Have the right financial talks at the right relationship time

If your idea of first date chitchat includes “I’m aggressively paying down $65K in student loans” or “I don’t believe in sharing groceries,” you probably don’t have a lot of second dates.

Nonetheless, once you do click with someone and you can see the possibility of a future together, you’re going to have to talk about money. Because “I have terrible credit but still go to Paris every year” is an even worse conversation to be a part of, especially after you’ve signed a lease together.

When you become “exclusive.”

If you’ve gotten to the point where neither one of you is interested in seeing anyone else, that means a lot of time together. Even if you’re the kind of couple that stays home and watches a lot of Netflix, you’re going to have to decide who pays for the Internet and pizza.

Questions you need to ask each other: Who pays for dinner and a movie on date nights? How often and important are date nights going to be, anyway? What does a great vacation together look like, and who pays if you want to go camping and your partner wants to go to Prague?

Even if you’re in agreement on paying your own way for entertainment, are you comfortable with someone who spends more than $50 a on bar tabs, video games or clothes every week but doesn’t save that much? At this point, not your problem. Until…

When it starts to get “serious.”

If you’re starting to really consider a future together, your partner’s spending and saving habits gradually become your business. So does that person’s debt. And it cuts both ways.

If one or both partners carry a large debt load, it’s reasonable to expect that a plan to pay it off is in place. It’s time to talk about your financial habits. Are you the kind who keeps bills organized and sticks to a budget, or are you a little more freewheeling? If you’re not the same kind of spenders, can you see a way to work together someday?

This is also the time to talk about your future career paths and whether they might cause conflicts of time or geography in the years to come. Does your dream job exist only in Dubai? Or will you be living here but working 70 hours a week? Are you going to take a huge risk by starting your own business?

Before your first shared “life event” together.

For some couples, it means planning a wedding. For others, it’s buying a house or having a baby. Basically, it means you’re all in, with all your financial chips at stake.

Figure out what’s yours, what’s your partner’s, what’s shared and what would happen if you split up. Sit down and figure out how to merge bank accounts, if at all.

Some couples work well with a shared checking account for the household and separate individual accounts. Unless you have identical salaries, you’ll have to agree on an equation to figure out what goes into the joint account, what goes into savings and what is left over for discretionary spending.

Some couples are content to put everything in one bucket, but that doesn’t mean you get to stop talking about money. For example, ask your partner, “How much would you be comfortable spending on impulse without checking with me first?”

If you say $50 and hear $200, you can split the difference. If you say $50 and hear $5,000, you have some serious talking to do.

Most importantly, sit down and agree on lifetime money goals. When do you want to retire? How are you going to get there? What does that mean for your lifestyle in the meantime?

Couples can figure out how to merge even drastically different budgeting styles, even if it takes a few sessions with a financial counselor and a commitment to open communication.

It’s always much easier to figure out these things before you sign a mortgage or say your vows. Money is the leading cause of conflict in relationships and takes down more marriages than cheating. Talking about money can be hard, but you’ll be glad you did.

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