Having regular financial discussions with your partner is a good ideaHaving control over your finances is an important life skill, and mastering this skill has deep implications for other parts of your life. This fact is especially true for anyone in a relationship, as money problems (and successes) tend to spill into personal lives. Despite this, many couples struggle with conversations about money — when to have it, how to bring it up, what they should talk about and more. That’s why we’ve decided to dig into the when’s and how’s of having a productive financial discussion with your significant other.

At what stage of the relationship should we talk?

Deciding when to have any financial talk is somewhat of a private consideration between you and your partner. That’s because your particular sensibilities, as well as your personal circumstances, are going to dictate the phase at which having regular (or even semiregular) financial discussions makes sense. If you’re both already familiar with your finances on some level, you and your partner will likely start gradually incorporating financial discussions into your lives. Still, all couples should make a deliberate effort to normalize having conversations about money once they realize they’re in a serious, committed relationship to ensure financial compatibility. If milestones like anniversaries, marriage or moving in together have passed without you having a single financial discussion, it might be a sign that it’s time to speak up about having a financial heart to heart.

Is there an ideal time to talk about finances with your partner?

The good news is that there isn’t really a “bad time” to talk about finances in a serious relationship with a trustworthy partner. In fact, discussions of this nature are important, healthy and, luckily, don’t have to be difficult. Conversations as simple as a monthly spending check-in or discussing credit and savings goals together — like saving up for a romantic getaway — can put you leagues ahead of couples who never talk about their finances. Still, while there’s no bad time to talk about money, not all circumstances are created equal. It’s better, for example, to have a money talk scheduled ahead of time than an impromptu discussion brought about by the discovery of hidden purchases or chronic overspending. This is why financial discussions, even small ones, should be planned in advance, ideally early in the relationship when the two of you are getting to know one another, if at all possible. Additionally, after you have the initial talk, regularly scheduled check-ins can help prevent many of the dire financial situations that prompt the need for future, possibly bitter conversations about money struggles. Regular check-ins will also keep you both accountable as you work toward financial goals as individuals or as a couple.

How to have good financial discussions

One of the big uncertainties of talking with your partner about your finances is the question of what should be discussed and how the discussion should be handled. The particulars of these details will, again, be partly influenced by your unique preferences, but there are a few good rules of thumb that can help you have a productive conversation.

Before the conversation

Before you can have a productive financial conversation, there are some basic preconditions that, if met, can greatly improve the quality of your discussion.

Lay out basic financial ground rules. The key reason why couples should talk about their finances is because, presumably, they either have entered or intend to enter a stage where they’re codependent. If you’re cohabiting, intending to raise a family or intending make investments with your partner, then the details of your finances become important. How you decide to manage your collective financial assets and obligations will set the stage for how your financial conversations will play out. For example, should you share money through a joint account, or just trust one another to manage your respective finances? In addition to this, factors like family inheritance, debts, prenuptial agreements — to name a few — will come to shape the financial arrangement you’ll make with your partner. If you don’t appear to have an agreed upon financial arrangement, talking about this should be the first thing you and your partner do if you want to get serious about having regular financial conversations.

Create an expectation of transparency. Financially savvy couples aren’t just on the same page about their specific financial arrangement, but they’re also on the same page about the types of financial details they share with one another. You and your partner need to establish what types of financial information are essential to you functioning cohesively. For example, do you both agree that it’s important to share your financial past, or is your present what’s important? Should you share information about your family’s financial background and what you or your kids stand to inherit? Will you talk about everything from student loan and credit card debt to credit reports and scores to savings accounts and investments? Answering what you should and should not share will be personal, but these decisions should be made with respect to their impact on your shared financial goals.

During the conversation

Before you even start talking, you and your partner should agree to avoid judgement. Even if you and your significant other have significantly different financial pasts, it’s good for you to talk about it, as you can both decide how you can move forward. When it comes to starting the conversation, what should the content of your discussions be? This is yet another decision that’ll be up to you and your partner, but you’ll probably find it natural to start with income and debt, as these are two aspects of finance that have the most impact.

Next, you can move onto your shared financial goals and whether or not your current budget is moving you toward them. Saving for vacations, a home or maybe even early retirement are some common examples of goals that you might personally or collectively aspire to. If you aren’t familiar with each other’s goals, then before jumping into shared goals, you should detail your respective financial goals and get on the same page about what you’ll need to do to accomplish them. Keep in mind that you don’t need to talk about every aspect of your financial lives in the first discussion. For example, you can break it up into categories, like income/debt/goals and credit scores/history. Doing so will help keep the conversation going, as finances aren’t something that everyone is necessarily excited to talk about.

After the conversation

After your financial discussions, you’ll want to make sure you have clear takeaways and that you set an expectation of having consequent meetings where you’ll follow up with one another. All of your meetings should end with both you and your partner knowing the topics for any follow-up conversations and the steps you need to complete before holding your next meeting. Both of you having a clear sense of your goals can make preparing for follow-up meetings much easier, as your goal’s metrics provide a guideline for what your immediate next steps should be. For example, if you know that you want to buy a house, one of your first steps is to start saving for the down payment. This gives you a savings goal that you’ll work toward monthly and one that you can review at your next meeting to decide whether or not you need to make adjustments to your lifestyle in order to reach your goal.

Keep in mind that financial success relies on this sort of feedback, making follow ups nearly as important as initial financial discussions. If you’re unsure when the right time to talk about finances is, start with paydays — plan to sit down with your partner whenever you get a paycheck to do a financial check in. It doesn’t need to be a long conversation, but you’ll want to maintain communication throughout the month so that you’re both accountable and on the same page.

For more tips and tricks designed to improve your financial life, keep reading our personal finance blog.