This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of Navy Federal Credit Union. All opinions are 100% mine. The writer behind the blog Jo, My Gosh!, Navy Veteran spouse, and business owner.
I wasn't going to marry John if he had credit card debt.
That's the truth. I told him that I'd wait for him as long as he needed to pay it off. The credit card debt was manageable; getting rid of it was a tangible way we could start our relationship with one less expense. But we weren't going to get married until it was gone.
Now, I can definitely feel some people rolling their eyes reading that. And maybe there are some choice words being said about something that sounds so harsh. But you know what? It doesn't really matter if you think it was harsh or not.
That's because John and I had extensive conversations about finances in the year we dated before our engagement. We had talked about everything from who pays for which date to how the heck we were going to pay down some insane student loan bills to what his impending deployment meant financially.
So this wasn't an ultimatum or even a one-sided request. It was something that we both wanted to accomplish before we got married. And really, I’m so glad that we had those conversations early and often. That foundation helped us navigate starting our married life as a one-income family (on a very junior enlisted salary!).
It helped us sacrifice and figure out next steps when, in less than a month, we went from having two working cars to having none. It's given us a framework from which to work for each step of our financial journey—from whether we'd rent or buy when we PCSed to how we were going to save to bootstrap our business to strategizing over our next career choices.
Without those first, early conversations, and then the ongoing ones, we wouldn't be on the same page. We'd be working at different goals and ends. Our strategies and our processes would be disjointed.
Yet so many couples struggle to talk about money. Here's the truth: avoiding the money talk does not make it go away. Avoiding the money talk does not make you and your partner magically more financially compatible. Avoiding the money talk does only one thing: put it off for later. And honestly, you don't want to put off something this important.
Talking the Talk
Having a conversation about finances can be really contentious. After all, money—and how we use money—is a personal thing. It says a lot about our lives, how we view the world and what we find important. There can be a lot of guilt, shame, fear and frustration around previous decisions, habits and personal philosophies that are brought into even a casual conversation about money.
Even though it might be uncomfortable, it's important for military couples to stretch themselves and chat about finances frequently, no matter the stage of life or stage of relationship.
Because the military can put serious stress on your finances and your relationship to money.
Just think about it: If you're a married couple, are you a one-income or two-income family? (Is it by choice or because there are no opportunities for the spouse?) What are your financial goals for life after the military? If you're dating, how will you deal with the costs associated with an inevitable long-distance relationship? If you're thinking of marrying, will the military-spouse-to-be need to change their career trajectory? What are the financial implications?
These are just a few questions that couples need to get square on that are specific to the military, not to mention all of the smaller ones—like how you're saving for big purchases, if you'll own a house or rent, who pays for a date, how you deal with student debt, or any of the other myriad topics that spring out of just being a couple together, living life.
Okay, So How Do We Do This?
Getting started is always the hardest when it comes to any serious conversation. But you and your partner are in the driver's seat.
There's no right time to start the convo...but there are wrong times. Don't have the conversation if you're already annoyed with each other or are having a fight. Postpone for another time. Especially for the first conversation, you'll want to set yourselves up for success.
Set time aside with your significant other. Make sure that you don't have to go anywhere or do anything immediately after the conversation. Get comfy. Have a notebook (or two) and something to write with. Create a list of things you want to talk about for that first conversation. Depending on where you are as a couple, it might be figuring out a budget for your wedding or discussing what your money non-negotiables and deal-breakers are.
As you talk, one (or both) can take notes of important things that are said, goals that are made and steps that you both have agreed to. Having notes will help you for the next conversation—it’ll give you a starting point for the next talk. Have you both done what you said you were going to do? Do some ideas need to be reworked?
After your first conversation, you might feel that everything is done and dusted. But is it? (Spoiler alert: it's not!) Before your first talk is over, make sure that you make a plan for when you're going to talk next.
If you've committed to action steps coming out of that first conversation, you need to actually do those things after your first money talk. It's easy to put them off, but doing that can feel like a breach of trust to your partner. If you think you'll have a rough time starting out, go small with your first conversation.
If you're committed to really learning about finances and improving how you and your partner function when it comes to money, there are tons of resources available for couples out there—including military couples—about financial readiness. Take some time to read up (or listen—because there are great podcasts, too!) on them and discuss them together. Make sure to check out Navy Federal Credit Union's MakingCents. When you find points that resonate with both of you, you can commit to using those tactics and mindsets as you continue on your financial journey.
Make talking about finances a common occurrence in your relationship. As you talk more about it in a structured way, you'll get more comfy having informal conversations with your spouse that are not confrontational or accusatory (which can be the only way that some people talk about money at first).
Normalizing conversations about finances—both formal and informal—isn't just good for your bottom line and your relationship. It's great for your kids (if you have them) to experience, internalize and see adults talking about finances in a frank, responsible and knowledgeable way.