As you get into the Valentine’s Day spirit and brainstorm all the romantic gestures you might do for (or . . . expect from?) your significant other, you might find yourself planning for your long-term future together. And, OK, bank accounts and retirement funds may not sound as romantic as wedding bouquets and baby showers, but strong finances are what enable all that future planning to take shape.
Whether you’re just starting out in a new relationship or you’ve been married for many years, now’s a great opportunity to check in with your partner on money and make sure you’re on the same page. It’s also a good chance to think about the life you want to lead together and how to achieve your shared goals.
Here are some important conversation starters for you and your significant other—for every stage of the relationship.
Shared Expenses: New Relationships and Just Starting Out
Early in a relationship, you may not want to drop big bombshells like “tell me about every money mistake you’ve ever made,” but you can get the money conversation—and collaboration—started by finding out your shared values and ideals.
Ask each other questions like:
- Where do you see yourself in five years? Ten years?
- What are your top financial priorities?
- If you won a million dollars in the lotto today, how would you spend it?
The key here is to keep it fun. Think of these as getting-to-know-you questions, because that’s really what they are. What matters most to you? What about your partner? This is less about collecting each other’s tax returns than about learning where your values intersect.
You’ve Been Dating for a While
Once you know each other a bit better and you’re thinking about potentially combining your lives, it’s time to learn a little more about the actual financials you’re working with.
At this stage, you might have a conversation about your debts. Do you have student loans? Credit card debts? A mortgage? Try to keep this as blame-free as you can: It’s not about apologizing for your past, or making your partner apologize, either. These are just facts.
What are you saving for? What about your partner? Are there any areas of overlap, such as planning to buy a home in the future? Are you talking about big shared expenses like marriage? How much are you currently saving toward those goals? How much could you save for them, if you were ready to?
You might discuss your retirement savings, too. Are you saving through your 401(k) at work? Is your significant other?
Shared Expenses For Engaged or Newlyweds
A wedding is usually one of the biggest expenses faced by newly married couples, but it’s a good opportunity to work together on a shared goal. If you’re planning a wedding, it’s worth exploring some core questions about what exactly you want and how you’ll fund it. Will either sets of parents contribute to the big day? What kind of ceremony do you envision? Are you imagining a big blow-out? Do you have savings to help fund it?
If not, how much more do you need to save up, and how much can you save per month? From there, you can figure out how long it’ll take to meet your goal. Then you can choose your own trade-offs, if need be: Would you rather have a smaller wedding sooner? Or would you rather wait to have that big affair?
Many couples choose to combine their finances around this time, when they’re engaged or newly married. First, it should be noted that not all couples, even married ones, need to join their finances. There are several different takes on how you might manage shared expenses as a couple:
- Keep it separate and go halfsies: Maintain your own bank accounts and don’t combine your finances. You can each pay for your own expenses, and when it comes to shared costs like rent and groceries, you’d just split the cost down the middle.
- Keep it separate and go proportional: This is a similar approach to separate finances, tweaked especially for couples who make uneven salaries. Under this scheme, instead of going halfsies, you divide your shared expenses by a percentage based on how much each of you earns. So, for example, if one of you makes double what the other one makes, that person might pay double the total expenses.
- Share only the joint expenses: This is a compromise approach, in which you’d create a joint account for shared expenses like rent or mortgage. With this scheme, you’d still keep separate additional accounts for you as individuals, and use those accounts for your personal expenses.
- Combine it all: Many married couples do, in fact, fully combine their financial accounts. One of the big benefits of this approach comes if you have children together, as it may become more difficult to parse out who should pay for, say, baby clothes and who should pay for daycare costs.
Married for a While
You might think that there isn’t much left to discuss if you’ve been married for a while, but even married couples have ongoing and changing financial needs.
For example, if you’re thinking about starting a family, this could be a good time to explore life insurance. Essentially, term life insurance is an agreement between you and an insurer stating that if you pass away during a certain period of time, they’ll pay a death benefit to the people you’ve designated. That could be your spouse, your kids or anyone else who depends on you financially.
Wondering how much life insurance you need? That depends on your finances and personal situation, but many people opt for a policy that could replace their financial contribution. So, for example, if your spouse and kids depend on your income, you might apply for a policy in the amount of the salary you would’ve brought in—to help make sure they’d be OK if you were no longer there to keep bringing home paychecks.
Life insurance doesn’t necessarily have to coincide with starting a family, but for many people it does because it marks the first time someone else depends on them financially.
Other continuing money conversations for long-term couples? Remember to keep checking in on your retirement status, and other large savings goals like your kids’ education. Do you have any family vacations coming up? Are you still working to pay down your student debt?
It’s important to touch base regularly to discuss the state of your finances. Too often, one member of a couple won’t participate fully in the family’s financial life, and that can lead to being blindsided in the long run.
No matter whether you’ve been dating for a month or married for a decade, the holiday of love can be a good excuse for a sit-down to sync up. Discuss your past and present now—so you can best prepare for the future.