Love Don’t Pay the Bills
So, you’re engaged. Congratulations! You share a home, you share a life, and now you share a future.
Now how about sharing your wallet?
Handing yourself over, mind, body, and credit card to your partner doesn’t have to be scary — it can even make you stronger as a couple. After all, trust is a beautiful thing!
We’ve all heard the statistics about the role that money can play in marital conflict, but there is a way to strengthen your financial health so you both can be in great shape to weather whatever challenges life throws your way.
You don’t need to create a complicated financial plan. In fact, building your financial wellness is a lot like building a home together.
A Solid Foundation
First, lay a solid foundation. One that will not shake when the wind blows or leak during storms. The most important basis for your financial wellness are the dreams that you share for your life together.
Shared goals, whether short-term or long-term, unite and bring you closer in the pursuit of a common purpose. Whether it’s over pillow talk or a cup of coffee, you and your partner should daydream together about what kind of life you want to have.
What is the most important thing you two want to accomplish in the next year, three years, five years? Do you want to pay down your student debt, save for a house payment, buy a new refrigerator, visit Macchu Pichu?
Determine what you believe is important to both of you and prioritize accordingly. When you both know what you’re aiming for, you’re both much more likely to make it.
A house without walls is not much of a house at all! Now that you’ve laid the foundation, you need to build the structure that you think will best help you two manage the money you’ll both be bringing in and paying out.
Many couples struggle with the decision to combine their finances. It can be a particularly tough question, because it goes deeper than numbers and figures, touching on major emotional issues in relationships such as trust, independence, and commitment.
We often hear questions like “my husband and I both work. Do we use my income for certain things and his for others?”
Well, there is no right answer.
The best plans take into account your financial personalities and recognize the strengths and weaknesses of each.
An ‘Accountant’ may be more consistent at paying the bills and less impulsive than a ‘Rockstar’, but a Rockstar will be great at finding ways to enjoy the moment when you have some extra money to spend.
It’s all about knowing yourself, and knowing each other — and creating a system that plays to your strengths. (Psst — our quick quiz can help you identify your financial personality in minutes!)
Whether you combine your accounts, create a separate one for shared expenses, or keep it all separate, make sure you know how you will handle the following things (individually and joint):
– Current and future expenses
– Current and future debt
– Personal property and assets
– Inheritances and family assets
Don’t worry if you don’t have all the answers right away. It takes time for you to really understand each other’s personalities and how that affects your financial behavior as a family unit.
Homes need daily maintenance. Your finances are no different.
To keep a tidy ‘financial house’, you need to answer these three key questions:
1. What are essential expenses and how will you manage them?
For most couples housing, transportation, medical, grocery and education expenses are the essentials. Determine the things that you and your partner think should always come first. And remember, that one dinner date a month or an annual beach vacation can become an “essential” expense if you both believe that it will be a critical part of maintaining your marital bliss.
2. How will you save to make your financial dreams come true?
If you’ve laid down a strong foundation, it’s now time to figure out how you’re going to make your dreams a reality. Whether you are doing financial repairs (building an emergency fund) or making improvements (saving for retirement), take the dreams that you both agree are most important to you right now, and identify how much in savings you need to make them happen.
Make a vow to work together towards fulfilling these goals by setting aside a set amount every month ($300 into a savings account or 5% into your 401(k)’s) and use the structures you’ve agreed upon to get it done!
3. How will you use discretionary funds?
Your discretionary funds is the money left over after bills are paid, and savings are built. Making a plan for those funds will help avoid surprises, keeping you both happy.
Does one of you prefer to splurge on designer clothing while the other is a foodie? Do you prefer to travel while your partner would rather buy nice furniture?
Be ready to accept that your preferences will most likely be different. The trick is to be honest about your wants and needs, recognize the differences, and agree on some basic ground rules.
For example, how much financial room will each of you have to make individual decisions? Do you both agree that you both won’t spend beyond a certain amount without consulting the other? How much of your discretionary spend will you set aside to use together?
Open Door Policy
Many of us are more open about our sex lives than our finances. It is a major cultural taboo, but tight lips when it comes to money can have serious consequences for your relationship.
The most important commitment to make to each other is to communicate openly, frequently, and with compassion. You are now a team, and in order to be effective you have to feel comfortable being honest about your successes and your shortcomings. The important thing is to be constructive and use this feedback to revisit your goals, re-assess your plans, and get back on track.
It is not your decision to share accounts that defines the quality of your relationship, it’s your ability to openly discuss these important issues and create solutions that work for both of you.
But what if one partner out-earns the other? Financial health is not about the dollar amount, but about the behaviors you two will be building together. One person does not call the shots (just ask the experts). You now have shared dreams, and both partners should feel comfortable holding each other accountable to those plans.
The ‘money talk’ is important — but it doesn’t have to be scary. It comes down to being able to dream, discover, listen and communicate effectively.
Pour yourselves a couple of glasses of wine, grab a spot on the couch, and discover each other in a brand-new way. There is nothing as intimate as sharing your hopes and dreams with the person you love.
Tools like MoneyPulse(TM), CREDscore ®, and Spend Assistant are a great launching point for those important conversations, and will help you set the course for a healthy financial future – together.
What is your #1 piece of financial advice for newlyweds?