Every day, I am thankful that my partner, Emet, and I are on the same page when it comes to finances. We have similar goals and spending habits, allowing us to share credit cards and bank accounts.
When I recently asked a friend about her relationship with her wife, I was surprised to find that they each had only a loose idea of the amount of student debt the other had prior to getting married, and that they had elected to not combine finances.
This is, apparently, not uncommon. One in five couples suffer from financial stress that causes them to delay buying a home or making significant life-changing purchases, according to a study by TD Ameritrade. Millennials are the most transparent about their money, with 97 percent saying that they discussed finances at least once a month. However, one-third of married couples still admitted to arguing over money at least once a month.
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Despite the high level of transparency and apparent honesty among young couples, only 55 percent of couples combine their finances. Meanwhile, 70 percent work together to make decisions about big purchases.
As I continued my own personal research with regards to statistics, I realized that these cold numbers did not paint an entirely accurate picture of the reality of young couples and their financial relationships.
Straight vs. Gay: How My Friends Talk About Money
I asked one same-sex couple and one heterosexual couple about their financial strategy. Sarah and her wife, Vivian, live in Los Angeles, and Allison and her husband, Colin, live in Minneapolis. Both couples said that they had some form of a financial discussion prior to marriage.
Sarah and Vivian say that they spoke about money in specific relation to student debt.
Allison says that speaking about finances so openly with Colin was alien to her, as her own family was very conservative when it came to talks about money. However, it was important to the couple that they were on the same page financially. As such, they worked together to dismantle this otherwise taboo topic.
Were married millennials in a same-sex couple any different from those in a heterosexual couple?
Allison says that she has since become accustomed to planning a budget with someone. In fact, she feels that it’s been great having someone to be accountable to. “It’s gotten less weird over time,” she says.
The Importance of Communication
Relationships crumble due to lack of communication between spouses, says Amy Schoen, a certified life and relationship coach. “I believe it’s important to discuss finances before getting married. I had a client that found out that her fiancé had not been honest about his debt — five figures — and she felt betrayed,” Schoen says.
“She felt that if he came to her and said this is where I am and this is my plan, she would have been okay. She broke up with him because he was not dealing with it. So it’s better to be honest and work on it as a couple than to hide it.”
In my own relationship, my partner and I have been in the habit of speaking about our spending and savings habits since the beginning. Although it's unlikely that any couple will agree on every financial purchase or habit, Emet and I have been fortunate in that we are very financially compatible. We rarely have disagreements over such things.
Dealing With Income Differences
Sarah makes more than Vivian. Emet makes more than I do. Allison makes more than Colin.
But income discrepancies don't have to be the source of tension or strife in healthy relationships.
“As a divorce lawyer, I can affirm that one of the most common sources of conflict that can lead to the breakup of a relationship is finances,” says Christina Previte, a lawyer with NJ Divorce Solutions. “Specifically, having fundamental disagreements about how to spend and how (or whether) to save. One would think that these topics have already come up enough times before the marriage to elicit conversation, but sometimes that is not the case.”
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Sarah says that neither her nor her wife’s job is secure. However, because she makes more at the moment and pays the bills now, she knows that Vivian will support them should she ever be out of work.
Allison says she doesn’t think that earning more than Colin is a big deal in their relationship. But Colin says that he wishes he made more in general.
I’m beginning a freelance writing business while Emet supports us with her full-time salary. When we talk about money, we both wish we made more. That said, we absolutely live within our means, and every penny I earn goes straight into our savings account. It feels good to help us build our savings, even if I’m not contributing as much as I wish I could. I've been freelancing for only a few months, so I know that I'll continue earning more as time goes on.
Straight vs. Gay Couples: Is There a Difference?
As my friends and I talked, I realized that there may not be much difference in the way my partner and I communicate, in spite of our circumstances or sexual orientation.
The more I thought about those surveys, the more I felt that millennials were not the subject.
Millennials are more open than previous generations, with 75 percent discussing money at least once a week. We’re more open about our anxiety regarding debt, jobs, and retirement, so don’t fret when thinking about approaching your partner with what you think may be an awkward or unromantic financial discussion.
Perhaps the biggest problem is deciding who wants to make dinner tonight when neither one of us wants to cook!
Additional reporting by Jazmin Rosa.