Has money ever caused a rift in your relationship? If so, you’re definitely not alone. According to an annual study by Fidelity Investments (who coincidentally has a very “punny” name when it comes to this topic), 1 in 5 couples say that money is their greatest relationship challenge and 44 percent admit to arguing with their spouse about money occasionally.
But love and money doesn’t have to be such a stressful combination. Here are five rules of engagement to help keep your relationship free from financial stress:
1. Be Transparent
Honesty is a huge part of a relationship, and that needs to be carried over into the financial realm as well. Your significant other doesn’t want to be blindsided to learn from someone else that you once dated your best friend who you still spend a lot of time with. So don’t surprise them about your financial past, present, or future either.
Be upfront about your debts, your spending habits (strolling Target for hours with a Starbucks in hand, anyone?), and your goals, and ask that your partner does the same. Keep judgment out of it. Remember, you love this person and they love you. You can tackle any setbacks together.
2. Identify Your Goals
You’ve almost certainly discussed marriage, kids, where you’ll live, etc. with your partner. These are big topics that can either be deal breakers or help you confirm compatibility. Financial goals are no less important—in fact, some may argue they are of paramount importance.
What are you and your spouse’s non-negotiables when it comes to money? Do you want to save for a (new) house? Is saving your kids’ college education on the table? Does having all the latest gadgets and cars matter to you, or would you rather put more money toward “experiences”? Talk about it with your partner. If you have competing goals, find a way to either make room for each of your top priorities or settle on a compromise. Having goals in place will help you keep your eye on the prize when things get tight, when you have a surplus (or bigger tax refund!), or during the occasional disagreement about money.
3. Work Together on a Budget
With everything out in the open — from debts and salaries to short-term and retirement goals – you should then have everything you need to create a budget. Yes, budgets can seem boring and/or complicated. But they are often the best tool to get everyone on the same page and help simplify overwhelming things like saving toward a big purchase or making sure you have an emergency fund set up to handle unexpected medical needs or job losses.
Think of the budget as a game plan. You have the nitty gritty details of who does what (you pay the heating bill and your partner will get all the groceries) and how much it will cost on a day-to-day, week-to-week, or month-to-month basis while also accounting for debt payments, savings plans, and retirement funds. You’ll have the short term and long term taken care of in one place that everyone can agree upon and consult at any time.
4. Keep Talking
Setting goals and drafting a rough budget aren’t one-and-done items to check off your list. You need to be tracking your progress, and communicating with your partner about how you are feeling and how they are feeling. Even if you aren’t fighting about money, you both could be stressing about it. So, keep the lines of communication open.
Again, don’t focus on blaming each other if you went over budget one month or you have a setback toward a goal. You’re on the same side, and this is a group effort. There may be times that you stick to the plan and your partner doesn’t, and vice versa. The important point is to remain open, honest, and transparent while granting yourselves some grace in the process.
And don’t forget to celebrate wins, no matter how small! Whether it’s paying off a car loan, saving half of a house down payment, or even just skipping the dog spa a couple extra times this month, don’t let these victories get overlooked. Take time to celebrate your successes together. It not only works to fuel momentum, but can bring you closer to one another at the same time.
5. Get Expert Help
Your parents and their parents may not be the best sources to get unbiased, accurate advice. Neither is the guy in the cubical next to you or your best friend’s manicurist. Same goes for friends, no matter how well-intentioned. Not only can taking advice from friends and family get sticky, it’s often just misguided. It’s unlikely you’re in the exact same financial situation as these other folks, so their advice might not work for you (even if it seems to be working for them).
What most folks need is the help of someone who cares, but isn’t afraid to guide them in the right direction—someone whose advice is founded in experience, expertise, and a deep understanding of your personal goals, resources, risk tolerance, and time horizon.
That’s where your financial advisor comes in. Your advisor serves as an impartial third party who can help facilitate tough conversations about money between spouses, parents, children, or even business partners. Plus, they’ll help you see a full 360-degree view of your financial situation, create and track goals, and be there to answer tough questions when life throws you curveballs. And an added bonus: the right advisor will want to see you succeed as much as you do, so you know you’ve always got someone in your corner no matter what happens in your daily life.