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Negotiating Your Financial Future With Your Spouse is Essential & Here’s What It Looks Like

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When you and your partner make the choice to fully build a life together — whether that’s expanding your family with children, pets or just sharing resources and creating a home — it can be such an exciting time. Loved up and optimistic about the future, you get to really decide how your money will work for you to serve your values, keep you safe and bring you a little closer to your individual and shared goals.

‘Financial Feminist’ by Tori Dunlap $11.99

But talking about money candidly and in a way that doesn’t self-abandon your own needs and wants goes against how so many people (especially women) were conditioned to think about money. It’s hard! And it can feel super uncomfortable if you haven’t had enough practice at it. But, luckily, financial expert, founder of Her First 100K and author of Financial Feminist Tori Dunlap sat down with SheKnows earlier this year to talk all things money and relationships and gave a few pointers on making sure you and your partner have a shared understanding of your financial present and future.

Get a standing ‘money date’ on your calendars

This is an idea that I totally loved when Dunlap turned me on to it: Plan a money date! It’s sort of a two-fer in terms of financial healing because you’re reframing what conversations about money with your partner can look like and practicing communicating what you want and need financially in your life together. Instead of these talks only coming up when things are tense and stressful, you and your partner can lay the frame-work to celebrate your accomplishments, set savings goals and purchase goals that get you hyped about the future and find ways to support each other better in your financial life.

“Ultimately, you need to be talking about money in your relationship way before you even get married or become like legally partnered — like this needs to have be a conversation and an ongoing conversation,” Dunlap says. This date “is like once a month, non-negotiable, where you’re sitting down and you’re looking at your money. And if you are managing money with a partner, you’re doing this with them. You’re looking at your credit card statements, you’re looking at your investment portfolio performance. And you’re also having conversations about money: How do we use money as a tool to build the life that we love?”

Keep future you in mind

This one particularly counts when you’re thinking about pregnancy, childcare and division of household labor. As the pandemic has shown, few families were prepared for the worst case scenario where childcare fell back entirely onto their immediate family and disproportionately this affected women and mothers.

Per the U.S. Department of Labor ” Maternal employment declined by 15.7 perent in April 2020, a larger decline than the 9.6 percent reduction fathers experienced at that time. Throughout the pandemic, mothers’ employment has recovered more slowly and remains 2.0 percent below their February 2020 employment rate, representing about 333,500 working mothers. Fathers’ employment has fully recovered to pre-pandemic employment levels.”

So this is where negotiation for parents who take on the majority of uncompensated childcare and house work — as opposed to compensated out-of-the-house work — is essential. Dunlap cites author Tiffany Dufu (who was a guest on her podcast) who refers to Stay-At-Home Parents as Non-Compensated Working Parents and that reframe itself is super helpful for ensuring that the necessary labor of childcare (that would absolutely cost the family money if taken outside the home) isn’t overlooked or considered “not working.”

Dunlap shared the story of two friends of hers who encountered this milestone in their relationship as they got married: “Two of my friends just got married and they have been super open and transparent. One is a woman of color, one is a straight white man and they had a beautiful conversation. My woman friend was like ‘Well, I think we need to basically make a contract together that if we choose to have children, and I choose to stay at home, I will get basically paid a salary out of your salary. Because if I’m not staying at home, you would have to [stay home], we would have to pay for daycare, and we would have to pay for a chef and a house cleaner and a chauffeur to take our kids around to various activities.'”

Dunlap cites author Tiffany Dufu (who was a guest on her podcast) who refers to Stay-At-Home Parents exclusively as Non-Compensated Working Parents — and that reframe itself is super helpful for ensuring that the necessary labor of childcare (that would absolutely cost the family money if taken outside the home) isn’t overlooked or considered “not working.” Which can be a common stumbling block for women advocating for their own fiscal health in their relationships.

She says her friend also made another point that taking time off from compensated labor to raise children at home would have an effect on her career for years down the road: “Based on data that I researched for the book, [her career] would hypothetically suffer for the rest of her life. That was kind of the solution that they found together through lots of open and honest conversations. I don’t know if that’s going to be the reality for everybody or the thing that makes sense for everybody — but at least having these conversations is so important.”

And, yes, you should still have your own money

No one wants to think about a reality where financial abuse (or any other kind of abuse) could happen in their relationship. But nonetheless having your own money — savings, money put aside for individual hobbies and interests, money that can be used if there’s an emergency — isn’t a threat to your relationship and shouldn’t be seen as one.

“No one wants to think that their situation would turn abusive or violent, but I have unfortunately plenty of emails that say differently where money is the reason women can’t get out of that situation,” Dunlap says. “Money means choices and it means options. But also maybe you love this person and you just don’t want to be in a relationship with them with them anymore.”

Dunlap also adds that this financial independence can ultimately make a more positive impact on your relationship without the emergency get-out fund angle: “You don’t want to have to counsel your partner on every single purchase you make, right? There should be separate money… And that is the money that they can spend on [hobbies and individual interests] without counseling. I find that this leads to a lot of better, healthier relationships, because the person still has their own identity and their own independence.”

Instead of letting this separate money be a pain point, you and your partner should negotiate out how much of your budget goes to your own individual use so there’s no misunderstandings, inconsistencies or dishonesty in the mix. You can still be building a collaborative financial life without totally giving up your individual financial identities and it can help to think of each other’s individual financial successes and goals as something to celebrate alongside the shared ones.

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