To have and to hold, till debt do us part? They might not be your parents’ vows, but they ring true for a lot of couples today. Nearly half of people say they handle spending and saving differently from their partner, according to a recent SunTrust survey conducted online by Harris Poll, and 35 percent of people who experience stress in their relationship blame finances.1
Money stress isn’t just a romance killer. It’s been linked to increased levels of stress and depression, both of which can strain relationships.2 And when partners don’t share the same money habits, it can lead to bigger disagreements. Studies show that the more frequently married couples fight over money, the more likely they are to suffer marital problems. Research also suggests that 70 percent of married couples argue about money—more than any other topic.3
That’s the bad news. The good news is there’s a way to beat money stress, even if you and your partner have vastly different approaches to managing money.
“I see couples from really different financial backgrounds figure out a way to make it work,” says Sophia Bera, a certified financial planner and founder of Gen Y Planning. Her No. 1 recommendation? Communicate, communicate, communicate.
Bera says it’s never too early to introduce the topic of money—you can even start on the first date. One potential icebreaker? Float the fact that you’re saving for retirement, and ask Mr. or Ms. Maybe-Right if they’re doing the same. That way, you’re offering up information about yourself before requesting it from them. Conversations should continue to get more in-depth as the relationship becomes more serious.
“If you’re going to be moving in with somebody or having any sort of shared expenses, it’s really important that you have a good sense of their financial situation,” Bera says. That financial situation includes things like income level, debt load, credit score and investing activity.
Before merging finances, you and your partner should also discuss how you want to approach shared expenses. In Bera’s millennial-focused practice she most often sees a “yours, mine and ours” approach, in which couples maintain independent bank accounts in addition to a joint account used to pay household bills.
“When you’re first starting up a joint household, check in once a month,” says Lise Andreana, a certified financial planner and author of “No More Mac ‘N’ Cheese!: The Real-World Guide to Managing Your Money for 20-Somethings.” That way if one of you has a shortfall from an unexpected expense, you can talk it out rather than letting secrets cause stress. “As time goes on, and you’ve been sticking to your plan and sticking to your budget, less frequent check-ins are probably fine,” she says.
Another pro tip to make sure communication doesn’t slip to the bottom of your to-do list: Agree to talk before pulling the trigger on any big purchases (e.g. a car, a couch, 10 days in Italy). A recent poll showed that 22 percent of husbands and wives have spent money they didn’t want their partner to know about.3 Ultimately, talking honestly and openly about your finances could save your relationship. “It doesn’t sound like much fun,” says Andreana, “but getting along in that department makes everything else easier and more enjoyable.”