Written by Jessica Moorhouse.
Why is it that we feel more comfortable talking about sex than money with our partners?
I’ll tell you why. Because although sex used to be a taboo subject, over the years mainstream media, TV and movies have normalized it. Unfortunately, the same hasn’t been done with money (yet).
As someone who’s been blogging about personal finance for over six years, it still amazes me when I meet someone who’s never heard of the term “personal finance.” And when I tell people what I do for a living, they usually think it’s cool, but assume it’s a niche subject, exclusively for people who like talking about stocks or cryptocurrency.
That’s a big reason why I do what I do on my blog, podcast and through my financial counselling practice. I want to normalize money and end this backwards idea that it’s taboo to talk about it.
Getting Comfortable with Talking Money Takes Time
My first personal experience talking about money in a relationship was with my current partner (my husband). We’ve been together for 11 years and started dating in our early 20s. Let me tell you, our conversations about money have definitely evolved. They started out awkward and uncomfortable, like they do for most people. But now, it’s a subject we talk about daily. Not at length mind you, but if one of us wants to talk about a bill that just came in, the state of the markets, or our current spending patterns, it’s no big deal. Again, we’ve been together for over a decade and this is something we’ve developed over time. It wasn’t always this easy.
When I first met my husband, we were on different paths. Honestly, I thought it would be a short-term thing, and I’m pretty sure I was his rebound from a relationship he’d just ended. He had just finished school and got a job at a recording studio. I was only three years in to my five-year degree. But I was smitten immediately, and after a few months we made it Facebook official.
Then something happened. The retail job I did at night and on weekends was closing shop and I was out of a consistent paycheque. When we went out for dinner the following week, I had to break the news to him. I had to tell him I couldn’t really afford to go out as much because I wasn’t making any money. I also didn’t want him to pay for everything either. I know it sounds silly, because it wasn’t my fault the store closed down and I was left unemployed, but I felt so embarrassed. As if everything was perfect in our relationship, and then all of a sudden, I was poor, a mooch, and couldn’t even afford to go to the movies anymore.
As you can probably guess, he completely understood. He also agreed that we could just do more frugal dates until I got another job. That’s exactly what we did and then we tabled the money conversation for another couple of years until we moved in together.
Deciding When to Broach the Subject Depends on Your Relationship
You may be wondering “Isn’t money something you should talk about right away?” There’s actually no right or wrong answer for this. It really depends on where you and your partner are in life (are you students in your early 20s, working professionals in your 30s, mid-career in your 40s?), and where you’re both at in the relationship (casually dating, moving in together, getting married?).
My personal take is that if you feel like your relationship is becoming more serious and your partner is becoming a big part of your life, money is something you should talk about (just as sex would be). You don’t necessarily have to tell them your credit score, net worth and debt load right off the bat, but I think talking about salaries and cost of living is a good starting point.
Your partner may assume you earn a certain salary, and maybe that’s why they keep suggesting going on expensive trips and going shopping all the time. But if the reality is you feel like you have hardly enough left over to pay your bills and get groceries, it’s time to talk money.
Talking About Money the First Time Will Always Be Awkward, So Embrace It
So, how can you talk about money without going completely red in the face and sweating profusely? Well, I can’t promise that you won’t, but think of it as a Band-Aid. You just need to rip it off. The pain and awkwardness will only be temporary. Also, you’ll be so relieved that you’ve shared some of your financial truths with your partner. Part of being in a healthy relationship is honesty and being vulnerable, and there’s nothing more honest and vulnerable than sharing that you make $50,000/year and that your cost of living is $2,000/month. You may also be surprised at how relieved your partner is, because they may have wanted to share this info with you, but they were too scared to bring it up. By taking the lead and sharing first, they’ll feel more open to doing the same.
Then, the fun stuff can start. When you get into a rhythm of talking about money more frequently, as your relationship progresses, you can start talking about setting some financial goals together. You both want to go to Mexico for seven days? Plan it out together. Figure out how much it will cost and how long it will take you both to save up for it. I know it sounds cheesy, but when my husband and I started doing this, it brought us closer together. It made us feel more like a team (and when we got married, a family).
If You’re Being Judged or Chided, Money Isn’t the Problem…It’s Your Relationship
There is of course the downside to talking money. What if your partner judges you for not making enough? Dumps you because you have too much debt? Or just doesn’t want to talk about money, full-stop? If you partner falls into any of these categories, not to be harsh, but you really need to consider if this is a relationship you want to be in. Because those reactions indicate a relationship that is full of judgement instead of understanding – one that is founded on selective honesty. My guess is probably not.
To be fair, my husband hates talking about money. Even to this day. But we have agreed on a one-hour money meeting every single month because we know it’s important for our present and future happiness. We go deep. We share all of our numbers. We talk about it all. The two things we don’t do is judge or chide each other.
Judging someone, especially someone you love, serves no purpose but to hurt. Instead of judging, try being open and seeing it from your partner’s point of view to understand their situation better. Same goes for chiding your partner if they are doing something different than you would with their money. Remember, it’s their money. Not only that, you need to understand that they are doing the best they can. Honestly. This is some financial counselling 101 for you. No matter who we are, we are all doing the best we can with the knowledge, tools and resources at our disposal. Never forget that.
Illustration by Norman Huang.