When my husband and I were engaged, my religion dictated that we had to attend “pre-cana” classes designed to prepare couples for marriage and ferret out those who were on shaky ground. All I remember from the experience was ducking out early for more compelling dinner plans and wondering what qualified priests to dispense relationship advice.
Now happily married nearly 30 years, I know that the guidance engaged couples need most is how to share and manage money. It’s tricky when there is only one breadwinner—and even trickier when there are two. When one spouse earns more than the other, or when one spouse is out of the workforce, the money conversations can be emotionally charged and psychologically complex.
In my coaching practice, as I talk to women who have been out of the workforce for many years, I’m surprised to learn again and again that in many households it’s still 1952. Even some of the smartest working and non-working women (many who hold finance degrees) let their husbands manage all the finances—and essentially call the shots on the money that will be saved, invested and spent. I can only hope that all the talk of younger couples sharing more of the household and parenting burden means that they are sharing a money partnership, too.
It’s not easy. We all enter a marriage with deeply embedded feelings and values about how money should be handled. Power struggles over money, miscommunications, mistrust and financial goals that don’t align are often the catalysts for a broken union. It’s never too late, though, to work on better money trust and communications. Money is a big part of work and life satisfaction—and in a healthy marriage there is a working partnership toward long-term financial security.
After reading my blog post, “Exercise Toward Financial Fitness, Too”, a MetLife professional sent me the company’s “Top 10 Financial Tips for Couples” (reprinted below). This is a terrific list for couples thinking about marriage or those newly married, building careers and integrating their financial lives. Be sure to pass this list on as well to all the young women you know who are starry-eyed with romance and not thinking pragmatically about whether the hot guy they’re seriously dating has compatible money values, experiences and goals.
And even if you’ve celebrated more than a few anniversaries, you’ll still benefit by following the wisdom starting at Tip #4. —KAS
- LEARN ABOUT YOUR PARTNER’S FINANCIAL SITUATION BEFORE COMMITTING TO A LONG-TERM RELATIONSHIP. Talk to them about their credit score, debt and how you will handle larger financial issues as a couple.
- ADOPT THE “YOURS, MINE, AND OURS” APPROACH TO JOINT ACCOUNTS.. Set up a joint account to manage your money collaboratively, with monthly payments directed to individual accounts that allow each person to spend some money as they choose.
- DETERMINE WHO WILL BE RESPONSIBLE FOR PAYING BILLS, balancing the checking account, and researching large purchases, based on each of your talents and needs. It’s okay to make changes as you go along if one person becomes too busy or isn’t doing a good job.
- ESTABLISH SHARED FINANCIAL GOALS FOR BOTH THE SHORT AND LONG-TERM, and how you will work together as a couple to achieve them. If you need to, seek the advice of a financial professional to help you set your priorities.
- CREATE A BUDGET THAT ALLOWS YOU TO TRACK HOW YOU SPEND MONEY AS A COUPLE and reflects your individual spending habits. Don’t use the budget to force your own habits onto your partner or to blame your partner for spending too much.
- WORK TOGETHER TO PAY OFF EXISTING DEBT, AND UNDERSTAND THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN GOOD AND BAD DEBT. Be careful that you don’t take on too much debt, good or bad, as too much of either kind still hurts your financial security.
- DISCUSS YOUR INDIVIDUAL LEVELS OF RISK TOLERANCE AND IDENTIFY A LEVEL THAT YOU ARE BOTH COMFORTABLE WITH. Make sure to take the time horizon for your investments into account.
- AVOID KEEPING FINANCIAL SECRETS FROM YOUR PARTNER, which can create feelings of distrust and betrayal. Honest and open communication about financial matters is best.
- BE A TEAM PLAYER. If you and your partner earn different salaries, don’t point out your partner’s lack of income or brag about your paycheck. Look at other contributions the lower-earning partner makes to the household.
- CARVE OUT A DEDICATED TIME TO HAVE SPECIFIC DISCUSSIONS ABOUT YOUR FINANCIAL SITUATION and how to improve it at least four times a year.
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