Couples and Money: Selecting a Financial Strategy for Your Household
How to Have Open, Constructive Conversations with Your Spouse or PartnerKathy Longo, CFP®, CAP®, CDFA® Wednesday, 13 July 2022
Money is a very personal topic, isn’t it? That’s what makes determining the right financial strategies for couples a challenge. Each of us has our own unique behaviors and attitudes around money – a mix of our upbringing, our experiences, and our current situations. All of this makes merging finances as a couple a complicated – and sometimes downright awkward – subject. Many couples struggle to determine how to effectively blend this portion of their lives. The truth about couples and money, though, is that there’s no one-size-fits-all strategy.
Below, I’ll explain how to get started in determining the best option for you and your spouse or partner and provide tips to help you successfully navigate the process.
Where to Begin
First, you need to understand what each of you value and prioritize when it comes to your finances. From there, you’ll be able to learn where you and your partner are similar and where you differ so that you can identify any issues that may come up down the road – and put a plan in place before those problems arise.
As you’re having these conversations with your partner, remember that just because you make one decision today, that doesn’t mean you need to maintain that choice throughout your relationship. For instance, if you’re both currently working, you may decide that keeping your finances separate is what works best. However, you may decide to change direction should one of you leave the workforce to, say, focus on raising children or pursuing a different passion.
What’s important is that you’re open and honest with one another and you focus on finding the option that works best for your unique relationship. There are a variety of factors to keep in mind as you and your partner decide what financial strategy is best for you.
Maintain Clear and Open Communication
The best way to enter a conversation about finances is to practice full transparency. Having a clear understanding of one another’s financial lives is the first step in overcoming any sort of income inequality that may be present in the relationship. It’s okay if one of you isn’t as financially stable as the other or doesn’t make as much money. In fact, chances are you’ll be in different places financially. Being able to have open and honest conversations about where you are, your short- and long-term financial goals, and what you expect from one another is crucial to making joint financial decisions successfully.
The best way to determine the right financial strategy as a couple is to sit down and talk openly about your finances when you’ve both had time to prepare for the conversation. Scheduling the conversation ahead of time provides the opportunity to prepare and gather any questions or goals that you want to bring to the table. Keep in mind that this won’t be a one-and-done type of conversation. Rather, it is a topic you’ll want to revisit semi-regularly so that you can assess your financial wellness as a couple and discuss any changes in goals or challenges that you’re facing.
Most importantly, set an intention to approach these conversations with honesty and respect. It should feel like a safe space for both of you. Even if one partner is uninterested in managing the finances, it’s important that you’re both knowledgeable about how your assets and debts are being handled, as well as what is expected from each of you to avoid serious disagreements in the future.
Determine What Challenges You May Face
Even if you and your partner share a lot of similarities, it’s likely there will be certain topics that you see differently. You’re both different people with different backgrounds and experiences, so you’ll each have your own unique money story that involves different money attitudes and values. That’s okay! Try to frame these differences as a source of strength rather than as a problem you must tackle. Ideally, each of you will feel positive about the outcome of your conversations, which is just as important as the money itself.
Conflicts are a part of any relationship, of course, and conflicts about money are incredibly common. In fact, research shows that money is consistently a significant issue in short- and long-term relationships. So much so that one in five couples reported money as their biggest relationship challenge.
When approaching differences or contention in your money conversations and decisions, stop and check-in with each other. Some money topics can be sensitive for people, so you’ll want to be sure that both partners are feeling listened to, free of judgment. Above all, it’s important to remember that this isn’t a “you versus your partner” situation but rather a team effort in determining what works for you.
Don’t Shy Away from Talking About Your Debts
Many people battle with debt, so it’s to be expected that both you and your partner are each bringing your own debt “baggage” to the relationship. While this might not be as important to address if you’re not married, it’s still wise to be aware of the debts each person has if you’re going to merge finances even partially. If you’re married, then it’s important to understand that in many states both spouses are equally responsible for any debts that are acquired during the marriage, even if you’re not the one responsible. As with any money topic, being clear about where you both stand will empower you to make the best financial decisions for your situation moving forward.
Establish Money Rules and Roles
Setting clear expectations is a smart way to minimize any miscommunication or conflict that you and your partner may face. This might mean setting a spending limit where you both agree that any purchase above a certain dollar amount needs a conversation first. Or, if you’re living together, perhaps this means delineating who will be responsible for paying certain bills. It could even be as simple as having a meeting at the beginning of each month where you discuss your budget, who is handling which financial responsibilities that month, and any progress you’ve made towards any joint financial goals.
Final Thoughts on Financial Strategies for Couples
Relationships can be complicated in their own right, and so can money matters. Remember that open communication is key for any successful and fulfilling relationship and that discussing finances together can be a valuable opportunity to strengthen your relationship. So, be open with your partner and share your attitudes and values surrounding money, your current and full financial situation, your long-term financial goals, and what options make you the most comfortable. Then, ask them to share the same with you.
If you’re nervous about beginning these conversations or unsure how to go about having them, it may be beneficial to work with a third party to help facilitate the discussion. Finding a financial advisor that you both trust can help ensure that you’re making the most of your conversations.
At Flourish Wealth Management, my team understands the challenges surrounding money and relationships. We work closely with our clients to encourage and facilitate better, more productive conversations about personal finances. If you feel that you and your partner would benefit from a conversation with one of our advisors, contact us today to schedule an initial conversation. We look forward to hearing from you!
About the Author
Kathy Longo brings over 25 years of expertise and experience to Flourish Wealth Management. Kathy is wholly dedicated to improving the life of each client and finds joy in making complex matters simple and easy to understand. She excels at asking the right questions, uncovering new possibilities and implementing the most advantageous strategies for success. Playing such a pivotal role in her clients’ lives remains an honor and a privilege. After earning a degree in Financial Planning and Counseling from Purdue University, she began her career at a small firm in Palatine, Illinois where she worked directly with clients while learning to build a viable, client-centric business. Over the years, she gained extensive knowledge and wisdom working as a wealth manager, financial planner, firm manager and business owner at notable, various sized companies in both Chicago and Minneapolis.