How to Talk to Your SO About Money

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Money is a notoriously sensitive subject. This is never more true than when you have to discuss it with your significant other. Whether it’s establishing who pays for what on dates or how the two of you can afford an apartment together, figuring out how to talk about money is a big part of having a successful relationship. So we’ve talked to some collegiettes and a relationship expert about how talk about money with your partner.

Work through the awkward

Bringing up money with an SO, particularly with a new one, can be uncomfortable. But it is a conversation worth having. This can be especially awkward, for example, when dealing with the first date. Who pays for the date? Tradition and chivalry say the guy, but feminism might suggest that both parties should pay for their own stuff. So who should pay for the date is totally up to you. But what if your SO is pushy about paying for the date and that makes you uncomfortable?

Emily Jean Henry, a collegiette who is a sales associate at Guitar Center, says “If someone were uncomfortable [with their SO paying] and wanted to pay for themselves, they should say something. If [their SO] isn’t understanding, then that’s the sign of an unhealthy relationship…It may seem like a little thing, but someone who isn’t willing to work with you even on something like that isn’t worth your time.”

We agree wholeheartedly. Discussing who pays for what on the first date (and any payment from there on out) is important, even if it is awkward. If you’re not really sure how to say you want the payment to be equal, Dr. Jordan, a developmental and behavioral pediatrician who is also a certified therapist by the Institute for Relationship Therapy, suggests saying, “I just feel more comfortable dating this way.” So power through it and have that conversation, if you so choose. According to Dr. Jordan, the way your SO responds will tell you a lot about him or her.

Be honest

The best way to go about having any conversation is to be honest, and that definitely applies to money. Emily Jean says, “Just be direct about it and matter-of-fact. If you expect him to pay or if you want to pay, it’s totally fine no matter what. Just be straightforward.”

That kind of honesty will go a long way with your partner, and will be better for your relationship in the long run. Mariel Tishma, a junior at Columbia College Chicago, says she and her boyfriend have “never had a super explicit conversation about it, but whenever we plan dates, if one of us is worried about it being expensive, we’ll mention it and generally we both pay for our own thing. That just makes me feel better because then I don’t have to worry about putting a strain on him…we just try and be honest about how we’re doing financially at the moment and help each other out if we can.”

It’s important to remember that your SO can’t read your mind, Dr. Jordan reminds us. So, you have to be open about how you feel, even if that can be totally scary sometimes. And having that open conversation will ultimately bring you closer because you’re addressing both of your needs. Dr. Jordan says, “There’s always a good way to get both people’s needs met.” In the end, you’ll be glad you said something because now your partner will know how you feel about who pays for what and when.

Related: 7 New Year's Resolutions That Will Save You Money 

Don’t overthink it

Talking about money can be daunting, especially if you overthink it. Overthinking it can make you afraid to have the conversation at all, even though it’s important.

“Don’t let fear hold you back,” Dr. Jordan says. With that, he says that if you’re afraid of pissing off your partner or him or her leaving because of this conversation, that’s a red flag. That fear might indicate that you two don’t have a healthy relationship where you feel free to communicate openly with each other.

As well, Dr. Jordan says it can’t be a healthy relationship if you feel like you can’t establish boundaries with your partner. But overall, he says, “My guess is 99 out of 100 [times], nothing bad happens.” So don’t sweat it, but Dr. Jordan suggest that you do take the time to clearly figure out what you want and think it through so you can communicate it to your partner most effectively.

Give it time

As it turns out, bringing up money with your SO gets easier with time. For example, Shelby Carroll, a junior at Webster University, and her boyfriend are planning to move in together in the near future, which means planning how they will be able to afford everything that goes into that.

“We’ve gotten a lot better at [talking about money],” she says. “And it’s just not as awkward anymore now that we are seriously considering moving in together. Since finances are a big part of living together, we’ve decided to just talk about it now so we won’t have issues when we are actually living together. It just causes less stress and strain in the relationship.”

So part of broaching the money conversation may be that you and your SO need time to become comfortable enough to talk about it at length.

Understand it’s not really about the money

Even though you may be after a conversation about money with your partner, it usually goes much deeper. “It’s not about the money,” Dr. Jordan says. “It’s never about the money. It’s about communication…it’s about having your needs heard and respected.” He says talking about money can be sensitive for some because it brings up emotional baggage. If your partner grew up in a family that struggled financially, the money talk could bring up emotions from their childhood.

“Money brings up a lot of issues and feelings for people,” Dr. Jordan adds, so it’s important to be attentive to how financial situations of their past might have affected them, and might still affect them. The best way to navigate talking about money with your partner, especially if you know they’ve had a difficult past financially, is to not be judgmental, he says. By really listening to your partner and making it clear that you support them and are not judging them, you let them know that they can come to you in the future. 

Navigating how to talk to your SO about money can be tricky, but the truth is it’s a good and, at times, necessary conversation to have. As long as you are open and honest with your partner and make a genuine effort to hear him or her out, you’ll be just fine. 

About The Author

Micki Wagner is a senior at the University of Missouri-Columbia where she is pursuing a major in Magazine Journalism and a minor in Classics. When she's not writing, she can be found watching beauty videos on YouTube, wandering around bookstores and daydreaming about her celebrity crushes. In addition to writing for Her Campus, Micki also writes more personal pieces on her blog at https://theresidentialblonde.com/. You can follow her on Instagram @mickimouse95.