Money may seem like an elephant in the room when it comes to relationships, but it doesn’t have to be, according to Stefanie O’Connell, millennial money expert and author of “The Broke and Beautiful Life.”
“Money is a really important discussion to be having at all points in your relationship because money really touches everything in our lives—from where we live, to the goals we have, to the lifestyles we want to be living, both on our own and with our partner,” O’Connell says.
Here are four money talks you should be having with your S.O. While the conversation will evolve throughout the course of your relationship, it’s important to get the ball rolling on these conversations as soon as you can—even on the first date!
On the first date: Assess financial compatibility
O’Connell says talking about money on the first date isn’t as daunting as it sounds.
“When I’m saying talk about money on the first date, I’m not saying that you should go out and ask your partner for their credit score and their debt load and their net worth,” O’Connell says.
Without getting too invasive, you can start to assess your financial compatibility in the same way you would with personality. Look at the kinds of dates they suggest, and their feelings about things like splitting the bill. Picking up on these cues can help you decide if your financial habits are compatible early on.
But remember, not everything is a red flag—give your partner a chance if things aren’t perfectly aligned, O’Connell says.
“I like to consider bad money behaviors, or financial red flags, as orange flags early on,” she says. “That stuff can always change so there’s an opportunity for that not to be as bad as you think.”
When you commit: Air financial dirty laundry
Once your relationship gets more serious, it’s time to get honest with your partner about your finances. At this point, your financial lives are going to become more entwined, O’Connell says.
“I’m all about full financial disclosure—talking about savings account balances, investment account balances, debts, and your money goals,” she says.
Deciding when to have this talk depends on the particular relationship, so there’s no correct time frame for having this conversation with your partner, O’Connell says.
“You will know when you and your partner have really decided that you’re going to share a future together,” she says. “Your money behavior has a direct impact on what you can and cannot do in that future.”
Moving in together: Figure out financial logistics
If you’ve decided to move in with your partner, it’s time to make logistical decisions about how you’ll share or join your finances.
“Now it’s about thinking, OK, we’re living together, we’re literally sharing costs and space, so based on the information we know about one another, what makes sense for us?” O’Connell says.
Deciding whether to split everything 50/50, or having each person cover certain expenses will depend on your respective incomes and other financial obligations. This is why having full financial disclosure first is so important, O’Connell says.
“You can’t really make informed decisions about what the financial logistics are going to be if you haven’t put everything out there first,” she says.
Getting married: Making long-term goals together
One of the great things about talking about money throughout your relationship is that you’ve honestly gotten a lot of the big scary, hairy money talks already out of the way,” O’Connell says.
Now you can figure out how you’re going to plan for those goals you’ve been discussing throughout your relationship. “The dialogue is really about what are our money goals and how can we get on track both independently and together to achieve them,” she says.
While every relationship is different and there is no “one size fits all” when it comes to finances, having the conversation is the most important step to being in line with your partner financially, O’Connell says.
“Don’t let anyone judge you for the way you’re dealing with money in your relationship,” she says. “As long as you’re talking about it openly and honestly, that’s all that matters.”