In these days of financial uncertainty, many couples are thinking about and disagreeing about money and financial management.
Some couples are reaping the benefits of making conversation and planning about financial issues a key factor in their on going relationships. In the best of worlds everyone would find a partner who had similar values, experiences, and goals about money. For centuries marriages were arranged to align families for economic and political purposes. Today, most of us marry for romantic reasons. Yet marriage remains a financial union at its legal core. So many of the choices we make about how to live our lives involve how we spend our money. Unfortunately, disagreement about how to make and spend money is often a key factor in the break-up of marriages. The costs of divorce can be financially as well as emotionally devastating, especially when there are children involved. Money is often a major divisive issue for couples. Here are some guidelines from experts on finance and marriage:
Talk and share goals
Pre-marital therapy is like taking out a life insurance policy for your marriage. Many topics can be addressed before they ever become problem areas. Discussion of hopes and dreams include the sharing of ideas about financial health and goals. Many questions need to be answered such as: Do we want children? When? Who will care for them? How shall they be educated? What lifestyle do we want? What sorts of consumers are each of us? What do we value most that money can buy? Do we want to own a home? Travel? What sort of work will we each do? When we will retire? If these discussions didn’t happen before marriage it is never too late to begin. Ideally couples will set goals together and refine and redefine them at each stage of their couple life. What seemed important in young adulthood may likely change as we mature.
Run your home like a business
Have regular business meetings. This is especially important so differences about money management don’t get confused with other topics. Make a budget and keep track of earnings, expenses and debts. Make a plan for savings that includes all the things that matter to the couple such as saving for a house, a special expenditure, school or college tuition, vacations, retirement. Make decisions together and share and rotate responsibilities. One partner can handle investments and savings for a time while the other pays bills and balances the checkbook. Trade every month or at an agreed interval so both partners feel comfortable and confident handling all areas.
Support each partner’s career
Most families these days are two career families. This may change over time. One partner or both may opt to work shorter hours or work only in the home while raising children. One or both partners may decide to return to school at some time during the marriage. Career changes can happen at any stage of working life, including an option that many retirees are choosing: not to retire at all but to find a new way to work. These changes can be exciting and challenging and the support of one’s life partner is vital.
Maintain some degree of financial independence
It’s important to pool financial resources in marriage and some independence is important too. Each partner should have some agreed upon and equal amount of discretionary cash to spend on whatever is most important to them. The amount will depend on the financial well-being and values of the couple.
Invest in your marriage
This is the key piece. Spend time together regularly. Set aside couple time every day for 20 to 30 minutes. This is not time to discuss money or to solve problems. This is time to enjoy each other. It might be as simple as a ritual cup of morning coffee before the children are awake or a walk down the driveway to view the sunset. Also have a couple date every week. Spend two hours alone together doing something you both enjoy: a hobby, a walk, a picnic by the fire on the living room floor, a concert or a meal out. The ideas are as varied as are couples. The challenge is to make it happen regularly whether you have a young family, a house full of active teenagers, or an empty nest. Take turns arranging and inviting the other to couple time and couple dates. This is an investment that pays off over the years!
Seek professional help as needed
Using the services of a financial planner and sometimes those of a marriage therapist can be the best move you can make to secure the financial and emotional health of your relationship. Don’t hesitate to make this investment while you still have assets to share!
Carol Weiss, MA, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, has 30 years of guiding couples through all the stages of relationship life. She can be reached at 468-4006.