Once you are on the same page as a couple, it’s important to open up the books and make all of your future financial decisions together. After you’re married there is no more yours and mine. There is only ours.
Congratulations. You’re officially a couple. Whether you’re planning for a wedding, or newly married, life is about to be a whole lot different. FOR-EV-ER.
We know that opposites attract. For whatever reason we seem predestined to spend eternity with our financial opposite.
It’s like a law of nature.
Spenders marry savers. Risk seekers marry cash hoarders. Worriers marry the more easy going. The list goes on.
Have you had a discussion with your partner about your finances yet? There are a lot of things to consider as you start your new life together.
Decisions like whether to combine your accounts and who will pay the bills are important things to address. Preferably before you tie the knot.
It’s important that we learn about our significant others’ finances as things get serious. Not talking about our money differences early in our relationships can have lasting consequences.
According to a Kansas State University study, Researcher Sonya Britt concluded that “Arguments about money is by far the top predictor of divorce… If the money is not being treated fairly in the household, then the relationship satisfaction is going to be lower.”
The stakes are high, especially when just starting out together.
Our attitudes about things like saving vs. spending or what financial freedom might look like in the future are shaped by our previous experiences.
As couples, we often come from different economic backgrounds and learn different things about handling money from our families.
Such stories have been romanticized by Hollywood movies. You know the ones. Where the rich girl and the poor (but nice) guy live happily ever after. Or the poor girl marries her prince.
This theme is familiar and relatable to many of us. But living this out IRL can cause a great deal of stress and anxiety in our relationships.
Especially when we suddenly find ourselves paired up with someone whose views may differ from our own.
Getting Financially Naked
Let’s be honest, talking about money isn’t nearly as fun or exciting as planning a wedding or being a newlywed.
It might even feel a little bit embarassing.
But if your relationship is going to last, it’s important that you and your other half open up and be honest about your financial pasts.
The most important aspects of handling money as a couple are communication and transparency. Starting off on the right foot by being open about your money history goes a long way towards building trust.
Not to mention that things like debt can be sensitive subjects and not easily discussed. Especially when you’re in a new relationship.
But as things get serious it’s important to consider how past decisions may impact your financial future with your partner.
This will create the opportunity for an honest discussion free of judgment or shame.
Money is Emotional
Money is an emotional subject. And there are increasingly common lifestyle situations that challenge the more traditional money roles in our relationships.
Like when you earn more than your partner does. Or when he chooses to stay home with the kids.
Or your in-laws move in.
Are you willing to put your income towards paying off a partner’s student loans?
Or perhaps become a cosigner to refinance them at a lower interest rate? This may save you both money in the long run.
But it also obligates you legally to repay them if your spouse or partner cannot.
What if your partner has a bad credit history? Is that a deal-breaker?
It’s never too early to discuss about how you both feel about these potential situations.
Without a conversation it’s hard to set clear expectations about what is, and isn’t, acceptable.
After you’re married there is no more yours and mine. There is only ours.
How to Handle Your Finances as a Couple
Once you are on the same page it’s important to open up the books to each other and make all of your future financial decisions together.
It’s a lot to think through but here are some tips to help you get started.
Set Goals Together
Have you ever discussed your goals with your partner? Many haven’t.
But having mutually defined and agreed-upon goals is essential because it will help each of you engage in spending behavior that supports those goals.
When you’re both heading in the same direction and working towards a common goal, the disagreements over money become less frequent.
And it’s a lot more likely you’ll achieve your goals when you are both focused on contributing to the cause.
It’s also easier to hold each other accountable when one of you wants to do something with your money that is out of alignment with your goals.
Sharing financial responsibility is important as well. Often one partner may take a natural lead around managing the day-to-day expenses while the other handles things like long-term investing.
This is fine. But it’s important that the decisions be made together. Even if only one of you is responsible for doing the transactions.
Each of you has your own preferences around how much should be kept in savings or how much investment risk is acceptable.
There are also considerations like adding each other as beneficiaries to retirement and investment accounts and insurance policies. And getting the right legal protections in place or whether to file taxes jointly or separately.
Make sure that you’ve discussed everything and are both comfortable with your strategy before moving forward.
Don’t Keep Secrets
Keeping financial secrets from your significant other can be as damaging to your relationship as having an affair. Among U.S. adults, 42 percent admit to financial infidelity. When financial deceptions occur, 75 percent say there is an effect on the relationship.
Financial Infidelity can be a major source of stress and distrust in a relationship. It can stem from something as innocent as a job loss.
It can also result from impulse spending or when there are control issues around money in the relationship.
If this is happening to you, don’t let the guilt and fear of admitting a mistake to your partner prevent you from coming clean and getting back on track. Deception can lead to other more serious relationship problems down the road.
As a couple, discuss and agree on an amount that you each can spend freely without first consulting one another. Items over that amount should at least be talked about before buying them. According to a MONEY survey, the average number is $154.
But it’s not about pinching pennies or exerting control. It’s about openness, transparency, and communication.
Schedule Money Dates
Schedule a monthly “money date” with your spouse or partner to review the prior month’s spending, savings contributions, balance sheet, and upcoming expenses.
Assign each other roles as to who is responsible for reporting on the information and who tracks it.
Tracking your goals in this meeting is a great idea as well to ensure that you’re both on the same page heading into the next month.
How you choose to do this is not important as long as it’s happening and it’s productive. Pour a glass of wine at home or schedule a dinner at your favorite restaurant and make it a fun part of your routine that you look forward to each month.
Revise and Refine
As you’re working towards your goals it’s important to keep in mind that your situation will change along the way and goals or strategies may need to be revised and refined as you go.
This is to be expected and ongoing communication is key to staying on the same page. Once you start adding kids to the mix, for example, things have a way of changing – a lot.
Working with a trusted financial advisor can help too. Having an objective third-party who can help you talk through issues without taking sides can help you evaluate your situation. And help you make better financial decisions.
Most importantly, remember why you’re together in the first place. Money, after all, is just a tool that we can use to live our lives.
By implementing a few of these tips, you can prevent many of the common money stressors in your relationship and focus on living out your best life – together.
Material discussed is for general informational purposes only and is not to be construed as tax, legal, or investment advice. Although the information has been gathered from sources believed to be reliable, please note that individual solutions can vary. Therefore, the information should be relied upon only when coordinated with individual professional advice. This material contains the current opinions of the author but not necessarily those of Guardian or its subsidiaries and such opinions are subject to change without notice.