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Getting Financially Naked with Your Partner

   Posted On: October 8, 2015  |    Posted In: Debt  |     Posted by: Broke Millennial®


He cast his eyes down and exhaled slowly. I could feel the nervousness emanating from his body as his leg twitched and he drummed his fingers on the table. My foot kept tapping the bar stool as I sensed our moment of truth had finally arrived. After several years of being together and it was time to get naked for the first time – financially naked.

Peach steadied himself, looked me square in the eye and told me his number.

Finding Out Your Partner’s Number

Peach&ErinFor other generations “the number” may refer to bedfellows, but millennials have a new type of number to be concerned with which carries a unique STD: sexually transmitted debt.

A vast majority of our generation carries some form of debt. It’s likely that even those of us who were fortunate enough to escape the clutches of student loans will eventually be yoked to them in marriage.

I made my college decision based on the desire to graduate debt free, but I’d fallen in love with someone without the privilege to do the same.

Peach and I casually chatted about money early on in our relationship, but it wasn’t until we realized marriage could be a possibility that I asked him to share his number. As a type-A personality, I wasn’t willing to discuss engagement or marriage without knowing the financial situation in which I’d find myself after the “I dos”.

Student loan debt is not a deal breaker to me, but credit card debt is a red flag and major cause for concern.

Fortunately, Peach never tussled with consumer debt but merely took out loans in order to finance his undergraduate education. He managed to pay for his graduate degree out of pocket by working full-time. A decision that kept us long distance for nearly four of our seven year relationship, but a sacrifice worth making to save him tens-of-thousands of dollars.

Who Has to Share?

When Peach disclosed his debt burden, I in turn shared my net worth – a number very few people know. I believed it was unfair to ask him to strip down in front of me, while I got to stay bundled up in the comfort of being debt free.

There are plenty of personal finance enthusiasts who believe in complete transparency. Share your income, how much you pay for rent, what your investment portfolio looks like. We need to talk about money after all. While I agree it’s imperative money becomes less taboo, I also don’t feel a need to shout my net worth from the digital rooftop. Because I’m not transparent about my net worth, sharing it with Peach was an intimate moment for the two of us that showed him how much I trust and love him.

It also opened up the conversation for how each of us believes money should be handled in marriage.

What’s Yours is Mine – Seriously

Sharing our numbers didn’t mean we suddenly swapped ATM pins and ran to get a joint bank account. Instead, it provided a foundation in which we could create hypothetical scenarios about how to handle money if we decided to get married (an important conversation to a have after seven years of dating).

Peach immediately became defensive that he would be taking care of his debt. A gesture I appreciated, but retorted wasn’t fair to a martial ledger. Why should he exclusively carry the burden of debt repayment, when our financial decisions before and after marriage would impact each other? We could combine forces and get rid of his debt in a relatively quick time.

This isn’t to say all married couples should have joint banking accounts. There are arguments for and against – and each couple must figure out the best way to merge money. But handling debt should absolutely be a team effort. Otherwise, it can quickly become a breeding ground for resentment.

Our current hypothetical strategy would be for two of us to live off my salary, while Peach’s salary would be used almost exclusively to pay down his debt (save for making contributions to an emergency fund and retirement account). This way, Peach retains ownership over his debt by making all the payments with money he earns, but I also feel part of the team by financially supporting our day-to-day expenses. Plus, I’d prefer he not waste money on an engagement ring, which frees up a chunk to go towards debt repayment.

Early Discussions Saves (or dooms) Relationships

Our early debt conversation made it easy for the two of us to be transparent in other money conversations. It also helped us develop a team mindset about finances before being legally tied to each other. We’re open about chatting money now, because we were willing to have uncomfortable conversations early. These conversations can also help people determine if a partner actually is a good fit. Finances are a leading cause of contention in relationships. So, why enter a marriage if you can’t have honest discussions with your partner or see major red flags like credit card abuse, routinely missing payments or refusing to deal with existing debt? Love might make us blind, but it that isn’t a passable excuse to lenders, bankers and credit bureaus.

Be sure to check out my checklist for how to get financially naked

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24 responses to “Getting Financially Naked with Your Partner

  1. I really appreciate your pragmatic approach to this, Erin. And it sounds like you’ve worked together to determine a reasonable plan. I think I’ve mentioned I haven’t had these conversations with my boyfriend. We’re not planning to get married. But we’re definitely building a life together. These conversations will need to happen once we talk more about investing in the house.

    1. It can certainly be such an awkward conversation to have and probably even more so once you’ve co-habitated and been together quite awhile. But I guess it will more-or-less come out eventually, so I’d rather know early (hello, type-A).

  2. Gret post. I’ve blogged before about handling your money when you have a child, how to save and invest for them etc. But I’ve never really written about handling finances in marriage, other than as part of my ‘About’ age where I briefly mentioned our (my) debt story.

    Thanks for sharing your practical approach, and let me say that you are totally on the ball – when you get married, it doesn’t mean you have to open a joint bank account as soon as you get back from honeymoon, but I do firmly believe that finances are now joined, since you are now joined together. As you say, you are a team now, you are not two individuals anymore. You therefore love and support each other in every way possible, whilst respecting how your spouse thinks and feels about things.

    I always say that marriage is not about love or protection or companionship; although all those things should be present in every marriage, I believe marriage is about overcoming. Together, this new team of two should overcome the problems they face every day in their new, unified life together. This obviously includes overcoming financial issues.

    I therefore really love your approach of living off your salary, whilst Peach can attack debt with his income. This is a really sensible and logical approach, and really emotionally intelligent as it allows the man to feel a sense of importance and control over something significant, which is really important to your marriage.

    Best Wishes,

    M from There’s Value

    1. Thank you so much for this thoughtful reply. It’s nice to hear from someone already married that our strategy is on the right path. It’s quite a ways away because we aren’t even engaged yet, but I like having a plan in place.

  3. What a lovely post! Of course I love having fully joint finances in my marriage, what’s most important is being able to agree on how to handle money – pleasantly! I didn’t have the same impulse Peach did to pay off the debt I brought into my marriage on my own, but I did make sure Kyle was 100% comfortable with treating it as joint before we got married. I don’t think we had any one big discussion about our respective net worths. I think we just talked about things as they came up organically and sort of grew financially in parallel up until we got married.

    1. That’s a really healthy way to address the topic as well. Having smaller conversations as you go along definitely addresses the issues. If Peach were more of a money nerd, this probably would’ve been a regular discussion, but he just chats finances if I bring it up (which, let’s admit, is pretty often).

  4. Your approach to this post is awesome! The intro really made me laugh. It had humor, but it’s still a serious topic. Too many people don’t talk about these things before marriage, but they should. Hubby and I are tag-teaming our debt as soon as he starts getting a pay check again. 🙂

    1. Thanks, Cat! I’m all about those early debt conversations. It always blows my mind when couples get blindsided by debt after I dos or refuse to let partners help pay it down. It impacts both parties once you’re married!

    1. Ah, the sexist comment. First of all, it isn’t “sweet” when anyone has debt. Second of all, student loan debt is certainly not a gender issue. Both millennial men and women are carrying the burden in staggering amounts. In terms of the sexist opinion that women bring more debt into the marriage, I can only imagine you’re linking this notion to a stereotype that we all love shopping and couldn’t bare to waste our time balancing checkbooks and instead just throw it on a card. After all, we’ll just find a rich man to take care of us, right? Regardless of your reasoning, it’s sad you’d take a simple story about the importance of talking money in a relationship and use it to make a derogatory comment towards women.

  5. Before getting married, I and my wife planned how we could deal with money issues and financial management. As of the moment, when we look back, we are really satisfied that we stick to our goals and strategy. We are in this together. And, whenever there’s an issue, we solve it right away before the day ends. The earlier the better.

  6. This is SO IMPORTANT and something that gets lost in the buzz about wedding dresses and engagement rings. We talked about all this stuff before getting engaged. I had student loans at the time and we came up with a plan to pay them off aggressively. It was also empowering to talk about money; we were coming into the marriage as partners, and one of us wouldn’t be responsible for making all the money decisions while the other blindly spent. You can save yourself a lot of heartbreak down the road by not only sharing your “number,” but also figuring out your spending/saving style and making sure it’s in line with your partner’s! I think one of the reasons for my parent’s divorce was that they each had a different approach to this crucial issue.

  7. Hey Erin,

    Great advice on getting into financial vulnerability before marriage.
    The habit of discipline and work ethic can over flow into so many things and credit card debt might just be a savvy way to expose a potential opportunity for some great pre-marital counseling:)

  8. This is sound advice, and something Vanessa and I very much agree with. After getting to know each other, but before we really considered marriage, we sat down and talked about money. We talked about our debt, but also our future roles in the relationship pertaining to financial decisions.

  9. I’ve only really considered getting married once when I was a lot younger and both he and I were pretty devoutly religious. I remember thinking how weird it was that we actually started discussing sex and were more comfortable with that than the first time I brought up money. It actually made me pretty irritated with him, although at the time our financial positions were wildly different, because even though neither of us were well off, I had no student loans and he had quite a few.

  10. Thanks for sharing your practical approach, and let me say that you are totally on the ball – when you get married, it doesn’t mean you have to open a joint bank account as soon as you get back from honeymoon, but I do firmly believe that finances are now joined, since you are now joined together. As you say, you are a team now, you are not two individuals anymore. You therefore love and support each other in every way possible, whilst respecting how your spouse thinks and feels about things.

  11. I believe in joint everything when you agree to get married. This idea of my money and your money, or my debt and your debt keeps people from truly giving everything they have to a marriage. If you’re keeping some money on the side so that you can spend without your spouse seeing, you’re not being open and honest. If you’re keeping separate accounts because you think that you can just leave and take your money with you if things don’t work out, you’re kidding yourself. Plus, the person spending extra time working on the house, taking care of the kids, and doing all of the other little errands that must be done so that the other spouse can concentrate on working earns the money every bit as much as the one with the paycheck.

    I wonder, however, if people should start getting financially naked before they get physically naked. I mean, do you really want to take the chance of ending up raising a child with someone who you later find out has mountains of debt and therefore cannot provide financial support?

  12. “but credit card debt is a red flag and major cause for concern”

    Why couldn’t I have learned this earlier in my life?! They should teach this in school or something.

  13. Great article. Get financially naked with your partner is definitely one of the most awkward conversions one will ever have in life but the more its ignored the more it becomes a ticking bomb waiting to happen. Thanks for highlighting that it doesn’t just cause you have had this talk that now you both start managing money together. But still think your post overlooked how much having this talk could be a deal breaker. Great work though.

    1. Hi Kev – Thanks for the feedback. I think it was pretty clear that if Peach had shown signs of red flags (like credit card debt), I would’ve probably considered walking away. I think it’s important to have this conversation early because of the potential to be a deal breaker in a relationship.

  14. I concur with the importance of these couples financial talks. I started having them with serious boyfriends, and then I instituted them with my now-husband. Even beyond awkward – they are HARD conversations. We both go into them realizing that we will probably argue about something and need to hug it out afterwards. My husband admittedly will dodge our monthly finance meeting if he thinks he can get away with it. (He’s so used to being a grad student with no money, he’s programmed himself to feel like he has no money, and therefore there is no point in talking about finances. He works full time now though, and we’re saving for a mortgage downpayment, so we gots to talk!) What has really driven home the need for us to discuss our plans is the fact that our parents have all made some mistakes leading up to retirement – my parents most of all, because my folks kept all of their finances separate and literally never talked about finances, so my mom had no idea my dad had raided their savings to float a business during the 2008 crash. It was a decision they should have made together, but they had never talked about plans for saving or retirement for 30 years. IMHO: Gotta start that practice early to make sure you both make it to retirement with a plan in place. Great site!

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