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BLOG: How to start the money conversation with your partner

Paloma Kubiak
Written By:
Paloma Kubiak

Household bills are rising, and people are having to keep an eye on what they spend. For couples, they may have to talk about money more often, which can be challenging even in the best of times.

Why don’t we talk about money?

It’s famously a taboo subject among Brits and our collective reluctance to discuss money among friends and family makes starting the conversation with a significant other much harder.

One of the reasons people don’t talk about money is because we all have different attitudes towards it, which can become a source of friction. Another is because money isn’t always within our control – most people wish they had more of it.

Being comfortable talking about your finances with your significant other will make it easier when you reach the big moments including going on holiday, moving in together, becoming parents, tying the knot, planning career changes or retirement, and during separation.

Here are five pointers to get you started:

1) Think about your own money outlook

Conversations about the big stuff are easier if you know a little about your own perspective. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What was the attitude to money in your home when you were growing up?
  • Are you more or less financially comfortable than your parents were?
  • Since you started earning your own money, do you feel you manage it well?
  • Did you have periods when money was a struggle, and has that influenced you today?
  • Is there something you’d like to do in life that requires having more money?

2) Have the conversation during the good times

It’s tempting to avoid discussing money until you absolutely have to – but during stressful periods, talking about money becomes much harder. Lay the groundwork for the future by bringing up the subject when you’re both relaxed.

Take baby steps and steer clear of any potentially contentious issues such as payrises or big financial goals. Casually mention that you were doing some life admin and that you’ve checked your credit score or you were looking at your pension. This sends the signal that your financial life matters to you, and it also lets you gauge their reaction.

3) Frame the conversation carefully

Often, it’s not what you say, but how you say it, that sets the tone for the conversation. From the outset make sure you pose questions about money in a neutral or curious way – even if you’re annoyed about something they have done.

If it’s a new relationship, you’re aiming to get to know them better. One way of probing their attitude to money without being too direct is to pose ‘what if?’ questions. ‘What if you won £100,000 tomorrow, what would you do with the money?’ or ‘If you could afford to stop working at 55, would you?’

If you’re a more established couple and you’re hoping you can work towards shared financial goals, start by talking broadly about the questions you’ve asked yourself, and if you disagree with their attitude, explain why.

4) Create a shared financial goal

People can have wildly different perspectives on money and its importance, for all sorts of reasons. Broadly, everyone falls somewhere along the spectrum between three key types:

  • The diligent saver who watches every penny and couldn’t bear to use a credit card
  • The relaxed type who doesn’t worry much about their income and outgoings
  • The chaotic spender who has no idea where their income goes every month and is continually stressed with bills or debts.

All three types can find money a source of stress. The first type can become too concerned with their financial resources, the second may not be achieving their potential when it comes to money while the third type probably lives under avoidable stress.

If your partner doesn’t share your attitude to money, don’t despair. Agreeing to work towards a shared financial goal is a practical way of aligning yourselves financially, regardless of your underlying tendencies.

Make it as small or big as you like, depending on your means; saving up for an anniversary treat, helping one person improve their credit score, or making overpayments to a mortgage are all worthy goals.

5) Working through conflict

It’s great to talk about the big picture when it comes to money, but day-to-day disagreements over spending or use of shared resources – such as leaving the lights on in an empty room – often cause the most friction in relationships.

If it seems like your partner is spending too much or not taking your financial goals seriously, think about the 50/30/20 rule. It’s a budgeting guide that says people should apportion 50% of their income for essentials, 30% for savings and paying off debts, and 20% for pleasure.

Be reasonable – would their latest purchase fit into that 20% category for non-essentials? Have they generally been good at putting 30% towards savings or loans? If so, let it go. Recognise that people have complex, emotional relationships with money as it symbolises security, joy, comfort, achievement and much more.

If your other half has genuinely lost the plot with their spending, talk them through the budgeting rule and see if they can commit to it for a month.

Couples with a joint account should draw up a budget for necessary expenditure and allow each person a set amount for non-essentials. Take that money out in cash or transfer it into a personal account, so each person can spend as they please without the other seeing transactions listed on a joint account statement – which may be a cause for friction.

Annabelle Williams is personal finance specialist at Nutmeg