Talking to your partner about finances doesn’t have to be a daunting task. Blogger Erin Lowry explains how she broached the subject with her significant other.
I never worried much about the future state of my finances. I’m a money hoarder by nature, and I’ve always assumed it would never be an issue for me. Even during my post-collegiate life when my cash flow was low and my expenses were high, I always had the safety net of a significant emergency fund (thanks to all those years of hoarding).
Then I started dating. Well, seriously dating. The kind of dating when you realize this person could be your future partner for life.
Peach and I met in college. Initially, we both viewed our romance as temporary, particularly because I would be graduating soon after we met and he had another year of school left. Except it wasn’t temporary and nearly six years later, we’re still together.
Peach and I never spoke about finances early on in our relationship—other than splitting the bill on a date. (I firmly believe in going Dutch most of the time.) We met before my fascination with money escalated to the fervor it is today, so near our three-year mark—and with a lot of emotions on the line—it dawned on me that perhaps we needed to have that awkward money chat. We weren’t ready to get married, but it became increasingly apparent to us that we were going to be lifelong partners.
Ever the type-A planner, I became obsessed with having all the details about what I’d financially be marrying into, should we decide to become legally yoked or even engaged. Even a non-type-A personality should feel compelled to learn the details of their partner’s financial life once it gets to the point where marriage could be a possibility.
Exposing our Financial Selves
Over the years, I’d sussed out that Peach carried some student loan debt from his time as an undergrad, but he was paying for his Master’s degree out of pocket. He didn’t have a credit card at the time, so I felt relieved to know credit card debt wouldn’t be a problem.
In turn, Peach knew I’d never carried a penny of debt in my life, and that I am adamant about staying in the black—with the potential exception of a mortgage in the future.
So, one night over dinner we decided to open up our ledgers.
Peach told me about his student loan burden—not an insignificant sum and not one he could pay down in a couple of years on a teacher’s salary. His loans meant he would likely bring debt into a marriage unless we procrastinated until our mid-30s (which doesn’t sound terrible to me).
Frankly, the total he owed startled me into the reality of marrying into debt.
In turn, I shared my net worth with Peach, also not an insignificant sum after many years of aggressive saving.
I pointed out that my savings could, in fact, absolve his student loan debt. He shook his head adamantly and said, “No, I want to be responsible for paying off my debt.”
To clarify, I wasn’t offering to remove his debt—but merely pointing out that when the time came to join our finances, we wouldn’t be completely in the hole. I wasn’t going to pay down debt for someone to whom I wasn’t legally bound.
I do, however, feel strongly that money in a marriage is shared, and financial goals should be achieved through a team effort. His debt would become mine as well after we say “I do.” While he might feel ownership over his debt, I should also have the ability to help get it paid off.
Out of this back-and-forth, we began to devise a strategy.
Our Hypothetical Debt Repayment Plan
Peach is a teacher; it’s a wonderful, admirable job, but not one that pays particularly well. Even the student loan forgiveness programs available to teachers are paltry at best, and these programs require staying at a particular type of school for a minimum of five years. Not ideal for career growth.
I currently earn more than him by quite a significant amount and will likely continue to do so, at least in the near future. Because of this income disparity, we figured out a way for Peach to feel ownership over his debt and for me to feel satisfied about it being paid off at an accelerated rate.
Peach was on an income-based repayment plan for his federal loans, which was chipping away at his debt steadily, but slowly. Our plan is to have his entire salary dedicated to his loans. Okay, not his entire salary—he will contribute to a retirement fund and an emergency savings account as well.
My salary will be used to fund our day-to-day living expenses and contribute to other savings goals.
This way, his debt could reasonably be paid off within two years of marriage, and we can begin focusing on creating a life without the pressures of carrying debt.
Being Honest About Plans
The adage, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans” rings true all too often, and Murphy’s Law always seems to come into play at the most inopportune times. Who knows? I could lose my job, or any number of other things could impede our plans. However, any plan is better than no plan at all.
Knowing how much debt I’ll likely inherit in marriage also encourages me to double-down on my savings now and increase my income to ensure I’m in the best possible situation for when we’re married.
But the fact that we have a plan in place isn’t so much the point as the mere act of full disclosure about our financial pasts and having an open, honest dialogue about our goals for the future.