When young couples get together, money isn’t typically the first thing on their minds. But as a relationship deepens and gets more serious, experts say you need to be able to have open and honest discussions about money, and talk about your personal views on money, finances and debt – especially if you’re planning to live together or thinking about marriage.
Here are 14 questions you and your partner can ask each other to help you learn about your money habits and history, and to help you plan your future.
1. How did you learn about money growing up? Is there anything you want to do differently?
Our personal views about money often reflect what we learned growing up and how our family talked – or didn’t talk – about money, says Alexandra Boland, a certified financial planner with Caring for Clients. Finding out how your partner learned about money can shed a lot of light on their current views.
2. Did you get an allowance growing up, or did you have a part-time job? What did you do with your earnings? When did you open your first bank account?
How someone dealt with money at an early age can give some hints on how they deal with money now, or what’s most natural to them, Boland says.
These kinds of questions can also explore what’s behind your partner’s thoughts about money and can help you to find out more about them generally in relation to money, earnings and savings, she says.
3. If money wasn’t an issue, what would you do with your life?
Kathryn Mandelcorn, a certified money coach and financial planner with Mindful Money in Vancouver, says these kinds of broad, open-ended questions can help a couple get to know each other’s values and that can guide them as they make financial decisions to support their values and life goals.
4. How do you manage your money currently – do you have a budget?
This question can give a partner an idea of how much time they like to spend managing their money, and whether it is a priority or not, says Boland. Oftentimes one person in a relationship prefers to manage the money, and the other isn’t as interested in that role.
5. What do you do if you have a little extra cash – do you spend it or save it?
Anna Premyslova, a client portfolio manager at CWB Wealth Partners in Calgary, says this kind of question can lead to a conversation where you both share what you would save for or splurge on – and makes it more a fun conversation, that happens to be about money.
6. Do you hope to have children in the future? Do you want to own a home in the future?
These can be tough questions to ask but they can help a couple determine their values and what their future might look like together. Those desires need to be reflected in their financial planning goals, Boland says.
7. Are you comfortable having debt or do you believe in being debt free?
“Not all debt is created equal” as some debt, like student debt, is necessary in life, Boland says. Other debt, due to spending what money you don’t have, can be more of a challenge for a couple to manage. It’s a key factor to understand because each other’s credit scores can have an impact on your ability to jointly borrow money for a large purchase like a car or house.
8. Have you started saving towards a goal? What is that goal? What are some of your short-term and long-term financial goals?
Mandelcorn says it’s good to know each other’s saving goals, and that’s a great topic to discuss as you start to work on your finances. Once you understand the why of what you are doing – such as why you are saving a certain amount of money each month – it makes it easier for both of you to take the action needed to reach that joint goal.
9. What would you do if a family member called up and said they needed cash? Do you think you will have to support a family member in the future?
This is a tough question and really depends on their family’s relationship with money, Premyslova says. We often put family first, even if we can’t afford it, and a couple needs to understand what their approach might be if a family member asks for financial help.
10. What does financial security look like to you?
To Premyslova, this question can help you see if you’re on the same page as your partner, or where you differ in your views on finances. Some people need to be debt free and have a big bank account to feel they have financial security, while others feel just fine as long as they have $10 in their pocket.
11. What is your greatest challenge regarding your finances or progress towards your financial goals? How is this financial challenge impacting your life?
Mandelcorn says being able to open up to one another about your finances, and to have open, honest and non-judgmental conversations is key to being able to figure out your finances together. If the challenge gets too great and there’s too much tension, it may be time to bring a neutral third party like a counsellor, money coach or financial planner or advisor.
12. How do we want to design the next year of our lives, or the next six months, or the next five years? What does that look like to you?
This is a better way to look at budgeting than simply writing down numbers and putting them into spending and saving buckets, Mandelcorn says. It’s also a more effective way to get buy-in from a reluctant partner who isn’t into the idea of budgeting. When they see the plan is to save for a house or a vacation that still leaves some money for unscheduled purchases, it’s much easier for them to get on board rather than being told they just need to save and stop spending as much.
13. What is your experience with investing?
This will let you know whether or not your partner has ventured into savings and investing, or whether they hope to in the future. And if they have, it might give you a hint about whether they’re a more conservative or aggressive investor willing to take more risks with their money.
14. Don’t ask: What’s your view about investing and risk? What do you want to invest in? Instead ask: Why are we investing? What are our goals?
Before you get into the talk about investing and risk tolerance and investment products, it’s best to discuss your goals as that will determine the time horizon and the risk you can take on that investment, says Mandelcorn. For example, if you plan on investing to buy a house in three years, you can’t have that money in a risky investment as you need the funds too soon.
As awkward as conversations like these can be, they’re important to avoid problems down the line – and while you may not want to ask all these questions on Valentine’s Day, it’s a good idea to have them sooner rather than later.