This summer my family had the opportunity to participate in two family weddings. With all the excitement and preparation for the “big day” with two families coming together, it is also important for the couple to prepare a strong foundation for money matters. After all, conflict over money remains one of the top reasons for divorce. Money is never simple, and in my years in the wealth management business I’ve learned that marital discord is never simply about the money. Money certainly provides the opportunity to live a certain lifestyle, but it also creates complications as two people come into a marriage with separate money values and unique family histories around money.
So how can people prepare for success as a couple around money?
Go In With Eyes Wide Open
First, start by gathering your financial history including a summary of your assets, liabilities, income, and spending. It can also be helpful to share a credit report history. I had one friend who was not aware of her spouse’s credit card debt until years into their marriage when she secretly ran his credit report. I am not advocating for going behind a spouse’s back, but this undisclosed debt created tension in the marriage because the debt was a source of stress for her while he was comfortable that the debt would be paid off over the long term.
Be Prepared to Communicate
Start off sharing your history around the money messages you received when you were younger. These messages impact our long-term money values. Examples might include the idea to never spend money before you have it, versus you only live once and that’s what credit is for. Think about gender influences around money and discuss who will be managing the combined finances. Did one person control money decisions in the house where they grew up? It is critical that couples are aware that their money history influences spending and saving decisions today, along with how people communicate about money.
Continue the conversation by sharing both short- and long-term goals, including the financial components of each. Individual money values have a big influence over how they make spending decisions. Having a conversation around goals will create greater insight on alignment around spending decisions as well as clarification on wants versus needs.
Get Some Good Mechanics
Consider how expenses will be treated. Should all expenses be combined and paid from one account or does it make more sense to have a household account and separate accounts for individual expenses? Should household expenses be shared equally, or should there be another method based on one’s share of income? Another good question with surprising answers is to determine how large a purchase can one make without discussing it with your partner in advance. There is no right or wrong answer; it is only important to find a system that works for each couple.
Work together on the finances
Both spouses need to stay involved in financial decisions. As couples get busy, it can be natural to defer most of the decisions to one person, but both spouses need to remain engaged. That includes regular check-in meetings and progress updates toward short- and long-term goals.
After working with couples at many different stages of their life, I have realized that communication truly is the top priority when it comes to money matters. Setting an early precedent with open and honest conversations about money values will pay off over the length of a relationship. It is also crucial to establish a common framework for monetary decisions that allows each partner to share their input. I often work with couples to keep these conversations moving forward with an emphasis on the common goals that have been established. Ideally money can be the means to achieve shared dreams, rather than being a topic of discord.