Our “for richer or poorer” vows don’t always hold up, sadly.
A 2014 study from the American Psychological Association finds that almost one third of couples believe money to be a major source of conflict in their relationship. And if those differences go unsettled, it’s sometimes a precursor to divorce .
I’m married. And I know that money differences can come in all shapes, sizes and varieties. In the beginnings of our relationship, my husband and I were each – in our own ways – unsure about the implications of me being the higher earner. We both had mixed emotions over it. So, in the best way I knew how, I found a solution – by writing a book. Through a series of interviews with other couples and pouring through tons of research, I began to understand that a) we weren’t alone and b) couples like us with income disparities – and really, couples with any differences related to money – can and do ultimately thrive.
Here’s what I’ve discovered can help couples find common financial ground and create more financial harmony. And if you just got married, I hope this will allow you and your partner to create an even stronger financial foundation in your relationship (oh, and congratulations!)
PS: I’d love to hear your experiences and thoughts on this, as well, in the comments section below.
Lay it All Out
Do you know your partner’s credit score? Or if he or she currently has any debt? According to a new survey by credit-tracking company Experian, 16 percent of newlyweds admit they are hiding a financial account from their spouse. Tim and I had the big money talk before we got married, but it’s a conversation that’s never too late to have. Sit down with your partner and – at minimum — share basics like credit scores, debt levels, savings, income and what your goals are – personal, professional and financial. While you may have different financial habits, it’s more important for your goals to line up. Establishing goals will give the money in your relationship more meaning and purpose and, you’ll be more likely to agree to financial changes and trade-offs.
Have 3 accounts: Yours, Mine and Ours
Just because you’re getting married doesn’t mean you suddenly need to pool your finances into one big pot. Actually, I advocate for the opposite. My husband and I have a joint account, but we also still have our own separate bank accounts. It’s important for each person to feel financially autonomous in the relationship, that there is a freedom to spend without always having to ask for permission. It reduces squabbles and financial “infidelity” (i.e. hiding purchases or money moves from your spouse.) If Tim or I want to go out and buy the latest iPhone or treat ourselves to a massage our personal funds let us do that – guilt free!
Keep Lines of Communication Open
A new survey by Harris for Nerdwallet finds that couples don’t communicate well over financial issues in their relationship – in particular, retirement. Of the couples that say that their partner is saving for retirement, only about one in five say they know how much their partner contributes or know the overall value of the account. To keep the lines of communication open, set a weekly or monthly money date with your partner. Certified Financial Planner Brittney Castro explains on my podcast, “It’s a time where you can check in with your money and bring in that fun and excitement energy of a date…But, by looking at your money every week and tracking where it’s coming from and where it’s going, it just brings this whole new level of awareness.”
Designate a CFO
Major companies appoint chief financial officers to oversee their finances and determine financial risks…but how about having one for your family? Douglas McCormick, author of the new book Family Inc., suggests electing a member of the family to this role. Who best to serve? “There aren’t any set rules…It’s more about who has the time and aptitude,” McCormick tells me. The family CFO is there to help figure out what the important life decisions are that will impact your family’s financial security so that you can then make the decisions together as a family. And I think it’s worth letting the non-CFO spouse shadow the work from time to time or take over for a few weeks or month. You never know when the other partner may need to suddenly step in. It’s best both of you always feel prepared and ready to pay bills and access accounts.
Agree to a Spending Threshold
It helps to sometimes have an understanding with your spouse about spending limits. Family purchases that come out of the joint account that amount to more than a certain price – say $150 or $200 or so – may warrant a check-in with one another via phone, text or in-person. “Hey, I’m loving this new coffee maker at Target. It’s $170 and here’s the link to learn more. What do you think?” It may seem inconsequential to NOT discuss such things with one another, but in some marriages, staying mum about big ticket purchases can create misunderstandings and unnecessary battles.
Have a question for Farnoosh? You can submit your questions via Twitter @Farnoosh, Facebook or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Farnoosh Torabi is America’s leading personal finance authority hooked on helping Americans live their richest, happiest lives. From her early days reporting for Money Magazine to now hosting a primetime series on CNBC and writing monthly for O, The Oprah Magazine, she’s become our favorite go-to money expert and friend.