Of all the things couples argue about, money fights are the most likely to lead to divorce. The statistics are clear: the more often a couple quarrels about cash, the more likely they are to split.
It’s easier to avoid problems down the line, if parties are open and honest about finances from the beginning.
That’s easier said than done, though, because many couples don’t talk about money at all before tying the knot. After all, a discussion of money is also a discussion of other, not so tangible things like values, goals, beliefs, family histories, and experiences.
Even if you want to talk money with your loved one, it’s not always easy to broach the topic. We suggest approaching the topic from a place of intimacy. The goal is to both get financially naked.
Once you’ve stripped away your inhibitions, try these seven starter questions that can help get you and your partner on the path to a healthier financial relationship today.
1. When Did You Get Your First Job?
A first job can say a lot about a person and how financial need may or may not have shaped their life decisions. This question could lead to a discussion about why a first job was selected (was it out of financial need or was it to get experience in a particular area) and how much of a financial impact that job had on current beliefs about money.
Why it works: “You want to ease into a conversation about your finances the same way you would any other intimate situation, This question is both casual enough that you can work it into any discussion and deep enough that your financial conversation might quickly get hot and heavy.
2. How Was Money Discussed in Your Household Growing Up?
Most people learn about personal finance from their folks. “This may or may or be fine,” says Gail Cunningham from the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, “but being open about your [own] financial baggage is one way to start the conversation.”
Why it works: By discussing what happened in your own household, the focus is on you, not the other person.
3. What Does Financial Health Mean to You?
For some, financial health means being entirely debt free, but for others it means being able to meet your monthly debt obligations on time. Two individuals will never be on the exact same page in terms of beliefs and practices. To find out where your similarities and differences lie, you’ll have to dig deep with your partner to see what exactly you each mean when you use certain words. It can’t be taken for granted that you mean the same thing because often times, you won’t. “The goal, is to figure out where you both are currently and what you both want from your futures.
Why it works: If there is a sticking point in your relationship about money you need to first discover that it’s there and then figure out a solution that makes both people comfortable.
4. Are You a Saver or a Spender?
Everyone has their own personal money style. While that style isn’t likely to change over time, knowing how you and your partner’s styles line up or differ can help you figure out how to meet your mutual financial goals. Many financial differences can be worked out if the couple openly communicates about it. If one party is a spender and one is a saver they can decide on a percentage of their income to save and a percentage to be used as discretionary income.
Why it works: You’re working together to plan your financial future — and not trying to control the other person. Knowing how your financial personalities differ can help you work around those differences to meet mutual goals.
5. Do You Have Any Debt?
“You both should be aware of each others debts and assets prior to the marriage so you are better able to plan your financial future together, Even if you are already married, it’s never too late open about these things to avoid problems down the line.”
Why it works: Disagreements and miscommunication about money are the primary cause for divorce, according to Louis. Being upfront with your partner about your debts reduces the likelihood of a financial miscommunication later down the line.
6. Do You Invest?
What are your partner’s savings goals and are they aligned with your own? A discussion about how each of you invests (or doesn’t invest) your assets is a great opener to a larger conversation. How do each of you feel about how your investments can help you reach your future goals? Do each of you expect to be part of the conversation about how your assets are handled? The latter is particularly important for women, according to Louis, who finds that “many women allow their husbands to handle the finances and they have no clue about where their family stands financially.”
Why it works: Couples who are successful financially know how to work together to pay down debt and build assets. This discussion can help align your investment philosophies and goals.
7. If Money Weren’t an Issue, What Would You Want Do?
What your partner wants to do if money isn’t an issue is likely how he or she envisions their retirement years will play out. You don’t want to find out after 20 years of marriage that one of you wants to live off the grid in rural Colorado and the other doesn’t want to live without metropolitan museums and high end dining. “You and your partner need to be as intimate financially as you are physically,” says Kaplan.
Why it works: You get to see if your dreams are in alignment with your partner’s and, if so, gives you a springboard from which to plan for your future.
The end goal of of any money discussion is to bring you and your partner closer. “These questions are both casual enough that you can work them into any discussion, and deep enough that your financial conversation might quickly get hot and heavy.” Getting to know your partner better — even when it comes to finances — is likely to bring you and your partner closer intimacy.