"It usually ends in some kind of blow up," says Self, realtor and cofounder of the popular website Smart Cookies. In her case, she says she used to be clueless about money matters, happily letting her partner take the lead.
"When we first moved in together, we decided to combine our finances," she recalls. "He loved doing it and he was a very logical, rational thinker, so over time he just had more and more control over the money."
But it didn't take long for Self to realize that she needed to be more involved: "My rock-bottom moment was when I went to make a purchase and my debit card was declined." When she called her partner, he casually explained that, without giving her the heads-up, he had moved money from one account to another. "It was a wake-up call. I really had no idea what was going on in my own financial picture. I was making money and contributing but I had no clue what was happening."
Getting serious with your romantic partner often means a lot of change: moving in together, dividing household chores and working together to manage money and long-term financial goals. To help avoid potential money fights, Self suggests the following:
1. Learn to talk about money
"Often, couples wait too long to have a conversation about money, and that's where things tend to break down," Self says. Whether or not you have a successful first conversation depends on how you approach it.
"Many conversations about money start as a result of some kind of a stressful situation," she says. "Someone has lost a job, made a big purchase their spouse thinks is irrational, or is caught doing something he or she shouldn't have been doing." But Self warns that a more successful conversation will start from a "positive place."
"Start by discussing a savings goal such as taking a trip, renovating the kitchen or saving for your child's education. You need to decide what it is you hope to achieve, and then look at your financial picture together to see when and how you can get there."
2. Figure out who's the spender and who's the saver
There are many different money personalities, and the best way to jointly manage money is to ensure that you each have a good understanding of where your spouse is coming from.
"There are advantages to being the spender, and there are advantages to being the saver," says Self, adding that many people are attracted to their financial opposite. "You don't need to be matched with someone who is similar to you, but you need to recognize what you each do well and what your weaknesses are."
For example, Self says if you are a spender, you may be tasked with doing the main shopping for the family and locating the best deals. If you're a saver, your job might be to research the best financial services accounts and create a budget for big expenses.
3. Decide what to join and what to split
To maintain financial independence and ensure you're always protected, Self recommends having your own bank account and credit card. That said, a joint account can be helpful in developing a strategy for sharing expenses.
One technique can be for each partner to contribute an equal percentage of what they make into a joint account that's used for paying for household expenses. Whatever each has left over, they can spend (or save) however they wish.
4. Educate yourself
Take the time to educate yourself on smart money management by reading financial blogs and seeking the professional guidance of a qualified financial advisor. The more you know the better.
"Your mindset shifts from being afraid and hiding your head in the sand, to feeling comfortable and confident asking questions," says Self. "It's not that daunting once you actually get into it. In fact, it can be exciting to watch your savings grow."
5. Budget with a goal
Once you and your partner are on the same page, making a budget and sticking to it is the next big step.
"Cutting out unnecessary expenses is all about putting things in perspective," says Self. "It's not about deprivation. It's about focusing on what you want and creating the strategies to get there."