Talking about finance doesn’t have to put a damper on romance. Being open and honest about how you feel about money can be critical for developing and maintaining a healthy relationship. Your ideas about what you want to spend, what you want to save, and what you want to do with your money down the road can change over time, but you still need to talk it over with your partner.
Here are some of the big money questions lovebirds often have to tackle through the years and how you can get the conversation going:
Dating: Should I be worried when my boyfriend/girlfriend asks me to pay for dinner?
Dating is about getting to know one another and exploring whether the relationship is worth pursuing.
Look for red flags when it comes to money habits. If your boyfriend or girlfriend asks for money, is it because that person just forgot to take enough cash out of the ATM that night (and hates using credit cards) or because the credit card is maxed out and can barely afford to pay the rent this month?
Does he always pay for dinner because he wants to be in control or because his income is greater than yours? According to PayPal’s recent “Can’t Buy Me Love” survey, most women say it isn’t the man’s responsibility to pick up the tab after a dinner date. The man should pay only if he initiates the date, most women said.
Engagement: Who should pay for the engagement, wedding, honeymoon costs?
Now is the time people have to start negotiating about how expenses will be shared.
Deciding how you’ll split wedding costs, for instance, can be very enlightening.
“When you start talking about who will pay for what, you may uncover different values you may have,” says Judith Rosenthal, a senior financial advisor with Ameriprise in New York.
If he can’t afford to give you a ring (or the ring that you want), it could mean that he is in debt or maybe doesn’t think it makes sense to that much money on it. Finding out whether his or her parents were stingy, extremely generous or somewhere in between can shed some light on your partner's thinking about money, says certified financial planner Timothy Maurer of The Financial Consulate in Lutherville, Md.
Bottom line: It’s your fiancé’s views that count. Talk about what you can afford to spend on what and avoid putting expenses on credit cards. You don’t want to still be paying for your wedding on your 10th anniversary.
Marriage: Should we set up separate or joint accounts for expenses and savings?
The PayPal survey also found about half of American couples share bank accounts, but that may not be the best solution.
If you haven’t lived together before, you are just starting to negotiate about living expenses. The “who will pay for what” conversation that started with wedding costs now expands to who’ll pay the rent/mortgage, utilities, groceries and other bills? How much will we save? If you have bad credit and debt issues and your partner has no debt and excellent credit, it may not make sense to join your finances.
“Yours, mine and ours” accounts work well for many couples. Set up a joint account for household expenses and put a percentage of your income into that pot. Also keep separate checking accounts for personal expenses (from big ticket items such as a spa day or a golf outing to small, frequent expenses such as iTunes downloads and magazine subscriptions).
If there are credit issues, go to a non-profit credit-counseling center (the National Foundation For Credit Counseling, for instance, can help you find one in your area) or speak to a financial counselor at your bank about how to manage your debt and achieve other financial goals like buying your first home or having children.
Parenthood: Who will stay at home with our new baby, for how long, and how will we find affordable child care?
Starting to save for college the day your little one comes home from the hospital is an admirable goal, but the real task at hand is often figuring out how you’ll divvy up the new household duties that come with having a new baby.
Among the big questions: Who will stay at home? How will you manage on a single paycheck for a few months if you extend your maternity or paternity leave? Ideally, you have already set aside some money for the new addition to your family.
“You no longer get to think of your relationship as a ‘I Got You, Babe’ duet. It’s now ‘We’ve Got You, Baby’ and you need to figure out how to save for this little being,” says Hughes.
This is a crucial time in a relationship when you’re usually more focused on the baby than each other. Pick a night every other week (perhaps, pay day) when you sit down and go over finances, bills, and talk money matters. Make a pact.
“No ‘money talk’ any other time or anywhere else," says Hughes.Your child will already be an intrusive presence in the romance department. Don’t let money be the other.”
A Decade after “I Do”: How much do we need to save for the long term and how do we protect what we have?
Saving for your retirement and your kids’ college education at the same time can be daunting, but it’s doable. You need to set goals and also priorities.
Your kid may get a scholarship, but there’s no financial aid for retirement. So long-term savings for you and your spouse has to come first. Besides savings, you also need to think about protecting your financial future.
Hughes suggests starting the conversation with: “We’re going to be alive and kicking for years, but let’s make sure we’re prepared for surprises.”
It’s time to discuss the “what ifs.” Draft a will. Make sure you have guardians for your kids. Buy life insurance.
“When the financial and legal side of a relationship is taken care of and everyone feels secure, there’s a lot less stress in the relationship and a much greater sense of trust,” says Michael Kresh, a certified financial planner in Islandia, New York.
Empty Nesters: When do I want to retire? What will we do when we get there?
Your duet may have been on mute for a while, but now the volume is on strong. It’s just the two of you again.
What do you want to do in retirement? Buy a condo in Florida or travel the world. Spend time visiting the grandkids or start your own business, or do it all. How much money will you need to have saved to do it? Will you retire at 65 or work into your 70s?
You can check out various retirement calculators to see where you stand. Ideally, you have been saving and investing for years though it’s never too late to start. Sit down with a financial advisor, accountant and an estate attorney to make sure you’re on the right track with retirement savings, insurance and tax planning, as well as wills and trusts.
Kresh suggests buying long term care insurance before you turn 55, so that you’re both protected in the likelihood that one of you becomes seriously ill. You also can be a little selfish. You’ve worked hard. You deserve it. You’ve spent nearly two decades focusing on your spouse and your family.
Still, make sure you’re both still on the same page. A monthly “money date” where you touch base on where you stand financially, over a bottle of wine or before a good movie, might be a way to keep romance and finance at the forefront of your marriage.
Editor's Note: CNBC correspondent Sharon Epperson is the author of “The Big Payoff: 8 Steps Couples Can Take To Make The Most of Their Money – And Live Richly Ever After” (Collins).