Take advantage of opportunities to ensure your finances (and household budget) are aligned in a way that helps you reach your goals.

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Religion, politics and money — supposedly, you aren’t supposed to broach these taboo subjects if you want to keep the peace. But, shouldn’t you be able to talk about everything with your significant other? While some people do, many people don’t. In fact, 54.3 percent of couples who live together and don’t have kids manage their money separately. Almost 30 percent of couples don’t even know each other’s salaries! That’s according to a recent survey from Policygenius.

Stacey Black, BECU
Stacey Black, BECU

However, avoiding the money talk with your partner can cause problems, according to Stacey Black, a financial educator at BECU for more than 20 years. When you avoid that topic, you’re avoiding an opportunity to ensure your finances (and household budget) are aligned in a way that helps you reach your goals, now and in the years to come. In fact, more than a third of respondents to a LearnVest Financial Literacy Research survey said they either didn’t have a budget in their household or indicated it was someone else’s responsibility to manage.

“When it comes to any relationship, aligning on money matters is extremely important as it plays a pivotal role in every aspect of a couple’s life,” says Black.

Discuss and define financial goals

Black recommends that you don’t dive right into a “money talk” that’s all about spreadsheets and budgets and paying your bills — that’s a recipe to just stress both of you out. Instead, start with a broader conversation about your financial goals. Sit down and talk about your values and what your future plans are when it comes to money. Do you want to buy a house? What type of lifestyle do you want to live? “Then, create realistic goals you both can actually live by,” says Black. “This will open up broader conversations about money and also help to see if you are on the same page when it comes to short-term and long-term financial goals around saving, spending, budgeting and reducing debt.”

Review your financial realities

If you and your partner live together, or are making plans for a future together, then it’s a good idea to bare it all financially.

Specifically, sit down and review your accounts and bills. Black suggests figuring out how to divvy up bills before you and your partner move in together. For instance, decide if you will split them all 50/50, or if the person earning a larger income will contribute more. “Asking these types of questions prior to cohabiting will help lessen confusion in the long run,” she says.

Then, of course, there’s the age-old question when it comes to long-term couples: to combine finances or not to combine finances? There are many ways to do this, such as pooling all of your income into one account, keeping them strictly separate or some combination of the two. “I once worked with a couple where one person was a spender and the other was a saver,” says Black. “For this reason, I suggested they keep separate checking accounts but have one joint account solely for paying bills.”

Another important part of your financial future includes awareness of each other’s credit situations. Do you or your significant other have bad credit? Are they carrying large sums of debt, or have they defaulted on loans? Black suggests that conducting this type of “financial background check” is crucial, as a poor credit history could drastically hinder your ability to plan ahead and achieve your financial goals.

Pay attention to red flags

There are things you can pay close attention to if you’re early on in a relationship or at a point where you may want to dive into a next step, like marriage or moving in together. Black suggests watching out for “red flags” when it comes to your partner’s money habits that might point to a future of financial uncertainty.

For instance, pay attention if your partner absolutely doesn’t want to talk about money, or if you find out they haven’t been truthful about their finances.

Another red flag? If you notice your partner consistently makes late payments on bills or has a bad credit history. “This could mean trouble for both of you down the road,” says Black. “And could make getting loans together more difficult, too.”

Finally, if you see that your discussion around financial goals yields vastly different responses — that might be a warning sign as well. “Having different attitudes toward money may impact your relationship in the future,” says Black. “So it’s imperative to have discussions and build guidelines around money management that work for both of you.”

Keep the conversation going

Just as with all parts of a healthy relationship, your financial life needs tending to regularly as well. Get in the habit of talking about your budget, debt, and savings once or twice a month, Black suggests.

“I know a couple that goes to a nice dinner every month just to discuss their finances,” she says. “It’s a great way to make what could be a dry and intimidating topic fun and engaging!” Just make sure the nice dinner is part of your shared budget, too.

As a member-owned credit union, BECU is focused on helping increase the financial health of its members and communities through better rates, fewer fees, community partnerships and financial education.