Falling in Love? Three Money Conversations to Have Soon

Talking about dreams and goals, savings and debt and more before making a bigger commitment can help couples head off future financial disagreements.

A young couple smile at each other sitting in front of a piggybank while the man holds some pennies.
(Image credit: Getty Images)

As Valentine’s Day 2024 quickly approaches, it’s clear that the rules of relationships have changed. First comes love, then comes real conversations about financial dreams and debt, and then, couples might be ready for a future together.

According to the most recent findings in Northwestern Mutual’s Planning & Progress Study, Americans believe by a wide margin that serious discussions about financial goals should happen before serious dating. In fact, more than 7 in 10 Americans believe those discussions should happen well before talks of engagement or marriage.

After a global pandemic, record inflation, geopolitical conflicts and market turbulence, more men and women are prioritizing harmony, stability and safety in all aspects of their lives, including in their relationships. Northwestern Mutual’s study also found that 35% of Americans say financial compatibility is more important than physical or intellectual compatibility.

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The data also revealed the power of these financial conversations on the overall strength of a relationship. Almost across the board, reports of financial challenges in relationships tended to slope downward over time — as couples address financial issues, establish joint financial goals and plans, generate more income and accumulate more wealth. While younger couples struggle more than older ones with seeing eye-to-eye on finances, Boomers+ are almost 20 percentage points more likely to agree with their partners about managing money — and also 25 percentage points less likely to say that finances are a significant issue in their relationship.

It’s clear that candid conversations about money can help couples fall in love with their future, too, so these discussions should not be feared. There are three important money conversations every couple should have — conversations that can influence what their life will look like together as they take that next step. However, many couples are unsure how to get started. Here are some questions to help them do just that.

Conversation #1: Share dreams and goals to make them a reality.

Openly sharing dreams and goals is one of the best parts of being in a relationship. Whether personal, professional or financial, sharing thoughts and hopes for the future is essential for supporting each other as a couple move forward together — especially if these dreams involve money.

Conversations can — and should — be fun. Try to make them playful!

  • If you won the lottery, what would you do with the money?
  • If you could erase one of your debts, which one would it be?
  • What is on your bucket list, and how can we plan for it?

Conversation #2: Determine how to manage money collaboratively to lessen future disagreements.

Getting to know each other means having deeper money conversations. These are some good questions to get the conversation started:

  • What long-term goals do you have? What long-term plans do you have in place to achieve them?
  • How much do we have saved, and how much debt do we have?
  • Do we plan to merge our accounts or keep our finances separate?
  • How much money do we make together — and who will be responsible for items such as the rent or mortgage, utilities and food?

Understanding each other’s financial habits can help couples avoid uncertainty and address any significant differences. These conversations can also help partners determine where they have financial strengths and potential blind spots they may want to address with the support of an outside expert. Oftentimes, engaging a trusted financial adviser to facilitate more complex discussions can be helpful to ensure alignment on key issues and strategies.

Conversation #3: Discuss how you will live together to help guide your future partnership.

Talking openly about future living arrangements can help a couple plan for their future together. These are some things to consider when a couple aim to live together:

  • Where are our families located — do we want to be nearby?
  • Where are our jobs located — are jobs remote, or do either of us need to be in the office?
  • Do we want to rent or own — or does one of us already have a home?
  • Do we want to live in the city, the suburbs or out in the country?

Conversations in relationships should not be considered “one and done.” In fact, ongoing discussions with your partner can continue guiding your future together and increase your financial compatibility. Although combining financial circumstances may initially be overwhelming — consistent, honest money conversations are beneficial. Commit to the conversation — and then your future.

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This article was written by and presents the views of our contributing adviser, not the Kiplinger editorial staff. You can check adviser records with the SEC or with FINRA.

Christian Mitchell
Executive Vice President, Chief Customer Officer, Northwestern Mutual

Christian Mitchell is executive vice president and chief customer officer at Northwestern Mutual. He leads strategic ideation necessary to elevate the client experience and deliver bold solutions to launch Northwestern Mutual ahead of its competitors. Mitchell oversees initiatives and deliverables to build the most powerful digital engine in financial services, including engineering solutions, data analytics, digital products and consumer insights.