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Being a relative newcomer to dating, I’ve been intrigued with how people get to know one another and what they look for in a prospective mate. Often, people are adamant about being with someone who shares their political and religious beliefs, yet fail to have any discussion about money. The “money conversation” can be harder than even politics or religion, partially because it’s been ingrained in us not to talk about it.

You can hope the person you’re interested in has his financial house in order, but that won’t tell you much about his beliefs about money. I often see partners who are exact opposites when it comes to money: One is the saver, the other, the spender. Differences that seem charming and attractive early in a relationship may emerge years later as a constant source of tension.

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The “Money Conversation”: Make Sure Your Financial Goals Are Aligned

Given that money is such an important issue, it is vital that you dare to broach this sensitive subject. Use these tips to help you start and navigate the money conversation so you can make sure your financial goals are aligned.

  • Get some background.It’s important to recognize we were all brought up differently, which plays a huge factor in what we believe and feel about money today. Start the conversation by asking, “What was your family’s attitude toward money when you were growing up?” Or, “What are some of your earliest memories about money when you were young?” The answers will tell a lot about whether there was enough money, how decisions were made, and whether or not it was a source of tension. These early experiences may provide clues to how the person you’re dating views money.
  • Talk about what feels natural to you.Other conversation starters might be, “Do you set goals when it comes to money?” and “How are you feeling about retirement?” The idea is to open the door to discussion, without anyone having to reveal really sensitive information, i.e., the numbers! Even the retirement question may arouse some angst. People can feel shame for many reasons where money is involved. For some, it’s because they don’t feel they have enough, while others may have a lot, yet still be afraid. If you’re a couple having the conversation, remember to treat it as if you were just getting acquainted, with a sense of curiosity and a desire to understand your mate. This is not a time to be judgmental, but rather to appreciate that everyone is different and can learn from one another.
  • Keep the opposite point of view in mind.When one person is a saver and another a spender, inevitable conflicts arise. A common issue for couples is that one person wants to spend on a nice vacation or home improvements, while the other doesn’t feel there is enough money. Sometimes “enough” is a state of mind; sometimes there is fear that there never will be enough. In a relationship, it becomes important to try to see and empathize with the other’s point of view.

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If you’re single, you can benefit from asking yourself these questions and writing down the answers. See where the process leads. You may be surprised at what you discover. If you’re a couple and have difficulty discussing spending versus saving, consider consulting a financial planner. Ideally, find one who is knowledgeable about the connection between emotions and money, and would be willing to guide you in these delicate conversations.

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