Couples

If You Have These Money Issues In Your Relationship, You're So Not Alone

Financial experts explain how to navigate them.

By Christina Huynh
Getty Images/Shutterstock/Elite Daily

Maybe you’ve only been dating for a couple of months and don’t want to mention your habit of buying only luxury hand soap (no judgment). Or maybe you've been together for years and can't agree on the budget for your next trip. Regardless of your status, navigating finances can be a tricky part of any relationship, even if you live apart and have separate bank accounts. The good news? Talking about money can help you work through potential issues together. “Money should be conversational and not this extremely taboo topic,” Alli Williams, a financial expert and the founder of FinanciALLI Focused, tells Elite Daily.

As you navigate these talks, keep in mind that money isn’t everything, but it does shape what your present and future might look like. Does your partner’s debt change your goal to pay off your student loans by a certain age? Will your combined finances support the dog you want one day? The only way to know is to talk it out.

Some couples learn to prioritize those discussions the hard way: After nearly a year of dating, Fifi*, a social worker in Pennsylvania, moved in with her partner and says they were confronted with money challenges immediately. “We’re realizing just how many little things add up, and if we want to keep a healthy relationship, we need to start having more conversations about money,” she shares.

That open mindset may represent a positive shift around the once off-limits topic of money. In fact, a 2021 survey by Magnify Money, a personal finance education site, found that about two-thirds of Gen Z and millennial couples say they have talked about debt with a partner. Overall, having conversations now can help you two avoid problems in the future. For more insight, we spoke to people about how they deal with the biggest money conflicts in their relationship and asked financial experts for guidance in navigating even the trickiest of situations.

What Are Couples Arguing About?

While every relationship is different, here are two common money arguments couples have.

Differences In Spending Habits

Opposites can attract — even when it comes to handling money. We get it: You love ordering a $6 latte from your favorite local coffee shop every day, but your partner is committed to making coffee at home. Or perhaps your partner impulsively shops online while you can’t recall the last time you added anything to a cart (tell me your secrets, please). It’s not unusual for relationships to have a spender and a saver: 17% of Gen Z and millennial couples say this dynamic is the hardest financial challenge in their relationships, according to the 2021 Magnify Money survey.

Lauryn, 30, a writer in Toronto, likes to use Uber sometimes while her partner is committed to only using public transportation. “The one time it was a bigger deal was when I went on a trip without him and didn’t realize that my Uber account was hooked up to his credit card,” she explains. “I had hoped to keep it a secret, but he saw the credit card statement and learned that I had spent hundreds on Ubers during a weeklong trip. In the end, we laughed about it — but it led to us having a good conversation about how we spend our money on non-necessities we enjoy, both separately and together.”

For other couples, income inequality adds another layer of complexity to the way people spend in a relationship. “My last partner made more money, so his choices were based on his income and affinity for the finer things, whereas I have more casual and simple taste,” says Katie, 28, a social worker in Illinois. Growing up with different financial backgrounds can also shape money habits. Morgan, 28, who works in operations in New York, shares that she can turn to her parents for financial support while her partner doesn’t have the option. “That affects how we see employment, travel, quality of life, and risk,” she tells Elite Daily.

To help create balance, Danetha Doe, a financial wellness educator and the creator of Money & Mimosas, suggests having a conversation to learn why each person spends a certain way and then setting resolutions together. Once you have goals in place, you can help each other stay accountable and work toward achieving them.

Saving And Spending For The Future

Couples are stronger when they work as a team. And for that to happen, an important step is to agree on when to save and spend to reach a combined goal. Unsurprisingly, nearly 9 in 10 couples are saving for something, according to a 2021 study by TD Bank. “We both want to own a home this year, so we really scrutinize all purchases we make,” explains Shantel*, 26, a marketing specialist in Texas.

Sophie, 26, a senior program coordinator in Illinois, says she’s making plans with her partner to travel and figure out their long-term goals, like where they’ll eventually settle down. But no matter what couples want to accomplish, it’s important to set a timeframe and work backward to create a strategy. “For example, if your goal is to save $20K for a wedding in a year, you need to break that down to see how much you have to save each month and add that to your budget,” Williams says.

Anjie and RJ, a married couple (who don’t share their last name online), are financial experts and hosts of the Rich by Intention podcast. They also recommend discussing your progress. “Celebrate the small wins and milestones along the way to make saving for your goals fun,” they emphasize.

How Are Couples Handling Money Issues Together?

There may still be hope for us (and love) after all. To overcome those arguments, couples have come up with solutions that work for their relationship.

Separate Bank Accounts

Joint accounts can make sense once you’re really serious, but they aren’t necessary. Per Magnify Money, nearly a quarter of married Gen Z and millennial couples have separate bank accounts (and obviously, that number is way higher for unmarried couples). Amy*, 30, a data analyst in Texas, admits there are rarely any money issues in her relationship because she and her husband use their own accounts. This approach allows each person to maintain a sense of independence without having to worry about explaining all their decisions — which builds a healthy dynamic, Doe says, adding, “It takes two empowered people to create a nurturing relationship.”

Other couples take a hybrid approach, turning to both joint and separate accounts. “We have several joint savings accounts: the next house fund, travel fund, kitchen remodel fund, etc.,” says Katelyn, 29, a catering sales manager in Colorado. “Anything outside of these joint accounts is for us to spend on activities and things we individually want.”

Lots Of Honest Communication

Transparency goes a long way: 64% of people in relationships say hiding or lying about money is a deal-breaker, according to a 2021 study by Policygenius, an insurance marketplace. “We’ve been very open and honest from the beginning,” explains Danielle, 29, an emergency medical technician in Ohio. “We budget together each month, as well as go through each other for purchases to make sure we’re on the same page with spending.” Rachel, 24, an underwriter in California, agrees on the importance of communication and says it’s a key for her relationship. “We always discuss with each other before committing to anything (especially if we’re financially splitting it),” she adds.

A supportive attitude can make a difference, too. “If one of us wasn’t as smart with our budget as we should have been, the other never makes that person feel bad for that,” says Lindsay, 26, a coffee shop supervisor in Washington. “We make a conscious effort to simply look out for each other and learn from our mistakes.” This type of mutual respect creates a safe space for couples to have honest conversations. “Allowing your partner to be vulnerable about money and their experiences with money helps to build trust and intimacy between couples,” Anjie and RJ explain.

The truth is that money matters in a relationship. Whether you’re newly dating or in a long-term commitment, finances will inevitably be a factor in the decisions you make together. It’s important to talk about money, no matter if the issue is as small as who picks up the brunch bill or as big as choosing a couch you can both afford. Love might not conquer all — but it’s fair to say that having open communication can help.

*Name has been changed.

Experts:

Alli Williams, a financial expert and the founder of FinanciALLI Focused

Anjie and RJ, financial experts and hosts of the Rich by Intention podcast

Danetha Doe, a financial wellness educator and the creator of Money & Mimosas