Talking about money
Your roadmap to constructive money convos.
When it comes to dating, there's some topics that are hard to touch. Discussing the ranking of your favourite cheese? You’re goud-a to go. But talking about your tax bracket? Maybe less so. If this sounds familiar to you, rest assured you're not alone. Below we've pulled together some ideas on how to broach the topic of money both at the early and long-term dating stage, and approaches to take when things go pear-shaped.
A few guidelines on how to use this page.
Talking about money with your partner (or prospective partner!) can lead to all sorts of emotional outcomes. At best, it can lead to the kind of deep and heartfelt convo that a bottle of wine normally unlocks. At worst, it can lead to an argument.
For that reason we'd recommend only using the questions and approaches below when the both of you are open, ready for and equal to the task. (So for example, asking your partner their dream income in the middle of a fight? That's a no go, chief.)
Key to keeping these chats healthy is a mutual willingness to hold them. If your partner's more resistant towards having these chats than you expected, it's worth asking why.
The questions and approaches we've provided are intended as prompts only. Feel free to remix them as you need, or simply use them as signposts for the area you'd like to explore.
There are three sections to this page: questions to ask when you're first starting to date, tips for making money chats more normal, and conflict resolution advice. Scroll down to the one you need.
Some questions to consider asking in the early-dating stage.
1. What would you do if you won the lotto?
First things first: this is simply a fun question to ask. But beyond that, the answer will give you an idea of your prospective partner's financial values. It may even give you a sneak peek into any obligations they have, like lingering debts or family members they support.
2. What's your dream job?
Like it or not, our work plays a big role in our day-to-day lives. Asking about your prospective partner's dream job could give you a glimpse of what your shared future could look like, in terms of work-life balance, income and more. You could also follow this question up by asking what they're willing to do or give up to get there, which could shed more light on their priorities.
3. How do you prioritise your spending?
At the end of the day, how you prioritise your spending will be paramount to your long-term compatibility.
If your date's focused on building shelters for Giant African land snails over paying rent and you're looking to settle down? It's probably not a great fit. (Unless you too, are a Giant African land snail.)
There are a couple of questions that belong in this category, which you could (possibly) frame as a fun part of getting to know one another.
Like: is your date more likely to pay their credit card bill right off the bat, or at the nth hour? What would they rather save up for right now: a house or a holiday?
4. How do you think couples should manage their finances?
If any question's a dealbreaker, it's this one. How you manage money in your relationship needs to be something the both of you agree on: anything else could be unhealthy.
If you prefer you could also ask questions related to the topic, like your date's thoughts on joint accounts or the subject of designated stay-at-home parents.
Tips and tricks for better money convos.
Get specific about it
When it comes to discussing money, it’s best to be clear and specific.
If this assertiveness feels strange to you at first, try applying it to the little things to begin with. This might mean that instead of attempting to psychically infer who's responsible for dinner, you decide beforehand who’ll pay, why, and how much you're willing to spend. Or that instead of going on an ambiguously ‘fancy date’, you set a clear budget for what this means.
The more comfortable you get with the habit, the more ambitious you can get with your topics.
Getting specific also means getting specific about how your financial position impacts what you can or can't do. Instead of making this fact an afterthought, try discussing your choices through the frame of how they'll affect you or your partner's current position. This'll help you keep financial wellbeing top of mind.
Ask them what they think
Not all of us are great at responding to money convos. For some of us, the subject of money flips our brains into a kind of supportive partner mode where we smile, nod, and say little of real value.
We'd put this down to two things. One: we've been raised to think of money as a private thing. And two: as supportive partners, we tend to assume it's not our place to interfere.
By asking 'what do you think of my career change/intended purchase/holiday budget?', you'll draw your partner back into the discussion and encourage them to actively reflect on what you're discussing. It'll also serve as a nice reminder that their input matters, and that the two of you are a team.
Use your surroundings as money conversation inspiration
It can be tricky to know how to bring money up in conversation. Is switching super funds the kind of thing you discuss before, after, or (controversially) even during brunch? Is it better to discuss your tax plan at the gym or on a long afternoon walk?
Our advice? Try using your surroundings as conversation inspiration. That way you'll be spared the pain of an awkward segue and any of the stiltedness that can come with money convos.
For example, a visit to the grandparents might spur on questions about what you want out of life and how you're working to achieve it.
You don’t always have to turn to your real life for inspiration, either. Situations on TV, in the news, or even in your friends' lives can also act as a springboard.
A guide to constructively addressing issues.
Make sure you're looking at the bigger picture
In the heat of a fight it's easy to lose sight of the bigger picture. The tiny details you've been ignoring blow up and take on the high-def quality of an IMAX film. The future becomes an ambiguous concept. The offending fact becomes a red flag waving at you, the angry bull.
In times like these it's important to try to take a breath, zoom back out, and put everything into context.
If the offence is spending-related, how does it stack up against your partner's earnings? If you've only got a few details about the issue, can you ask or look for more facts? In contrast to your partner's strengths (financially or otherwise), how significant is this as an issue?
Coming equipped with all the facts will help you have a fairer and more balanced discussion.
Focus on understanding
While you and your partner's differences in opinion and approach might make for a really
thorough analysis of that French film you just watched, it also means the way you think about money could be quite different.
If it happens your partner’s made a decision you don’t quite follow, or disagrees with a position that you think makes perfect sense? Ask them why.
It's very possible it relates back to something they've learned from their family, or a financial view they hold that you don't. The simple act of asking will also help you better understand your partner's financial approach, which could help prevent future disagreements.
Keep in mind: you don't have to fully agree with your partner's views or decisions. Nor do they have to agree with yours. However, you do need to agree on how the two of you can come to a compromise.
Use 'I feel' and future-focused statements
Money conflicts can be particularly ugly beasts. Since money's so often related to our sense of self-worth, questions about our income or our spending patterns can feel like deeply personal attacks.
Instead of bringing the numbers up, try to focus on what they mean to you. Let's say your partner's been spending a lot on booze lately despite having been recently laid off. Perhaps you're frustrated with how this has affected your monthly budget. Or you're worried about where their head is at.
Using 'I feel' statements could help keep negative emotions to a minimum. It'll give you the chance to make it clear how your partner's actions have impacted you and the relationship, while preventing any of your feelings from becoming a definitive fact. This'll give you or your partner the opportunity to discuss what's taken place, which can be more complex than what the facts allow.
Focusing on the future can also help to flip the script. It'll make it clear the issue you're discussing doesn't need to be a roadblock while providing the two of you with clarity on what needs to happen next.
A word of caution
Trust your gut.
Love can make us blind. Help us to excuse the little things —like a strange expense, or fix a lease we're not sure that about—in favour of the daydream.
But our gut tends to know better.
If you've tried the conflict resolution strategies above to no avail, or you still you can't shake the feeling something's wrong? It's time to consider whether what you're facing is financial abuse.
You're not alone. There's help out there.
Find out more.