- Talk about money early, openly, and often (even if it's uncomfortable).
- Make a plan for if the relationship ends.
- Figure out the best way to split expenses, but also use money to make each other happy.
Ah, money. It can feel like a silver bullet for happiness if used effectively. Or, it can feel like a loaded gun pointed in your direction if it's a source of constant tension in your relationship.
Fighting and bickering about money is the number-one source of tension and stress in romantic relationships. Winning the lottery with a scratch ticket or hitting the jackpot in Las Vegas might alleviate money problems in your relationship, but then again, I wouldn't bet on it (no pun intended).
So, what are some realistic strategies to avoid being like the average couple who bickers about money?
1. Talk Early, Openly, and Often About Money (Even if It's Uncomfortable).
Some say talk is cheap. But talking about money with your partner will pay dividends. Money is naturally a taboo topic, but that doesn't mean you can ignore it. Establish a rapport surrounding the topic of money within the first year of your relationship.
Ideally, you can broach the subject within your first six months together, even if it's more general at first, in an attempt to open a dialogue if you see the relationship going somewhere. You'll want to have this conversation before moving in together and certainly before getting engaged or married. Plan for this conversation, starting and ending with an open mind.
During this conversation, ask each other questions such as:
- Would you consider yourself a saver or a spender?
- Do you hold any debts?
- Are you satisfied with your income and career projection?
- How were your parents with money when you were growing up?
- What are your best and worst financial habits?
- What kind of wedding do you envision having (if any)?
- How many kids do you want (if any)?
- Do you prioritize travel and new experiences, or are you more of a homebody?
Actively listen and learn from your partner as you work through this conversation.
2. Make a Plan if the Relationship Ends
This is the least fun tip of them all but it's also potentially the most important, especially for couples that are engaged.
Nobody wants or plans for their relationship or marriage to end. Yet about 50 percent of marriages in the United States end in divorce. Consider talking through what would happen if, God forbid, the marriage ends in divorce. What would happen with the house? The car? If one partner has substantially more assets than the other, it's worth considering a prenup agreement for protection. During this conversation, let your partner know that you love them and the relationship ending is the last thing you want. Frame it as a fire drill. Having a blueprint is important, even though we never realistically expect it to happen.
3. Figure Out the Best Way to Split Expenses
Note that 50-50 is not a no-brainer here. Having the higher earner cover most expenses might not be the answer either. This point is where you can use some creativity.
For example, let's say one partner earns roughly double the other. You might decide to split the rent or mortgage such that the higher earner pays two-thirds, whereas the lower earner pays one-third. Or maybe you agree that the higher earner pays the mortgage in full, and the lower earner covers groceries, the car payment, and the phone bill.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution for this point. But again, talking about the optimal way to share expenses so that both people are authentically happy is a good starting point.
4. Use Money to Make Each Other Happy
Let's end on a positive note, shall we? Money is a tool that can increase happiness. Research finds that spending on others has surprisingly powerful effects on our well-being (Dunn, Aknin & Norton 2008). And, of course, everyone likes a gift. Take advantage of this finding and treat your significant other as often as you can.
Pick up their favorite wine bottle next time you make a store run. Get them a knick-knack from the airport when you're headed home from a work trip. For a big birthday or anniversary, plan the surprise trip you know your partner has been wanting to go on if it's within your budget.
This point will add compassion and excitement to your relationship. So don't hold back.
Dunn, E. W., Aknin, L. B., & Norton, M. I. (2008). Spending money on others promotes happiness. Science, 319(5870), 1687-1688.