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Full Financial Disclosure: A Step by Step Guide to Talking Money with Your Significant Other

It can feel less scary to get naked in front of a new partner for the first time than disclose your credit card balance. Talking money is often the last thing people want to do.

As difficult as it may be, having an honest discussion about finances is just as significant in a relationship as saying “I love you” for the first time. After all, the way a person thinks about money will affect almost every aspect of a relationship and could determine major decisions a couple will face in the future.

For those unsure of how to navigate this tricky conversation, we asked millennial money expert Stefanie O’Connell, for some advice on the best ways to have the big financial talk with your significant other when things are getting serious.

How soon in a relationship should a couple talk about money?

If you bring up the talk too early, you risk coming off as controlling or nosy. If you wait too long, then you might be in for a tough reality check about someone you’ve imagined spending your life with. The key is to keep your eyes open from the beginning.

“This doesn’t mean you have to ask any deeply personal financial questions on the first date,” O’Connell explains. “But you should be on the look out for spending cues and comments that might offer insights into your potential partner’s relationship with money, and think about how those views and behavior may or may not fit with your own.”

Some things to notice early on: Is your partner consistently spending lavishly? Is he or she comfortable with sharing costs or trading off on who pays what? How do they react when you recommend more casual or frugal activities? What kinds of goals do they talk about achieving in the future?

When you’re ready, what’s the best way to start discussing your financial future as a couple?

If things are getting serious with your significant other and you’re starting to talk about moving in together, now’s the time for both of you to fully financially disclose to one another and start talking numbers. Reveal your income, debt, credit, assets, and financial goals.

“Be on the lookout for any financial details that might require a discussion, like vastly different incomes, debt loads, or bad credit,” O’Connells says. “Essentially any financial detail that has the potential to affect both of you needs to be discussed.”

Not only will disclosing all of your financial information help the two of you figure out what kind of place you can afford to live in, it’s also crucial in aligning your financial values and expectations for the future.

What topics should couples address once they decide to combine finances?

Once a couple has finished the hard task of disclosing their individual finances (congratulations!), it’s now time to start asking some important questions about how you’ll both deal with money in future. A few topics you should include:

  • What are your feelings about credit card debt?
  • Would you consider debt brought into a marriage an individual issue or a shared responsibility?
  • Do you believe in leasing a car?
  • How much do you think is important to have saved for emergencies?
  • What is your greatest financial fear?
  • What happens if one of us loses our job or gets sick?
  • What do you consider ‘enough’ money?
  • What are your top money goals in the next year, 5 years, 10 years and in retirement?

Bringing up money can get uncomfortable fast. What are some constructive ways to talk about it?

Instead of fixating financial mistakes, it’s important to bring back the conversation to your values around money. “Identify what’s important to you as a couple in terms of how you earn money, how you spend money, and the quality of life you wish to build with your money,” O’Connell suggests.

Instead of trying to be right or dictating what your partner should be doing, try reiterating what’s important to you about money. “Replace statements like ‘we have to’ or ‘we should’ with ‘it’s important to me because,’” O’ Connell adds. “And remember, you don’t necessarily have to agree with each other to come to an agreement.”

Is it ever okay to keep some part of your financial life secret from your partner?

“Failing to talk about financial details and keeping things hidden, like overspending and secret debt, are a breeding ground for fights and break down the trust that’s essential for the growth of your relationship,” O’Connell says.

But, of course, that doesn’t mean you have to start disclosing every cent you spend going forward. Try and set rules and boundaries about money as a team. How much can you each spend on a purchase without letting your partner know? How much will you each be contributing to your joint savings account?

“Clarifying these money boundaries will help you operate more freely as individuals,” says O’Connell, “while still respecting the relationship.”

-Patricia Garcia for The BeeHive