By KELSEY SHEEHY
Spreadsheets and savings goals aren’t sexy. That’s probably why great love stories, when retold, don’t delve into household finances. But money is a central part of any relationship. And how you deal with it (or don’t) can determine whether your own tale is a short story or a novel.
“Getting on the same page financially is crucial to being happy and having a long-lasting marriage,” says Marie O’Keefe, a financial advisor at Northwestern Mutual.
That’s not just lip service. A whopping 82% of engaged and newly married couples say they feel closer to their mate when they’re in agreement about money, according to a survey by Northwestern Mutual and The Knot.
But that same survey found that only 37% of couples actually talk about their finances monthly. If that sounds like you and your partner, it’s time to schedule a money summit.
If you’re combining households, you need to tackle day-to-day tasks like making a budget and divvying up financial responsibilities. You also need to hit the big picture stuff, namely debt and financial goals, like saving for a house, retirement, vacation, a baby or all of the above.
These guidelines can keep your talk on track, even when things get uncomfortable.
Put it on the calendar
Don’t spring a major financial conversation on your partner. Instead, schedule it so you both can come to the table prepared mentally and emotionally.
Not every summit needs an hour or even 30 minutes — Marla Mattenson, a relationship expert, has a 15-minute check-in every Friday with her partner — but some topics warrant more time and attention.
If you’re butting heads on a financial goal, for example, or need to make major adjustments to your budget, debt or retirement plan, give yourselves enough time to unpack those issues.
Mattenson suggests building in some buffer time, so you’re not going straight from your summit into dinner with friends.
Have an agenda
Giving your summit some structure will make it easier to stay on task. Mattenson likes the “rose, bud, thorn, earth” approach.
Rose: Start with the stuff that’s going well. Did you stick to your budget or hit a savings goal? Celebrate that!
Bud: Next, move onto new things to consider. Do you want to get a puppy? Need a new car? Did you just get hit with a big medical bill? Now’s the time to figure out how that fits into your financial plan.
Thorn: Talk openly and honestly about any challenges getting in the way of your goals.
Earth: This is the big picture stuff — your goals and visions for the future, and any steps you need to take to achieve them.
Stick to your time, even if you don’t get to everything on your agenda. Better to carry things over than to carry on for hours, getting tired and frustrated as the meeting drags on.
Set the mood
Turn off your phones. Turn off the TV. Turn on some music. Pour yourselves a drink — wine, beer, White Claw, you pick. Sit down next to each other and talk.
“You want to get into the good vibes of your relationship unit,” Mattenson says. “Sitting next to each other, it’s like the two of you working together on an issue, rather than against each other.”