As Valentine’s Day nears, we are reminded to honor those that we love most in our lives. You know that sharing your life with your significant other can bring tremendous satisfaction. The sad reality, however, is that isn’t always the case.
You know as well as I do that money and love have a difficult time mixing together. After all, we’ve all heard that money is the number one cause of divorce.
The truth is that love and money can be two of the most rewarding parts of life if you learn how to handle them correctly.
I have been happily married for almost 11 years and while my wife and I have had some serious knock-down, drag-out fights about our collective money decisions, we have gotten a lot better at working together towards common financial goals rather than on opposite sides of the fence.
Here are three key areas that you need to address if you have any hope of keeping your marriage and money in harmony:
- Establish a baseline for the way you and your spouse think about money
- Constant communicate with the goal of mutual understanding regarding finances
- Include you and your spouse in all aspect of money management
Establishing a Baseline
It’s interesting to think about all the things that we find out about our future partner before we make the decision to spend the rest of our lives with them.
We find out about their family goals, how many kids they want to have, what they believe about a high power, what they want to do professionally. Most of the time we meet their family and get to know them. We know how they handle pressure, we know who their friends are, and what they like to do for fun.
But most of us have no idea how they think about money and wealth. Can you really say that you’ve had this discussion with your spouse?
People are very emotional about money. And, when emotions get involved we make very irrational decisions. I do it, you do it, and your wife or husband does it.
That’s why it’s so frustrating when they make a decision that is different from the way we might make one. If it was purely rational, you wouldn’t freak out and your spouse wouldn’t make a dumb decision in the first place. We all know that’s not the case.
So how do you know what your spouse thinks about money. Just ask!
Here’s a couple of questions you may want to know:
- What do you think about money?
- How do you feel about being wealthy?
- Here’s a big one: Do you have any debt? What’s your strategy to pay it off?
- How do you feel about investing in the stock market?
- Do you save/invest? What percentage of money do you think people should invest?
- How are your parents with money?
- What kind of discussions did you have about money when you were growing up?
- What kind of things do you like to spend money on?
It’s natural that you’re going to disagree on some of these questions. It doesn’t mean things won’t work out. It just means that now you understand each other and you can come up with some creative solutions to make sure that both of you are being heard and your money concerns are being addressed.
The next thing that I want to talk about is how to address your money as a couple. Money management can be a frustrating experience when handling it on your own let alone working together with your spouse to make sure ends meet and all your financial goals are being accomplished.
Let’s face it, you can think of a thousand other things you’d rather do than discuss money with your spouse. The reality, however, is that avoiding these kinds of conversations can lead to frustration, resentment and, even divorce.
The first thing that you should do to keep your money and marriage in harmony is to have the conversation in the first place. I know for my wife and I, each week when we get together to talk about money, we tend to have an easier time managing it throughout the week.
The challenge for us isn’t having the conversation. It’s having the conversation consistently. Any couple can get together one or twice but in order to have real progress you’ve got to do it week in and week out.
The first conversation you should have should be about setting financial goals. Together, it’s your goals that will lay the foundation for success with your finances. Do you want to pay off debt, purchase a new home, or fund retirement?
Knowing what your partner wants is important but knowing why is even more so. You may think that you understand your spouse, especially if you’ve been married for years but money is tricky. It can bring up hidden emotions and behaviors that were learned long before you ever fell in love. Make sure that you are on the same page, be willing to compromise when there is a difference, and continually have conversations about goals and priorities.
Remember, this conversation is not a one-time thing as life has a way of changing. You should make it a goal to have this discussion at least monthly. My wife and I talk about money every week (Monday night when the kids go to bed).
If you do decide to employ the services of a financial professional, make sure you both get along with the planner and both partners need to be included in the decision making process.
One of the most important things that we do in this Monday money meeting is to talk about our cash flow for the week.
There are so many moving parts to a successful financial strategy but, ultimately, nothing can happen without cash flow. Here are some items to consider when holding you monthly money conversation:
- What income is coming to the household this month (especially important if your income fluctuates)?
- What expenses are going out this month?
- Are there any unusual expenses such as gifts, car repairs, or other unforeseen expenses?
- What should be done with the discretionary money (debt elimination, savings, vacation, etc.)?
- How are we going to track income/expenses this month?
Again, just as important as it is to hold your monthly meeting, you must have it consistently and be willing to compromise in order of fairness.
One of the most important things about handling your finances is that you must do it together. I get that it’s really easy to have your spouse do it all or for you to just take care of it but, in a minute, I’ll explain why I think that it’s important that you are both involved at least to some degree.
As tempting as it may to take on the money management decisions alone or pawn them all off on your partner, it must be done together. That doesn’t mean that it will divided equally in terms of time, but each partner should have some say and role in the decisions. It is likely that one partner may pay the bills and the other balance the books. Finding the correct combination is important but won’t be discovered over night. Each of you has a unique set of talents, characteristics, and strengths. Use them to find what works. In our marriage, I tend to be the one who enjoys organizing and keeping the budget straight (surprise, surprise) while my wife typically handles the payments of our expenses. Take time to figure out how it will work best for you.
Just remember that the key to success is teamwork. Both you and your spouse need to understand each other’s goals, where the money is coming from and where it is going and have a commitment to each other to working together.
In my experience, I’ve seen this done through a schedule of consistent discussions and a mutual agreement towards helping each other achieve their vision of success. I know that it isn’t always the most enjoyable topic to discuss but it will pay huge dividends in the future.
Both Spouses Must Participate
I’ve seen countless examples of husbands or wives who just lost a loved one and have no idea how to handle the financial affairs let alone all the other things that they need to worry about.
Make sure that you’re keeping good records and that you both know where to find them. Make sure that you both go to meetings with your financial advisor, attorney, CPA, insurance agent, and all the other advisors that you might have.
There are so many important financial documents and items that you will need to have. Here are a couple.
- Life insurance policies
- Quarterly investment statements
- Contact information for all your advisors
- Previous tax returns and
There are some considerations to think about as your planning your money and financial plans with your significant other.
We talked about what questions to ask a potential spouse or your current spouse if you’re already married, we talked about what things you should be talking about in a money meeting (again you should be holding those weekly), and we talked about what to take into consideration for when you or your spouse does pass away and you’re left or he/or she is left with making the financial decisions.
With all the uncertainties that life can throw at us, I believe that money doesn’t have to be one of those things that created resentment and frustration in our marriages. In fact, if handled correctly, money should act as the catalyst for all that you planned on creating together (family, vacations, memories). With a little teamwork and consistent effort, you can make your money and marriage work together!