If you're like most people, you hate talking about money. It's hard and awkward, and you'd rather bury your face in a cabinet than think about it.
But the thing is, it's important. Understanding your finances and being responsible with money will help you live a better life — a life with less stress and more time for things you do enjoy. Like, say, drinking tempranillo.
To make talking about money a bit easier, we recommend broaching the sometimes uncomfortable topic in the most comfortable place in the house: the kitchen. Sure, bedrooms and living rooms may be comfy too, but you might want to make calculations, jot down notes, or do online research, and those places aren't exactly conducive to those types of activities.
You also might be thinking that money, like religion or politics, is one of those things you're not supposed to discuss over a meal. You're right; we're not suggesting you bring up retirement investments during your anniversary dinner. But we are suggesting you set aside some time to talk about the financial decisions that impact everyone in your household. Don't worry — we've even included suggested snack and beverage pairings to make it a little less painful.
Ready to get started? Here are five money conversations you could (and should!) have around your kitchen table.
1. Moving in Together
Before taking the next step with your boyfriend or girlfriend, it's essential you talk finances first. Money is one of the top sources of stress for couples — so light some candles, eat a nice meal, and have the money talk.
Most experts recommend keeping your finances mostly separate, but creating a joint bank account for household expenses like rent, utilities, and groceries. If you decide to go this route, determine how much each of you will contribute (will it be even? Or based on your income?) and who will be responsible for physically paying the bills. This is also a good time to discuss other topics like credit scores, outstanding debts, and future financial goals.
Recommended pairing: Sparkling wine and cheesecake
2. Creating (and Following) a Budget
Whether you live with your husband, three roommates, or your pet goldfish, Phil, budgeting shouldn't be overlooked. You can't get a grip on your finances without knowing how much is coming in and going out — and where it's going. So use a tool like Mint or You Need a Budget to track your income and spending.
After about a month, plop down at the kitchen table with a beer and take a good, hard look at how you're doing. Are you spending more than you're earning? Are you making monthly contributions to retirement, an emergency fund, and other savings goals? Together with your partner, create a line-by-line budget and then, most importantly, make monthly appointments to review your progress.
Recommended pairing: IPA and crunchy pretzels
3. Planning for Retirement
Thanks to the insane power of compound interest, it's never too early to start investing in your retirement. If you're partnered up, the first step is to determine your joint goals. Do you plan to work for a long time and then travel the world for a few years? Or would you rather retire early and live more modestly? Or do you dream of achieving financial independence?
Next, assess your current investments. Cozy up with your laptop and use an online retirement calculator to see how much you need to meet your goals. Then schedule automatic withdrawals from your checking account to your retirement account so you're investing in your future without thinking about it.
P.S.: Your partner's not the only one you should have this talk with — it's important to make sure your parents have a plan in place, too. (If they don't, help them create one.)
Recommended pairing: Lambrusco and a cheese ball
4. Paying for College
Got kids? Then you've got to have this conversation. When it comes to such an enormous investment, it's essential to clarify expectations. So once your children enter high school, sit down and discuss the financials of their college education.
If you intend to pay for most of it, clearly define your stipulations. Are they limited to certain schools? Do they have to maintain a certain GPA? What if they want to study abroad or take a gap year? On the other hand, if your child must fund their own education, explain their options: financial aid, part- or full-time jobs, or scholarships. Ensure they understand the true cost of college — and the fact that loans will follow them for many years.
Recommended pairing: Buffalo chicken dip and more buffalo chicken dip
5. Saving for Something Big
The above topics are vital, but not exactly exciting. So, if you can, don't forget to also save for something that makes your eyes light up: a stand mixer, a weekend getaway, or your first home. Take some time to sit at your table and dream.
Then add a line to your monthly budget (aside from college, retirement, and emergency funds) that goes towards this goal. Personal finance is a long game, and giving yourself room to dream will help you maintain the stamina you need.
Talking about money doesn't have to be hard. With a bit of preparation — and maybe a side of these cannoli cookies — discussing financial topics can become as much a part of your kitchen table as the meals you serve on it.
Recommended pairing: Zinfandel and boozy chocolate mousse
What money conversations did we miss? Let us know in the comments.