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1 Thing Most Couples Do Wrong When It Comes to Money

By Daniel B. Kline – Updated Apr 21, 2019 at 10:44PM

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The good news is that the solution is pretty simple. (Uncomfortable, maybe. But simple.)

Even in the strongest relationships, couples sometimes don't discuss some topics that they really should be talking about.

Maybe you don't want to bring up how your spouse's one beer or glass of wine a day with dinner has grown to a six pack or a whole bottle of chardonnay a day habit. Or perhaps you don't want to ask them about the amount of texting they seem to be doing late at night.

The problem, of course, is that in some areas -- and finances are a major one -- a failure to communicate just compounds your woes.

A couple argues.

Better to talk about your finances now then fight later. Image source: Getty Images.

If I could talk, I'd tell you

The good news is that when it comes to money, couples are talking, according to a new survey of 1,000 adults in a long-term relationship from John Hancock. The problem may be how they're doing it, and how infrequently. Among the times that people claimed to be talking about their financial goals:

  • 70% discuss them sporadically or during casual conversations;
  • 52% discuss them over a meal at home;
  • 21% discuss over a meal in a restaurant;
  • 8% discuss them via text message.

Your joint finances aren't something that can be managed via text messages unless you really like typing on your phone, and perhaps have a backup battery. More to the point, the survey indicates that most couples don't give the topic the serious attention and focus it deserves: Just 9% say they  schedule specific times to get together and talk money.

That helps explain why 33% of survey respondents said they "have feelings of anxiety, confusion or fear when it comes to saving with their partner," according to the report. This is an area where goals have to be mutual, and  casual conversations almost certainly won't be enough to set them.

"While talking about the subject of finances with your partner can be stressful or a bit uncomfortable, it's important to find out what type of financial life your partner is leading," said Nathan Hamilton, personal finance analyst at The Ascent (a Motley Fool company). "If financial red flags are popping up, it's important to have a serious conversation with your partner about how you plan to handle money moves -- as a couple -- in the future."

It's about time

It's never too soon to start talking about your finances, but there are some ground rules you should try to follow. The first is that you can't be judgmental and you need to be open-minded. Your partner won't want to be honest if you're openly horrified about how they handle their money.

Start with the basics. Lay out how much you each make, then subtract your monthly nut -- the sum of your relatively fixed bills (housing, car loans, insurance, utilities, other debts, etc.). After that, examine where the rest of your cash is going. Are you saving for retirement? Have you planned for major purchases? Do you have a rainy day fund?

Once that is done (and you've maybe taken a break for a glass of wine or a piece of chocolate), start to lay out a household budget. It's vital to be realistic here. If you're in healthy financial shape, you can do things like allocating a sum of money each of you can spend each month with no questions asked. If you're not, then every expenditure should be examined.

These are difficult discussions because most of us don't have as much money as we want, so some sacrifices and compromises are always necessary. Still, plowing through a few uncomfortable conversations is a lot better than ignoring your issues and finding yourselves in financial trouble because one partner or the other has been spending too much, saving too little, or taking some other fiscal risk that didn't get addressed until it was too late.

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