It’s no secret that money can cause stress in relationships. But military couples have a unique set of financial challenges, whether it’s finding work for a non-military spouse, having to pay for frequent moves, dealing with sudden deployment or otherwise.
According to our 2021 Financial Literacy and Preparedness Survey, military couples are unique in a few other important ways, too. For one, military couples told us that they’re more likely than civilian couples to discuss their finances with each other, and they have a strong belief in being honest with each other about money.
But the majority of service members also said they wish they had guidance, advice or a checklist for how to talk to their partners about money. With that in mind, we decided to honor our service members this Military Appreciation Month by putting together this list of simple tips to help you and your partner start the conversation.
1. Set a goal together
You’ve probably daydreamed about having a better future with your partner. Maybe you want to go on a long-overdue family vacation, pay off credit card debt or buy your first home using a VA loan. If you haven’t already discussed your goals with your partner, it’s a great way to jump-start the money conversation.
Why set goals with your partner?
There are several benefits to setting a goal with your partner. First, if you’re not working toward goals together, talking about money can feel like nothing but a chore, or even an argument waiting to happen. Plus, if you’re not on the same page about the future, you may even be working against each other’s goals without knowing it!
On the other hand, setting financial goals together can help you improve your finances. Here’s how:
- Create positive incentives. Having a goal shifts your financial focus from what you don’t want (overspending, debt, etc.) to what you do want. It gives you a positive incentive to examine your budget together, talk about finances and save money.
- Move from dreaming to planning. Discussing your goals gives you a chance to get on the same page with your partner. Together you can work out the specifics and make a plan you can actually execute. That includes researching costs, determining how much your household can save for your goal each month, and tracking your progress as a couple.
- Get an accountability partner. You might not always have the willpower to make good spending choices, but you can reach out to your partner for encouragement and a reminder of your end-goal, whenever you need support.
Does your goal seem like more work than fun? Some financial goals may not feel very exciting — like saving for a medical procedure or for major car repairs. If that’s the case, try building a reward into your plan, like going on a date at your favorite restaurant once you’ve saved half of the total dollar amount.
What if money is tight?
If your budget is tight, try setting a small goal together. For couples who have little-to-no savings, consider opening a savings account together and putting $50 a month (or whatever amount you can afford) into an emergency fund. Once you’ve saved your goal amount — even if its just a few hundred dollars — revisit your budget and see if you can increase your monthly contribution.
Military couples who are struggling with payday loans or other debt can also set a goal that doesn’t cost money, like researching and applying for special debt relief programs. Be sure to check out the Servicemembers’ Civil Relief Act (SCRA) which can help reduce the interest rates on loans you took out before entering active duty.
2. Decide what’s Yours, Mine and Ours
There’s no one-size-fits all answer for how couples should merge their finances. Whether you want to combine everything, keep your money separate, or do a little of both, the key is to make sure you and your partner are on the same page.
Here are some financial questions that are important to discuss with your partner:
- Who will be responsible for paying the household bills?
- Who will shop/pay for necessities, like food, toiletries and clothing?
- Are there expenses we will split 50/50?
- Will the person who earns more money cover more expenses? If so, which ones?
- Is there something I/we want to contribute to the household instead of money? (e.g. labor: cooking, cleaning, childcare, errands)
- Should we check in with each other before spending a certain amount on non-necessities?
- How well is our current system working? What can we improve?
Keep in mind that you might not agree about everything. If you’re struggling to come to an agreement, try one approach for a month or two and see how it works. If something isn’t working, or if your circumstances change, be willing to try something new.
3. Set a recurring “Money Date”
Not sure when and how you’ll have time to discuss your finances together? Scheduling a recurring Money Date can help. Even if your schedule is full, try picking a 1-hour time slot on the same day each month, like every first Monday, that you’ll use to review your finances as a couple.
Here’s what you can do during your Money Date:
- Map your progress towards goals and/or set new goals
- Discuss recent or upcoming changes in your budget and make necessary adjustments
- Pay bills
- Review the prior month’s credit card and bank statements
- Meet with an NFCC Certified Credit Counselor for help improving credit, managing debt or buying a home
If the idea of having a Money Date doesn’t seem very romantic, you can make it fun by rewarding yourselves afterwards. Plan to have a shared dessert, go for a nice walk (sans kids), or do something else you both enjoy together. And remember that, ultimately, working on your finances is a great way to take care of each other and ensure a happier future as a couple.
About the Author: Sarah Brady is a Personal Finance Writer and educator who’s been helping people improve their financial wellness since 2013.
Sarah writes for other publications, including Experian and Investopedia, and she’s been syndicated by Yahoo! News and MSN. She is also a workshop facilitator, a former consultant for the City of San Francisco’s Affordable Home Buyer Programs, and she’s proud to be a former NFCC-Certified Credit Counselor and HUD-Certified Housing Counselor. Sarah can be contacted via sarahcbrady.com.