How to discuss money with your live-in honey.
These days, it seems that when I’m not busy attending a friend’s wedding, I can be found fawning over the photos of teething babies that inundate my Facebook feed. Yes, it’s the circle of life. And as September approaches, many of my enamoured pals are choosing to shack up with their significant others. She’s okay with his violent snoring, he’s aware of her Celine Dion box-set; the lease has been signed. But somewhere in the midst of these honest, very adult negotiations, the all-important issue of household finances is often neglected. It’s only sensible to grill BFs and GFs about their political leanings, religious beliefs, and sexual history prior to move-in day—so why is money usually off-limits?
Rom-coms rarely contain scenes in which couples fight about uneven rent contributions or ghastly credit scores, but that doesn’t mean dollars and cents fly under everyone’s radar. In a recent survey, 92 per cent of Canadians said that having a “similar outlook on money management” is a major plus in potential partners. This also explains why financial disagreements often lead to divorce: Couples cite unmanageable spending habits and debt problems as particularly irreconcilable differences. So basically, everybody wants to know their paramour’s financial state of affairs, but nobody can muster up the courage to start the discussion. That’s one hell of an impasse.
A pre-emptive conversation about dealing with joint finances will save both parties considerable heartbreak later on. So how do you broach the money taboo?
Enter Gail Vaz-Oxlade, straight-shooting host of the Slice network’s Til Debt Do Us Part. Each week, she wades through bank records to deliver the bad news to spouses, whose bewildered expressions seem to vacillate between “We owe how much?” and “Shitshitshit.”
Faced with the task of helping couples deal with massive household debt, Vaz-Oxlade has seen the damage when partners fail to provide full financial disclosure.
“You have absolutely no idea what you’re getting into,” she warns. “You’ve assumed that you’re going in as somewhat equal partners, but if your man has $87,000 of student debt and says, ‘I don’t think I can make my rent this month,’ at that point, what do you do? Either you cover his ass and say he owes you—notch one on your resentment belt—or admit you didn’t know. Who’s the fool?”
Vaz-Oxlade recommends breaking the ice with a chat about how you tend to spend, whether you’re interested in a nightly taco fix at Grand Electric or splurging once a year on a big vacation. Once you’ve divulged your personal habits, you can anticipate how they might affect your joint money situation. Then, sit down and create what Vaz-Oxlade calls a “yours, mine, ours budget.” Start by deciding how much each of you will be coughing up for joint expenses like rent and groceries, keeping in mind that making payments proportionate to your respective incomes is fairer than splitting costs 50-50. Each contributor can then deduct those amounts from their own “mine” piles, and build individual budgets for themselves with the leftovers.
If you think there’s something unromantic about pre-nups and being averse to joint accounts, think again: While it’s reasonable to pool funds into a single account for big-budget “ours” transactions like utilities and household repairs, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with keeping your own finances separate from your partner’s, especially when it comes to co-signing for loans and combining credit. If you haven’t had “the talk” yet, what you don’t know could really hurt you.
Vaz-Oxlade says that if a full-blown, sit-down discussion is proving impossible, just paying attention to your mate’s relationship with money from the outset will help you spot any bad financial habits. When the mail comes, does he simply shove bills in a drawer? That’s a red flag. “People often say to me, ‘Well, I wouldn’t sacrifice a good relationship over money issues,’” Vaz-Oxlade says. “And I say, ‘If you have money issues, you don’t have a good relationship.’”
If you and your boo are getting serious, like picking-out-china-patterns serious, you should probably just bite the bullet. Yes, we’re socialized from a very young age to believe that talking about money is tacky, and asking about money is often met with swift social shunning. But these rules needn’t apply to cohabitating relationships. You wouldn’t date someone for years without knowing about serious medical conditions; high-interest lines of credit are no different. When it comes to awkward money conversations with your partner, the solution is to disclose early and disclose all. You might consider applying bedroom philosophy to your fiscal discussion: just get naked.