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The new way to talk about money with your partner in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic

A couple at home on their couch.
Twenty20

When talking about money with your partner during tough financial times — such as the current economic downturn that is the result of the coronavirus pandemic — there's a good chance that your conversation may go differently than it normally would.

"Talking about money is difficult for many people even in normal circumstances," Marcy Keckler, vice president of financial advice strategy at Ameriprise Financial, tells CNBC Make It. "During periods of uncertainty, couples may be dealing with stress that could make a difficult conversation even more challenging."

You may need to adjust how you and your significant other approach financial discussions. CNBC Make It spoke to seven experts about how to talk about money, which topics to cover and how often to check in with one another during these difficult times. 

Be extra sensitive to your partner's feelings

During periods of economic uncertainty, people are bound to feel more anxious about their finances. "It's important to listen to and acknowledge your partner's fears and communicate openly," says Lauren Anastasio, a certified financial planner at online personal finance company SoFi. 

Having a money talk mid-pandemic is a good idea "when approached in the right way," says Monica Dwyer, an Ohio-based certified financial planner. You want to "make sure you are on the same side of the table, and not attacking or criticizing the other person."

Because this is a stressful time, "It's vital that you be kind to one another," Dwyer adds.

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Throughout the discussion, try to think about where your partner is coming from and why. They may be especially worried about an issue that you haven't thought about or aren't particularly stressed over. It's crucial that you listen carefully and genuinely take their concerns into account.

You also shouldn't "be afraid to talk about how you feel," says Kumiko Love, founder of The Budget Mom. This is a time for "both partners to explain how they feel about their financial situation."

"Don't be afraid to share your own feelings with your partner, especially if you share the same worries and fears," Love says. "This will reassure them that they are not alone. It's important that difficult times bring you closer as a couple, rather than drive you apart." 

Adjust your finances as needed

In addition to making sure you both feel heard, you should take stock of how your finances look now. You want to be as prepared as possible for the potential ways the pandemic could affect your financial situation. Making changes now can help you protect yourself.

Here are five steps experts recommend taking. 

1. Create an emergency fund

Do you have any money set aside for a rainy day? If you're worried about finances, establishing an emergency fund should be your first step. Typically, experts say to have three to six months' worth of living expenses saved up in case of a dire situation, such as a job loss or medical emergency. If you don't already have any emergency savings established, start contributing whatever you can on a weekly or bi-weekly basis, Keckler says.

2. Discuss job security

Since much of the U.S. is under shelter-in-place orders, millions of Americans have filed for unemployment. If you and/or your partner fear you may be laid off or that your income may decrease, talk about it now. Consider "which steps you can take right now to prepare for the future," Love says.

If you or your partner were to lose your job, would one of you be willing and able to cover the other's bills until they began earning income again? Would either of you qualify for unemployment insurance? How long would your cash savings last? 

3. Review your budget

Does your budget still make sense for your current situation? If not, you might need to adjust it. And if you don't already have a budget, now is the time to create one, says Howard Dvorkin, a certified public accountant and the chairman of Debt.com. "Now that you're sheltering in place, you have time to involve the whole family in figuring out how much is coming in and where it needs to go," Dvorkin says.

When reviewing your budget together, look over a month-long period and see what you're spending versus how much you're earning, says Love. From this analysis, you should be able to identify how you're using your money and where you can cut back.

"You can't save money if you don't know how you're spending your money," Dvorkin says.

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4. Reassess your goals

During this trying time, "it may be necessary to reassess your financial goals," Keckler says. Aspirations that may have seemed like a priority just a few months ago may need to be put on hold.

Saving up for a vacation or buying an expensive new car, for instance, may not qualify as a necessity if either you or your significant other are out of a job or get sick in the near future.

"Any setbacks experienced during this period — whether job- or health-related — could disrupt your current financial goals if you don't take the appropriate action to navigate the hurdles," Keckler says.

Reestablishing your goals will allow you to divert money into things like setting up an emergency fund.

5. Check on your IRA, 401(k) and other investment accounts

As the market continues to face ups and downs, don't panic and sell off your investments right away. "It can be stressful to see your hard-earned savings take a dip. But if you sell your investments when markets fall, you might lock in losses, which may be hard to recover from later," Keckler says.

Still, it's a good idea to check on your accounts, especially if you will need access to that money soon, says Kristin O'Keeffe Merrick, a financial advisor at O'Keeffe Financial Partners. If you expect to retire soon or are planning to use those investments for another goal, it's important to "understand how much the investments have pulled back," O'Keeffe Merrick says. 

But even if you are planning to retire soon, don't make any impulsive decisions. Now is a good time to check in with a certified financial planner or other qualified financial professional and evaluate your accounts together. They can help you determine if you need to reallocate your portfolio or liquidate any investments. 

Schedule frequent check-ins

Don't let the discussion end here. Schedule regular meetings over the coming weeks and months to chat about how you're doing financially as a couple.

Normally, "assuming you have a plan in place and most of your finances are automated, checking in once a year on financial goals and priorities is perfectly adequate," says Priya Malani, founder and CEO of Stash Wealth.

However, during a time when the economy is consistently up and down, it's smart to check in more often. Because we are in the middle of a pandemic, "bi-monthly, weekly or even more frequent check-ins may make sense in certain cases," Malani says.

These chats can serve as checkpoints that allow you to reevaluate how you can save more and cut back on spending if needed, Malani says. "In the beginning, you might feel comfortable keeping Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video and AppleTV, but as time goes on, you might want to get more aggressive with cutting." 

Check out: The best credit cards of 2020 could earn you over $1,000 in 5 years

Don't miss: These smart money strategies helped a millennial couple buy their first home for $599,000

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