Financial Planning For Couples: Planning Your New Financial Life Together

Marie Engen, Boomer & Echo

By Marie Engen, Boomer & Echo

Special to the Financial Independence Hub

Your loving gives me a thrill,
But your loving don’t pay my bills

“Money (That’s What I Want)” –- The Beatles

Financial planning for one person can be complicated enough. When you get into a long-term relationship with someone else and combine your households, you join your financial lives as well.

Just because your beloved is a great kisser and you have lots in common doesn’t mean that he or she is financially compatible with you or responsible.

Friction over how we spend and save is one of the leading sources of conflict in a relationship. Numerous studies have shown that money is the number 1 reason why couples argue – and often is the main reason for untying the knot.

It’s inevitable that money issues will come up between you and your spouse.

Your credit, financial reputation, and overall economic picture is closely tied to this person who may or may not have the same feelings and thoughts about money that you do. As a married couple, you and your spouse have a tremendous impact on each other’s financial picture and both of you are affected by the other’s financial situation.

The money talk

Ideally you should have the money discussion once your relationship starts to get serious and before you co-sign a lease on an apartment together or walk down the aisle. However, most of us don’t know how to talk about money and tend to shy away from it.

We’ve been told it’s impolite to discuss money with others. It’s embarrassing to admit that our own finances aren’t in the best shape. People tend to get emotional and reactive.

Each of us tends to view money a little bit differently, depending on the role it played in our lives growing up, and often your partner will have a different take on it than you do. Many couples lack clarity regarding their financial compatibility. But every couple needs to discuss these issues.

Related: Couples Money – Savers vs. Spenders

Many times a lack of communication is to blame. One has dreams of travelling the world, whereas the other’s goal is to save for a comfortable retirement. Couples may initially talk about where they want to live, or how many kids they want to have, but almost never consider financial compatibility.

Sarah and Jerrod fell madly in love when they met 5 years ago. They married in 2012 and Sarah was pregnant a year later. Sarah wanted to quit her job to be a full-time mom after the baby was born. In her mind that was always the plan.

On the other hand, Jerrod just made the assumption that Sarah would return to work after the baby was born. In his mind he wanted to continue enjoying the lifestyle their dual incomes provided.

Then – surprise! Sarah had no idea that Jerrod had over $40,000 in student loan and credit card debt and he was worried he might not be able to support the family on his own.

Jerrod and Sarah simply had different expectations about what their lives should look like. They made assumptions that turned out to be wrong.

It may be easier to start out talking about a common goal, such as planning an upcoming vacation or wedding. You can bring up how you will save for it and your views on debt. Gradually, as you become more comfortable and trusting, you can discuss your current financial situation, dreams and goals.

The things that promote financial health have a lot in common with the things many people say promote a healthy relationship. A key part is having an open conversation about what their future plans are, and where each spouse stands in terms of income and debt. Confide in your partner. Discuss your worries. Keeping financial problems to yourself is destructive.

You need to know how each of you envisions your life together, how you’ll pay for it and who’s responsible for what.

Be open and aware of each other’s financial situation. Get to know each other’s spending habits.

Only by having a clear picture of assets and debts can a couple make the most of their financial resources and make a solid spending and investing plan.

Schedule regular meetings

Hashing out money matters may not be romantic, but a little communication can do a lot for your love life down the line.

Schedule regular “money meetings” monthly or quarterly to go over your budget, vacation ideas, children’s upcoming activities and plans for the future.

Related: Having that difficult money conversation

Use this time to set financial goals together, monitor progress, brainstorm creative solutions to problems, generate ideas to improve your future, and celebrate your successes.

As long as you’re making progress, don’t judge your partner for playing a round of golf or buying a new sweater. Finger pointing and blaming doesn’t help your balance sheet. Even if you’re spending your own hard-earned money, your decisions affect both of you.

Working together 

For many couples, your financial life together evolves over time. As a couple you tackle these goals as a team, often getting ahead financially much more quickly than a single person could. But you need to work together to come up with a game plan.

Rank your financial priorities and make a list of the steps it will take to accomplish these goals and where they coincide. When they collide you need to figure out which you can delay or even live without.

It’s important to understand each other’s money personality and work with it. One of you makes decisions instantly while the other deliberates for days. One of you hates paperwork, while the other lives for detailed spreadsheets. Focus on the positive outcome.

Assess your individual strengths and weaknesses on money management and then figure out who should take the lead and be accountable in which financial responsibilities. Who will be responsible for paying bills? Researching large purchases? Managing investments?

Related: Joint or separate accounts – How should couples handle finances?

No matter who takes the lead in managing a couple’s money, both parties need to participate in the process and know where your household stands financially. This will keep you both committed to your financial plans, eliminates misunderstandings, and minimizes the blame game when something goes wrong.

Identify areas where you might have differing approaches to money management. We all have different spending styles, expectations and approaches in the way we manage money.

You can figure out how to sort through and resolve those differences, but you can also celebrate them. If one of you is a saver and the other a spender, create a budget that allows for both. If your partner is a bargain hunter, put him in charge of the spending while you invest the savings.

Don’t ignore your partner’s needs. It may not be important to you, but if it’s important to your partner – it’s important to your relationship. Learn how to compromise so both of you feel satisfied. A plan should work for both of you even if it’s not what you had in mind initially.

Final thoughts

It all comes down to communication. Many couples find it hard to talk about money and this can lead to problems down the road. Don’t let small problems or assumptions grow into larger problems.

From the onset, be open with each other and talk about your money concerns. No two people have identical values when it comes to money so open communication will help identify what is important to each of you. Then you can make the best decisions about your money as a couple.

A good relationship is one in which each party helps the other make better choices – and you may be able to help each other become smarter about handling money.

Work together to achieve financial success.

Marie Engen is the “Boomer” half of Boomer & Echo. In addition to being co-author of the website, Marie is a fee-only financial planner based in Kelowna, B.C. This article originally ran at the Boomer & Echo site on April 26, 2016 and is republished here with permission.

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