For love and money: couples need to discuss finances

It's called the last taboo with good reason, but experts say putting off financial discussions with your romantic partner is a recipe for disaster, Nisha Patel writes.
Money issues are one of the leading causes of strife among couples. (Shutterstock)

Some call money “the last taboo.” It may be a conversation people dread even more than religion or politics. Sometimes we don't want to talk about money because we've made mistakes, we feel ignorant, or we fear conflict. But experts say staying silent hurts the relationship because it saps intimacy.

When you're in a relationship, it's important for you and your partner to be in sync, especially when it comes to money. The bank account balance can create a lot of tension in the relationship. In fact, a survey from the Bank of Montreal released earlier this year suggested Canadian couples they polled may be more willing to forgive a cheating spouse than to overlook money problems.

So why do we avoid dollar discussions? For some of us, it's our personality. For others, it's how we were raised —children whose parents didn't talk about money often grow up to be adults who avoid discussing money.

Having 'The Talk'

You don't have to bring your budget to your first date, but it's crucial to have the money talk before things get too serious. The money talk may not be seen as romantic, but it can help determine how compatible you are. Have a conversation about your money personality. Are you a spender? Are you a saver? What's your attitude towards financial risk?

Don’t forget to pay attention to clues in the early months of a relationship: Someone who leaves bills piled up unopened may be avoiding financial obligations. Someone who automatically contributes to their RRSP every month may be a saver.

Taking the plunge

One online survey of married Canadians found poll respondents regretted not discussing their financial situation with their partner before taking the plunge. Everyone knows that financial disputes are a leading cause of divorce. And a breakup can have devastating financial consequences for couples and their children.

Deciding to live together or get married is a big step, and should include a serious, honest conversation about:

  • Coming up with a budget
  • Assigning responsibility for regular duties like paying the bills and monitoring the bank accounts
  • Discussing short-term goals like saving for a car as well as long-term goals like retirement
  • Be honest about any debt that you have, and decide together a strategy to deal with it

There's no right or wrong on whether you should combine finances or keep them entirely separate. But it may be a good idea for each person to have some access to their own funds and one credit card in their name.

Start talking — and don't stop

It's been 20 years since Forrest Gump sat on a bench and told us, "Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're going to get." And it's still true.

One conversation about money isn't enough. Like marriage, budgets need work - and maybe a complete overhaul when life throws you a surprise.

If you're thinking about starting a family, talk it over, because the costs can add up

When those children grow up and go to university, many parents want to help out financially. But without careful planning, lending a helping hand can derail your own financial goals

Some baby boomers are pitching in for their kid's downpayments, and that may have an impact on retirement plans. 

So once you've started talking about money, don't stop.

Do's and Don'ts

  • Don't assume that you and your partner are on the same page. You may have different spending philosophies or financial goals, so it's best to talk over your money plans together.
  • Don't keep secrets. Making a big purchase without your wife's input or keeping debt a secret until after your wedding can signal that you don't trust your partner, and that creates tension.
  • Don't let one person control everything. It's fine for one partner to manage the day-to-day financial duties, but you should both keep up-to-date on how your financial plan is shaping up.
  • Do tackle your finances together. If you want to understand each other's approach to money, take this quiz.
  • Do schedule "money dates." Talk about your portfolio over pancakes or have a beer-and-bank account night. It's a low-pressure (and kind of sweet) way to check in on your finances.

Money may not be the most important thing in life.  But it can get in the way of what is.  Treat it like it matters and you won’t regret it.

About the Author

Nisha has covered business and economics for CBC for several years. She's passionate about personal finance and loves a good deal, especially when it satisfies her wanderlust for an exotic vacation. Born and raised in Calgary, Nisha is trying hard to make line-dancing trendy in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter @nishapatel.


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