It’s time to have ~the talk.~ With your partner, with your friends, with your kids, with your parents … everyone. No, we don’t mean the birds and the bees — people actually tend to be more comfortable having that convo. We mean the money talk. Because this particular societal taboo is keeping us from earning, saving, and investing more. First up: Here’s a toolkit of helpful info and conversation starters to help you have the talk with the person you’re dating.
For a long time, talking about money has been a pretty big taboo. And when you’re dating someone, trying to present your “best self,” money might feel like an especially touchy topic. But actually, talking about money — early and often — is better for your relationship.
Nobody’s always on the same page about money. It’s an emotional subject. Everyone’s taught about it differently. But you can discover if you’re at least in the same book.
And when you are, it’s easier to make decisions together, respect and support one another’s goals, and, maybe someday, trust one another to protect your joint financial future. Plus, in one study, 78% percent of couples who talk about money every week said they’re happy, whereas only 60% of couples who talk about money every few months — and half of couples who talk money less often — said the same thing.
But the types of money conversations you might have will be different depending on what stage your new relationship is in. Here are some ideas and tools to help when you’re just getting to know each other.
The very first date
The biggest money question on the very first date is often who pays.
A lot of people agree that the person who did the asking should do the paying. So if you’re asking and that’s your thinking, you might add an aside, like “My treat!” to be super clear. You could also phrase your request in a way that shows you’re willing to pay — for example, “I’d like to take you to dinner sometime” rather than “Would you like to get dinner sometime?”
But things aren’t always so straightforward. Some people prefer to split the cost of a date in half, no matter who asked. Some prefer to always pay for the first date, and still others prefer when their date pays. How can you figure out what to expect?
The dated, gendered, heteronormative cultural assumption that men should pay for the first date is … less than helpful. For one thing, it assumes that all couples include exactly one man. And also: It’s not 1950 anymore. That said, it’s nice when someone does something considerate to show they’re interested, and paying for the first date is one way to do that.
One way you might clear up any assumptions is to ask ahead of time. Maybe a text like this:
Can’t wait for dinner on Friday! Just wondering — do you usually like to split the check, or have one of us pick it up and then maybe take turns? I’m happy to do it however, just trying to avoid the check dance, lol.
The name of the game here is openness. If you can treat money as a natural part of the conversation early on, it’s less likely to become awkward later.
Getting to know one another better
When your relationship is relatively new, talking about money doesn’t have to be some big, serious conversation (deep breaths). It’s just about including money in your everyday vernacular and learning more about each other’s financial priorities.
There’s no “right answer” to look for, and it’s by no means about dating someone based on their finances. But a healthy relationship is built in part on shared values … and money touches a lot of different values you’ll be exploring. So it’s a part of the getting-to-know-this-person process.
On your end, that might mean sharing if you’re trying to build up your emergency fund, or asking for their advice about negotiating a raise, or being honest about how much you’re willing to spend on date nights. For example:
Hey for our next date, can we [insert inexpensive date idea here]? I have some big things I’m saving for at the moment / I’m trying to knock out my student loans ASAP / I just increased my 401(k) contribution (woohoo!) / I’m trying to be intentional about my budget this month. I 100% want to see you, I’m just hoping to spend like [$X amount] or less.
Other money values should just come up in conversation while you’re on a date. Things like, “Are you saving up for anything fun?” or “Where do you want to travel next?” are great get-to-know-you topics. If you find yourself not asking these questions, or thinking about money-related things (“Costa Rica? That’s on my dream list for retirement!”) but stopping yourself — that’s that taboo kicking in. And if you’re not talking about it, they probably won’t want to talk about it, either.
As you get to know each other better and spend more time together, keep fighting that money-talk taboo. Opportunities to talk about money and learn more about how they approach it can come up naturally. A la:
I’ve been thinking I want to try building a monthly budget. Do you use one?
How much do you want to spend on the weekend getaway we’re planning? Should we save up for it?
[Insert nostalgic story about college here.] Aaaand I’ll be paying 7% interest on that story for the next ten years.
What do you think about [insert news item about the stock market here — there’s always a news item about the stock market]?
My parents always fought about money. Did yours?
Drinks on me tonight, I just finished filing my taxes!
Again, this isn’t about making judgments; it’s about getting to know the other person, their emotional life, their values, and their plans better. And while financial status doesn’t have to be a deal-breaker, respect definitely should be. If you find your date disrespecting your opinion or your own money journey: red flag. And if you truly can’t respect theirs: same.
Getting serious about each other (and money)
When it seems like things are getting ~serious,~ it’s time to go a little deeper. Plus, knock wood, it will help you spot any other financial red flags early on. (Different attitudes and goals around money can be negotiated as part of a relationship. Lying and stealing … can’t.)
Hopefully, by this point, you know you’re in that same book just by getting to know one another. But if you aren’t sure about certain things — ask. And share about yourself, too.
Laying your financial life bare can get emotional — and feelings of embarrassment, shame, anger, and / or vulnerability can bubble up. So above all else, the feeling you’re going for is one of open-mindedness, love, and respect. You also want to be clear that you’re not prying — you’re sharing info about your financial picture too, not just asking about theirs. Maybe open the conversation with something like this:
“I’m really happy with you. And I’ve been thinking: You know how they say that the #1 reason couples fight is money? I don’t want that to be us! I want to tell you about where I stand financially and how I think about my money, and I’d really like to hear those things from you, too. Maybe we can start to set some goals that we can work on together. What do you think?”
Here’s what you’re going to want to know about each other:
What are each of your approaches to spending money? This is a good one to start with, because it’s about the day-to-day stuff, and you’ve probably already seen some of where you’re each coming from. What kinds of things do you think are worth splurging on and saving for? Do you both have a good idea of what you have coming in and what’s going out? Do you track every penny, or are you more of a 50/30/20 rule kind of person? (Or an “it’ll work itself out” person or a “la la la I can’t hear you” person?) It might also be useful to talk about how your parents approached money because that usually affects how you approach it, too.
How do you each feel about your finances at the moment? Do they have debt? And if so, are they working on paying it off? Some people manage to avoid debt their whole lives, but most don’t, and paying it off has a big impact on how much of your income is left for saving and spending. Discuss what kinds of debt you each have — student loans, car loans, credit cards, etc. — and what their balance and interest rates are. Do they have an emergency fund, just in case? It might be good to ask about their credit score, too — and if it’s not so great, whether they’re working on fixing it.
What are your short-term money plans? Here’s where you can get a feel for where you’re headed together over the next year or so. Do they have plans to get that debt paid off ASAP? To build an emergency fund? To change jobs any time soon? Are you both currently saving for retirement?
What are your dreams for the future? Are you working on it? This is the fun part. Do you want to buy a home in a few years? What do you dream about when you dream about retirement (if retirement’s your thing)? Putting those things out on the table now will help you each understand why the other person may be making today’s financial choices — and gives you the opportunity to maybe even sync up your plans, once you’re ready.
If you can build a relationship built on trust and openness around money, you will both be better off — and you’ll be better off together, too. We’re rooting for the two of you.