6 Money Questions Every Couple Should Ask Themselves

These conversation starters help make dreaded money talks easier.

two figures on stacks of coins
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Let's face it: Talking about money can be a turn-off for couples and a huge source of stress. But money affects a partnership from start to finish: Who pays for the first date? Who contributes to which bills? You're how much in debt? How will we handle retirement? Any one of these conversations, while crucial, can be uncomfortable.

There are ways to make financial check-ins less of a chore, like adding a dose of fun by doing an activity while you talk suggests money coach Denise Hughes, author of Earn, Save, Spend, Give: 4 Things to Do with Your Money and How to Make It All Work.

"I think that for money discussions, we need to invite in some lightness and be open-minded, no matter what that means for a couple," she says. "Maybe it means going out to dinner, or cooking a great dinner at home, and having a conversation about what their dreams are for the next year."

"My husband and I go on a hike at the beginning of January every year to discuss our money goals," Hughes continues. "We talk about what needs to be done around the house, where we want to go on vacation—all while hiking in nature."

Doesn't that sound pleasant? Whether you hash it out on a mountain or over a meal, six months into dating or sixteen years into marriage, here are some questions Hughes suggests you ask yourselves.

01 of 06

Where are we?

"It might be surprising, but a lot of couples live in such vagueness, or even secrecy, around their money. So asking the question 'where are we?' really requires people to have their eyes wide open," Hughes says.

Data from 4500 families in the National Survey of Families and Households revealed that financial disagreements were the greatest predictor of divorce, so it's well worth the initial awkwardness to ward off a troubled future. For couples in the early stages of commitment, that could mean revealing salaries, savings, and debts. More established couples may need to assess bills and expenses, and make plans to stay on track with where they want to be.

02 of 06

Are our needs being met?

If an initial conversation reveals you're off track with your spending or saving goals, Hughes recommends tracking every financial output as a couple for one to two months.

"Look at the expenses, without judgment, to understand where money is flowing," she advises. "Look at what is coming in and what is going out." Then ask: Why are we spending there? What psychological need is being met with this expense?

It may sound touchy-feely, but if certain purchases aren't "nourishing to you as a couple," as Hughes puts it, they have to go. Some expenses, like your electric bill, may not spark that Marie Kondo joy but are non-negotiable. But what about the money spent on double dinner dates with friends? It may be worth dedicating that time and expense to a night out as a couple. After all, you're less likely to tack on one more bottle of wine or an extra dessert when it's just the two of you.

03 of 06

What is our most important goal right now?

Since priorities change throughout your life (hello, children!) and even year-to-year, Hughes says you have to identify the prize so you can keep your eye on it. That could mean paying off credit card debt, replacing your car, or saving for college.

"Some couples might say, 'Funding private school for our kids is our top priority.' Another couple might say, 'This year, vacation is our top priority,' " Hughes says. "Another might say, 'We will work on saving as much as we can because last year we went into debt because of unforeseen expenses.'" In short: Agreeing on a shared goal helps keep you on the same page.

04 of 06

How did you form your concept of money?

This question can be enlightening at any stage of a relationship. Hughes envisions "two people sharing what their money story is: What it was like in their younger years, how do they think about money, and how is it important to them?"

Perhaps you or your partner grew up in a home where money was a constant source of anxiety, or maybe you had a mother who loved to splurge or a grandfather who kept wads of cash under the mattress.

"Everyone has stories about money that have shaped their life in positive ways and not-so-positive ways," Hughes says. By connecting the dots, you can better understand why a big back-to-school spending spree might cause your partner distress.

05 of 06

What financial choices are you ashamed of?

Hughes views sex and money as similar topics in terms of their level of importance to a couple—and their potential level of shame. "Whether someone has a lot of credit card debt or not enough in savings, whatever the issue is, we all have money stuff," Hughes says.

She suggests approaching these confessions from a place of curiosity and compassion rather than blame and judgment, because neither of you can move forward and fix the problem if you're not comfortable talking about it.

06 of 06

What does contribution look like in our relationship?

With few exceptions, it's inevitable that one half of a couple makes more money than the other, and thus has more money to contribute to the household. That's just math, so Hughes says, "Figure out how you're comfortable divvying up the financial tasks."

Will you have a shared checking account for fixed bills like the mortgage and car payments? Would you feel most comfortable if some of your paycheck went to your own account, so your partner isn't alerted of every latte purchase?

"It ultimately doesn't matter which person pays for what parts of your life, but it does matter that both of you know what is going on with your money," Hughes says. "There are so many forms of contribution currency," and with the right conversations, you can stay in the black.

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  1. Dew J, Britt S, Huston S. Examining the relationship between financial issues and divorce. family relations. Interdisciplinary Journal of Applied Family Science. 2012;61(4):615-628. doi:10.1111/j.1741-3729.2012.00715.x

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