partner. Here are some tips for working through finances as a team.
Set Goals and Expectations Together
As daunting as the prospect of combining resources with another person may seem, it's really the same basic process as managing your own finances wisely. Start by creating a budget together. Your mutual budget should focus mainly on shared expenses. Once you combine your contributions and establish what has to get paid each month, you can discuss goals for saving and other desired line items.
A lot of misunderstanding comes from unspoken expectations. Talk about how much you expect your partner to communicate about decisions. It may be helpful to set an actual dollar limit for decisions that don't require discussion so that you are on the same page. Even if you keep additional separate accounts, it's important to talk about the purpose of those accounts. For example, if you like to decorate more than your partner, should decorating expenses for your shared space come out of your mutual account or your private one? Talking through things that don't seem like a big deal before they happen can help you avoid unnecessary strife when they do.
Communicate Openly and Honestly
Being open about your finances seems like a no-brainer when you are combining resources with a partner. It's easier said than done, though, especially if you have been on your own for a while. Cultural norms set the expectation that financial information is private, so opening up about the details of your spending may be a completely new experience. It's not difficult to fall into the trap of financial infidelity.
Financial infidelity can manifest in several ways:
- Downplaying the extent of your debt
- Hiding sources of income
- Lying about keeping a separate account
- Making major purchases without discussing them first
No matter how benign your intentions or how small the infraction seems to you, engaging in these behaviors may chip away at the trust you share with your partner, especially if they become habits. Assess the way you communicate about your finances to ensure you're being as open and honest with your partner as possible.
One of the main reasons people are prone to keeping secrets about their financial status or behavior is that many grew up with shame about money. If their parents were frugal and kept to a strict budget, any mistake they made may have been given excessive attention. On the other hand, if they were raised with financial insecurity, they may have needed to cut corners in ways that other families never had to consider and may still carry those habits or any financial embarrassment they felt at the time. Children don't have a lot of control over the financial management in their households, but it still affects them well into adulthood.
Keep in mind that the stress you and your partner experience about finances likely started long before you met. Talk about how your family managed money while you were growing up and how it affected you. Avoid shaming messages that place a value judgment on the other person for ingrained habits or decisions. If tensions seem to get particularly high, it may even be helpful to seek the assistance of a therapist or financial counselor until you get used to navigating these difficult conversations on your own.
Money may never become your favorite topic to discuss with your partner. However, by setting clear expectations and maintaining open communication, you are more likely to navigate difficult conversations with grace.