Maintaining a successful long-term relationship, and continuing to thrive over the long haul, is a team effort. Both partners have to be all in, both emotionally and logistically. This goes beyond divvying up household duties and co-parenting: one responsibility that's easy to forget about is balancing love and money by managing your joint finances.
There is no ‘best way’ for couples to manage their money—it depends on what works for you and your significant other. Some may feel most comfortable merging all their funds into joint checking and savings accounts, while others prefer the autonomy of separate debit and credit cards. The truth is that both approaches can work, but no matter the option you choose to use, some financial details are indeed intertwined when you're a married couple.
Commingling Your Credit
When newlyweds say "I do," they're uniting more than just their families; their debt also comes under one new umbrella. In other words, your credit score no longer stands alone. Whether you're applying for a mortgage, an auto loan or any other type of financing, lenders will look at your overall financial health, which includes your spouse's credit score. Having the money talk with your partner doesn't have to be complicated. If you haven't already done so, sit down together and put your credit history and current debts on the table. This way you're both on the same page. And if there's any credit repair to be done, you can make a plan for tackling it together.
Learning to Budget Together
An effective budget is really nothing more than a financial game plan that both partners create together. Lead with laying out your joint income, followed by the monthly expenses you have both together and separately. For instance, your mortgage or rent payment would be a joint expense, while your weekly happy hour date with your best friend may be considered an individual spend.
Once you see everything in black and white, communicate openly and honestly to come up with a monthly budgeting plan that works best for the two of you. Some couples may prefer separate checking accounts but joint savings accounts; or you might like the idea of using your spouse's income to cover housing expenses while directing yours to a checking account designated for other bills. At the end of the day, the best option is up to you, but the point is that ironing out the details should be a joint activity—not something that one partner decides and then dictates to the other. Financial knowledge is the foundation of financial empowerment, so no one should be in the dark here.
Planning for the Future as a Team
Equally managing your money also comes down to talking openly about your individual financial goals. Your spouse may be dreaming of traveling the world after retirement, or maybe you've both got your sights set on saving a down payment for a new home. Communicate freely about your big-picture dreams, then strategize as a team about how you'll get there. Building a reliable nest egg that will see you both through retirement doesn't happen overnight. Instead, it requires getting on the same page as your partner early on so that you can begin taking steps to get there—and, hopefully with as little stress as possible.
Whether it's coming up with an investment strategy, a debt payoff plan or a monthly budgeting approach, the most important thing is that you are doing it together. If one partner doesn't have a strong foothold in their finances, what will happen if he or she comes up against an unexpected death or divorce down the road? In the blink of an eye, they may be left to manage their finances on their own.
If making an effective plan feels like tricky terrain, a CFP® professional can help you and your partner clarify your goals and get on the right track together. Communication is key. From there, it's about managing your money as a team.
“Till death do us part” has now been replaced with “till debt do us part.” Therapists, divorce lawyers and financial professionals often cite money issues as a main contributor to the demise of a marriage. But it doesn’t have to be the case.
While everyone’s situation is different, there are some common financial issues that can derail a relationship.
1. Opposing values
If one partner wants to acquire a lot of possessions or live a certain lifestyle—expensive cars, the latest fashions, luxurious vacations and regular visits to the top restaurants—and the other partner prefers a more toned-down existence, then there may be areas of conflict. It doesn’t matter how much net worth you have—materialism can decrease happiness.
Researchers at Brigham Young University and William Patterson University found in a study that in one in five of 1,734 couples, both partners admitted a strong love of materialistic things. While these couples had financial means, money was often a bigger source of conflict for them. Not surprisingly, these couples were rated at the bottom of the survey’s happiness scale.
2. Not seeing eye-to-eye about money
This differs from values, as it’s more of a day-to-day allocation of funds. According to experts, foolishly spending money is the number-one financial cause for divorce. Of course, “foolish” is a matter of opinion.
Some spouses may want to save to meet goals such as paying for college, buying a second home or investing in a business. While others believe that spending money on hobbies such as gambling, restoring cars or remodeling homes is a good way to relax or to increase income. The take-away is to decide what amount of money you, as a couple, are comfortable allocating toward discretionary spending.
3. Maintaining traditional relationship roles
Gone are the days when women turned the earnings and financial planning responsibilities over to their partners. Many women earn more than their husbands; some wives—or husbands—choose to delay an income to care for their children.
The bottom line: Someone in the household is usually more predisposed to managing financial matters—and if no one is, consider working with a Certified Financial Planner. There are also many online tools you can use to help keep track of your finances.
4. Having different money philosophies
Often in a marriage, one is a spender and the other is a saver. It’s not a deal breaker, but these differences can cause tension in a relationship. It is not uncommon to see financial opposites gravitate toward each other.
Recognizing this and consulting a neutral third party can help alleviate tensions. Perhaps it means allocating a certain amount for the spender to have each month and an amount that the saver feels comfortable with, as well as a common fund that the couple contributes to that meets mutual goals.
5. Neglecting to plan
As John Lennon said, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” Things happen—and sometimes you look back and wonder where the years went.
Marriage, kids, houses, businesses, caring for loved ones, health issues—no one is immune from life’s challenges. Which means having a plan as a couple—from the day you say “I do” is key. If you have significant assets, consider a prenup from the start. If you forgo a prenup, consult with a financial planner to develop a roadmap for moving forward.
Money is a difficult subject for most people. Combining funds, philosophies, and spending and savings habits can add to the pressure. Whether you’ve been married for decades—or are simply contemplating marriage—consider professional advice about how to make a financial plan that you both can agree upon. Talk to us today about how to develop a personalized financial plan that meets your mutual goals.
Getting married again—time for a fresh start with a new life partner. There are so many opportunities ahead.
You have many considerations to think about to help give your new marriage the best chance of success—while also protecting yourself in the event of an unhappy ending.
Whether your previous marriage ended amicably or with fireworks, you’ve learned some lessons along the way. There are ways to help make sure things go better this time—at least when it comes to your finances.
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