It may be uncomfortable to broach the subject, but talking about money with your partner is extremely important for a healthy relationship. Even if you keep your finances separate, your partner's money habits will inevitably affect you in some way. If you're having trouble bringing up the subject, try using these questions to get you started. (For more, see Why You Shouldn't Let Your Partner Do The Books.) IN PICTURES: Top 6 Marriage-Killing Money Issues
- Is saving money important to you?
This question encompasses a few others, such as "have you started saving for retirement" and "do you have an emergency fund". The answer will offer a lot of insight about your partner's money personality. If saving is important, does your partner make it a priority to put a set amount away each month or paycheck? Perhaps they only put away money that comes in above their set income – money from a part-time job or freelance work, reimbursement checks, tax refunds or bonuses for example.
Does your partner put a lot of money away but has no qualms taking it back out to pay for fun purchases? Or maybe they put away less but refuse to take it out. What level of saving do they consider appropriate? Your number could vary wildly from your partner's.
- If someone gave you $1,000, what would you do with it?
There's nothing wrong if the response is "spend it!", but take the time to answer in a bit more detail. Would you spend it on some new clothes you've been denying yourself in favor of paying back your student loans? That's a very different picture than the answer of, "I'd buy lottery tickets with it instead of using it to pay rent." Your partner may be thousands of dollars in debt, but choosing to put the found money towards debt shows how serious they are about getting back in the black.
- Do you want kids?
Here's a sensitive question that isn't for a first (or even 10th) date. But if you are at that point in your relationship, the decision to have children or not will have a huge impact on your finances. According to MSN Money, the current cost of raising a child can range from $124,800 to $250,260, depending on whether it's a dual-parent family or not, and what income range the parent(s) are in. (For more, see Kids Or Cash: The Modern Marriage Dilemma.)
- How do you feel about having debt?
Debt is something most of us will deal with in our lifetime. It can be a great tool for growing a business, getting an education or building net worth through real estate. But does having debt stress your partner out? Do they prioritize getting out of debt when they incur it? Does your partner consider debt a tool to be used only when appropriate? If your partner doesn't think having debt is a big deal, they may not hesitate to put an expensive laptop on credit without a plan to pay for it. Or they may just be laid back. Ask for a more detailed explanation if you aren't sure how to read the response.
- What is your current financial state?
Are you carrying 10k in consumer debt? Do you have student loans? Do you have money stocked away for emergencies? This question gives you and your partner the opportunity to take stock of where you are with your finances. Consider retirement savings, other savings, consumer debt, student loans, investments and any other assets. This doesn't have to sound like you are calculating their net worth – exact numbers aren't really as important as knowing where their priorities are when it comes to their money.
- How many accounts do you have and where are they?
In the unfortunate event that something happens to your partner, you need to know where their assets are. What credit cards will need to be closed? What retirement accounts will need to be dealt with? What bills will be coming due? Hopefully you'll never have to deal with it, but putting all of your financial information in a place where your partner will be able to access it in the event the need arises could save you a lot of hassle later on.
The Bottom Line
These questions are just as important to ask yourself, even if you aren't part of a couple. Be honest with your responses and you may find financial areas where you can set goals for improvement. Remember, don't just give the answer you think is "right"; it's more valuable to have a realistic view of you and your partners financial habits. Don't feel like you have to end the relationship if your answers don't match. Many couples have one partner that is more conservative with cash while the other is pretty lax about where and how they spend their paycheck. Knowing where you and your partner stand will help you keep yourselves in line financially, and make your relationship that much stronger. (For more, check out Relationship Money Matters.)
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