Think Talking About Sex is Hard? Try Talking About Money

Money can be a bone of contention for couples. In a June, 2014 poll, Money Magazine found that seven out of ten couples argue about money. About half argue about frivolous purchases, a third about household budgeting, and about one in four argue about credit card debt, and insufficient savings. Arguments about money, particularly early in a relationship, are a leading indicator of divorce. It may be an understatement to say that getting on the same page about your finances is important. Fortunately, Jeff and I are of the same mind when it comes to money, and that helped tremendously in reaching our goals. Here are some typical problems faced by couples and possible approaches to resolving them.

You want to spend. I want to save. Given that opposites often attract, its no surprise that many couples have differing views on the role of money in their life together. One person believes that money is only as good as what it will buy, while the other believes that the key to security lies in holding on to money. Of course, both are true. Money is a tool to provide you with a comfortable lifestyle, but money also needs to be set aside in order to maintain that lifestyle in the future, when you are not able to earn what you make today. The key to resolving this conflict is for each partner to get some of what they want out of money.

  1. Work together to come up with a savings goal that will objectively meet your needs for a secure financial future. You can start small, if you haven’t been saving much, and grow into your goal over time.
  2. Develop a budget that identifies savings, household expenses, and “play money” for each partner.
  3. Agree together on any expenditures where you plan to take on debt.
  4. Give each partner complete control over how they spend their share of the play money, no questions asked.

You think you’re the boss. In a national survey on strengths of happily married couples, over half of those surveyed indicated there were issues with one partner trying to control the money. I’ve seen this with friends in both successful and unsuccessful relationships. It often occurs when one partner makes most or all of the money. A certain sense of entitlement may come with being the main bread winner. But in order to be happy, everyone needs some control over their decisions, and having an allowance doled out to you can be demeaning. Even being put in the position of being defensive about what you’ve spent is a recipe for conflict. This problem is a stickier situation and may require more structure.

  1. Agree together on savings goals and your budget for household expenses.
  2. Set up separate accounts for savings, household expenses and each partner.
  3. Deposit money into the savings and household expense accounts first, then divide the remaining money equitably and as agreed between the partner accounts.
  4. As in the prior case, agree together on expenditures where you plan to take on debt.
  5. Do not question or check up on how your partner is using their account.

You don’t know, nor do you care. In a recent survey, Fidelity found that 43% of married couples didn’t know what their partner earned at work. In another survey, UBS, a wealth management firm, found that in 56% of couples, one person is the primary decision maker when it comes to savings and investments. It is only natural for couples to divide and conquer when it comes to household responsibilities. Jeff worked in construction management, so he knows about all of the stuff that goes on in the walls and under the house. I worked in investments, so that is my responsibility. However, it is very important that one partner is not left in the dark, and that they have some input on savings and investments. Why? You’re saving for both of your financial futures, so you need to have some agreement on how that will look. In addition, it is a terrible burden for the partner who didn’t participate in the decisions to figure it all out when the financial decision maker is incapacitated or passes away. To keep you both on the same page, set aside time regularly to go over your finances.

  1. At least annually, set aside time to make sure both partners know what accounts you have and how to access them, including user names and passwords.
  2. Use this time to evaluate how you are progressing toward your savings goals. Make it a celebration, there isn’t any reason this has to be drudgery.
  3. Discuss investments together so that you both understand your expectations and the risk that is being taken. It is likely that you have different comfort levels with risk. Make sure you talk these issues through. Having a financial adviser, who can be objective, may be particularly helpful in these discussions.

A successful relationship takes teamwork and communication. Talking about money may be the last thing that couples want to do. For some reason, it seems like it is easier to talk about sex than money in our culture. However, money is central to how we live, and it is vitally important that couples find common ground on how to spend their money both today and for the future.

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