Every Singaporean couple can easily tell whether they’re in a serious relationship: It depends on whether they’ve had The Talk. You know the one I’m talking about: The one when the guy takes the girl out to a fancy restaurant, takes her by the hand, stares deeply into her eyes, and asks: “Sooooo… Do you want to apply for BTO in Punggol or Sengkang?” Okayyyyy. Things are getting serious here. But what if, after having The Talk, you found out that your girlfriend wants a $110,000 wedding? Or what if your boyfriend insists that he wants a $1M condo – something you know that you can’t afford? Would you break up with him or her? Are you letting money come between you and your partner? Are you putting a price on love?
The Truth About Money And Relationships
Many of us don’t like to talk about money – especially with those closest to us. For example, does your boyfriend know how much you earn? Does your girlfriend know how much you give your parents every month? Have you both talked about the right time to buy a car? Going over these topics can make us uncomfortable, because we’ve been taught by Hollywood that love should overcome all obstacles. It’s okay if your boyfriend racks up $10,000 in credit card debt every month, because hey, you love him, right? The truth is, money has the power to bring a couple closer together, or tear a relationship apart. For example, check out this story about a Singapore couple who spent $110K on their wedding. To pay for the costs, they racked up credit card bills and borrowed from licensed moneylenders. Their expenses for a single day wrecked havoc on their relationship for years:
Trying to clear the debts has put a strain on the marriage and their relationship, Mr Lee said. “I think we have had more fights since we got married than in the six years that we were dating.”
These fights can escalate into something more serious: 80 percent of divorced couples in their twenties and thirties cited money as the major destructive factor in their marriages. I’m not bringing these stats up to scare you away from marriage – I think it’s awesome that you’re taking your relationship to the next level. But if you really want to make this work, you’ll have to make sure you’re on the same page when it comes to money. Luckily, talking about money doesn’t have to be awkward. If you do this right, it can actually bring a couple closer together. Here’s a step-by-step guide, including the exact words to say, on how to do it:
Step 1: Talk About Your Dreams
Unless you’re a weirdo financial blogger like me, you probably don’t want to start off the conversation with something like: “Okay. Let’s make sure that we channel an additional $20,492 into our savings accounts to take advantage of the additional 0.5% interest rate.” If you’ve never had a serious conversation about money with your partner, it’s probably a good idea to take it slow. Talking about your aspirations is a great place to start. You could say something like:
“Hey, so I was chatting with my colleague today who just bought a house in Tiong Bahru. Great neighbourhood, near the MRT, though slightly more expensive than he expected. That made me think about where WE might want to live in the future, if we get married. I was wondering whether you’ve thought about that before?”
The exact words don’t matter as much as the topics you talk about. Focus on the BIG aspirations – the ones that matter the most to the both of you: What type of house would you like to live in? What would your dream wedding be like? What sort of lifestyle do you see yourself having after getting married? When would you like to retire? Dig deep into the details – get your partner’s thoughts on what that house/wedding/life would actually LOOK like. Remember that it’s not an interview – you’re not there to fire question after question, which can be kinda creepy. Instead, give your own opinions while seeking your partner’s. You could say something like:
“Yes, I think this condo has a fantastic modern design too. In fact, I read this article on Qanvast about how even HDB owners are renovating their houses to make them look like condos on the inside. Do you think that’s something we could consider?”
The goal is to simply understand your partner’s aspirations and to let him or her know about yours. The more details you have, the better. They’ll come in useful for the next step.
Step 2: Research The Costs
Now that you’ve understood your partner’s aspirations, pick 2-3 ones that are the MOST important to the both of you. Then, it’s time to do a bit of homework and estimate their approximate costs. Why is this important? Because anyone can fantasize about their hopes and dreams. But when you put actual NUMBERS to your dreams, it changes the conversation from, “Wow it would be so nice to have that someday….” to “Okay, let’s figure out how to get there together.” Estimating numbers might sound scary, but it’s actually a lot easier than it sounds. For example, there are thousands of articles and resources online to help you estimate the costs for any big life milestone. Here are some:
- How Much Is Needed To Get Married & Start A Family In Singapore?
- How Much Would It Cost To Travel The World?
- The Cost Of Raising A Child In Singapore
- Qanvast’s Renovation Cost Breakdown
- HDB resale prices
- What Is The True Cost Of Owning A Car In Singapore?
- The True Cost Of A Wedding In Singapore
Don’t worry about being too detailed in your estimates. Instead, the goal is to get a ballpark estimate of how much your 2-3 big aspirations might cost. This should take you no longer than 30 mins – 1 hour to research. Then, take your findings to your boyfriend or girlfriend and say something like:
“Hey, so I was thinking about our conversation the other day and how we said we wanted a restaurant wedding. I did some calculations and found that it would cost us around $40,000. I’m not sure if I estimated it right, so I wanted to get your advice. What do you think?”
The intention is not to intimidate your partner with a whole bunch of scary numbers. Instead, it’s to use the numbers as a starting point to get his/her thoughts on the topic. The goal is to get your partner to agree to have a deeper conversation about money at a later date. After looking at the numbers together, you could say something like:
“I know this is just an estimate, but it looks like a wedding with 400 guests might be more expensive than we thought. I know this is important to us, so maybe we can take some time to figure out how we can get there together?”
Re-emphasize that you’re not doing this to criticise each other, but to help you both figure out how to achieve your aspirations together.
Step 3: Talk About Money And Set Short-Term Goals
The big day is here! Block off two hours on the weekend to do this, so that you’re both relaxed and unhurried. Agree to come prepared with your bank/insurance statements, and any other financial commitments you currently have. First, start off by recapping your aspirations. Then, go through your documents together to find out what your financial situation is as a couple. Is it really necessary to bring all these documents? It might seem like a hassle, but I’ve personally I found that it helps tremendously. First, it eliminates the guesswork. You don’t have to say things like “Yeahhh… I THINK I have around $20,000 in my savings account.” A quick glance at your bank statement will tell you exactly how much you have. More importantly, it sets the right tone for your relationship. When you “bare it all”, you’re showing each other that you want to be open and honest with each other – and that will translate into other parts of your relationship. What’s next? The easiest way to start is to set some short-term savings goals. For example, if you estimate that you’ll need $40,000 for your wedding in 2 years, that means you’ll need to save $1,667 per month, or around $833 each. If that sounds too high, make a commitment to put say, $300 each into a joint savings account every month, with the understanding that you’ll increase it later as your salary rises. (By the way, if you want a quick, easy way of saving more efficiently – I also wrote a mini ebook on how to automatically save more every month, without having to change your lifestyle. You can check it out here). That’s pretty much it! The goal here is to get your partner to take action – no matter how small – towards saving and investing for the future. The simple action of actually DOING something will make you both more mindful about money.
Talking about money may seem like a lot of effort – but trust me, it’s worth it. This could be the person you spend the rest of your life with, so why not invest a few days to get it right? The key here is patience. Approach the topic slowly, listen to each other, and focus on your hopes and dreams. This will set the stage for more open conversations in the future. And when you finally pop the question – whether it’s “Will you marry me?” or “Sengkang, or Punggol?” – you’ll both know the answer in advance.
==== Lionel Yeo is a ramen-slurper, bathroom dancer and financial hacker behind cheerfulegg.com, a personal finance blog for young executives. He has been featured on the Sunday Times, Channel News Asia, KISS 92 and more. He also secretly dances in his room. Check out his free guide on How To Start Investing In 3 Days.