How I had the money talk with my dude

I remember the moment I first talked to Dan about money. … Having this conversation early made it easier for us to communicate about money as other issues arose.

One of the first articles I ever wrote about money was about how to have the money talk with your romantic partner. It’s so, so important to talk about money with the person you’re sharing your life with. It sets expectations, opens up the conversation about your financial goals, and makes sure that everyone is on the same page. It will also help you to understand each other and your relationship with money. Money impacts every area of our lives, including our romantic lives, so this is not a conversation that you should skip or delay.

I’ve always cared about financial stability, so it was important to me for someone I was dating to be in a good position, as well. That’s why I knew I had to start that conversation in the beginning of my relationship with Dan. Here’s how I did (and continue to do) it.

I started early

I remember the moment I first talked to Dan about money. It was probably our fourth or fifth date and we were walking towards my apartment, where I was going to make dinner for him. Dan was carrying a bouquet of flowers for me (aww). I turned to him and casually asked him if he had any credit card debt. I can’t remember exactly how he reacted, but he told me that he did and he told me how much. I wasn’t a financial coach yet, so I was slightly judgmental about credit card debt at the time. I didn’t insult him, but I did show concern about his debt. Looking back, it wasn’t very much at all! That’s proven by the fact that Dan was able to pay it off in just three months after our conversation. Having this conversation early made it easier for us to communicate about money as other issues arose.

I communicated my needs

When Dan and I first started dating, we obviously went out a lot. We went out for dinner, we went to the movies, we went out to brunch, etc. At first, Dan paid for me much of the time, but once I found out how much he was earning in salary, I didn’t feel comfortable letting him cover everything (we were making similar income and it wasn’t a lot!). We began splitting costs from time to time, but eventually, that spending started to conflict with my budget and savings goals. I was living alone at the time and trying to pay off my student loans ahead of schedule. That didn’t leave me with a ton of fun money. After a couple months of dating, I told him that we needed to slow down a bit with our fun spending and be more thoughtful about where our money was going. I didn’t want too much food and drink to derail my financial goals. That wasn’t a fun conversation, but Dan was understanding, and we started being a little bit pickier about when we went out and how much we spent when we did.

I offered my help

Dan never really felt like he knew what he was doing with money. It wasn’t something he felt he had learned growing up. So I offered my support and guidance to help him pay off his credit card and start saving. I also helped him fill out his budget so he was aware of his spending guidelines. Eventually, I gave him advice for contributing to his retirement account.

Once we moved in together, I took over the financial management of the household. I created a joint budget spreadsheet so that we could track our budget and spending. I added Dan as an authorized user on one of my credit cards so that we could use it for joint expenses, such as groceries. This made it easier to make sure that we were each contributing equally. We continue to use a joint credit card now that we own a home together.

(I should note that I trusted Dan as an authorized user, and didn’t worry that he would abuse the card. I don’t recommend giving someone access to your credit card if you don’t trust that they will use it responsibly and always pay it back.)

I practice non-judgment

This is still a tricky thing for me, especially in my personal life. When it comes to my clients, I never judge them or make them feel bad about their money choices. When I am directly affected by someone’s money habits, it’s sometimes difficult for me to react in the same calm way. If a financial conflict comes up, I try to be careful about the language that I use. Instead of being accusatory like saying, “Why did you spend so much money at that bar?”, I try to be more curious by saying things like, “Hey, what’s this charge from the other day? I want to make sure I have the budget updated properly.”

I continue the conversation

As with most important topics, it’s crucial to continue the money conversation over time. Priorities change, income changes, expenses change. These can be good things or they can be difficult things. The point is, the conversation must evolve as life evolves.

Dan and my situation is much different now than it was when we first started dating. We own a home together, we’ve both paid off our student loans, we’ve combined most of our finances, Dan has more than doubled his income, I’ve more than cut mine in half (for now!) by pursuing self-employment, and our expenses are higher overall. Before all these changes, we didn’t have to talk very often about money, because we had plenty of it and didn’t spend very much. Now, there’s less money and more to spend on.

We had to have a serious money talk earlier this year, because both of us were getting frustrated with each other. Dan felt like he didn’t have any money of his own, and I felt like he wasn’t being thoughtful about how tight our budget is. It was a very productive (though difficult) conversation, because we were able to walk away with solutions. Dan has a small amount of money going into his personal checking account each month so that he can spend it without worrying about our overall budget. He also has a little bit of money going into his private savings account so that he can buy gifts or fix up his bike. This has made Dan feel more autonomous while taking stress off of our joint budget.

Now that we’re getting married, Dan and I are getting even more grown up with our financial conversations. We recently went to see a financial advisor to talk about life insurance and making sure we’re making smart choices for retirement. It feels good to be talking about and making these decisions together.

This article first appeared on MaggieGermano.com.