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Financial Conversation Starters for Couples

Talking about money with your honey can be awkward. Maybe you (or your partner) bring a hefty load of debt into the relationship, or you earn vastly different amounts, or you just have contrasting spending and saving habits. Any number of these differences can generate conflict. But if the relationship is going to last, you might want to consider talking through a few of these issues now.

Why do we find it so hard to discuss finances with the person we plan to spend the rest of our lives with? Money experts have many theories: We might be drawn to our financial opposite, so we naturally clash over spending versus saving decisions. We might have financial secrets, such as a shopping addiction or large credit card bill. Or we might just feel uncomfortable with our financial habits and prefer to avoid talking about them with anybody.

Whatever the reason behind our discomfort, getting engaged to someone is a good time to figure out a way to get over it. Not only does the wedding itself bring up financial priorities, such as whether to splurge on a 300-guest extravaganza or visit city hall and save money for a future home, but postnuptial decisions can be much harder on a couple who have never discussed nitty-gritty financial details before. If the couple decides to a buy a house, a surprise bad credit score can derail mortgage plans, for example.

If you’re trying to figure out how to broach the topic with your romantic partner, the National Foundation for Credit Counseling has the following pointers for you:

Make a date. Instead of surprising your partner with “the talk,” set a time to discuss money in advance. You might also want to consider doing it at a local coffee shop, where you’re forced to sit together and chat for an extended period.

Stop lying. Of course it’s better to never have lied in the first place, but if you did, now is the time to come clean. Did you make it seem like you earn more money than you do? Or that you paid off all your student loan debt when you actually have a T. Rex-size monthly payment? Since you can’t hide these inconvenient facts forever, now is a good time to start telling the truth.

Reflect on your upbringing. Maybe he grew up in a household where cash flowed like hot lava, while you’ve been pinching pennies since before you could count. Those kinds of personal histories can play a big role in how you each approach money, so make sure you’re familiar with the other person’s lineage.

Avoid the blame game. NFCC cautions that blaming the other person for anything, whether it’s overspending or mismanaging debt, can halt the conversation before it’s even started. Instead, try to be compassionate about money mistakes the other person might have made.

Create a joint savings plan. You probably have some shared dreams, whether it’s visiting Belize or having a baby, and those dreams likely come with hefty price tags. Come up with a plan for how you can save money and achieve those goals together. (You might even find that doing so draws you closer; money author JoAnneh Nagler has called working together on a spending plan an “aphrodisiac.”)

Split up tasks. One upside of partnerships is that if you’re not good at something and your partner is, you can simply hand off the task to him or her. So if she enjoys managing investments and he likes writing checks, that simple division of labor can be a win-win. Just make sure each person plays a role in handing household finances to avoid a lopsided relationship (or giving one person too much financial power).

Allow for some freedoms. Letting each person have some money, even a small amount, to spend however he or she wants each month can help diffuse potential tension.

Address tough family issues. Would you ever lend money to family members? Or care for aging parents? Those are tough questions that could have a big impact on your partner, and discussing them ahead of time can help avoid surprises later.

Love and money might not always mix well, but these kinds of rap sessions can help ease the friction.