The way we earn, spend, and save money is a practical expression of our most fundamental beliefs. When our priorities are out of sync, money can become the great divide in an otherwise harmonious relationship.
By working together toward financial freedom, money can cease being a source of conflict and become a way to express our highest values, while providing comfort and security to those we love most.
Here are ways that you, as a couple, can improve your relationship with money.
Money Tips Every Couple Needs to Know
- Learn to have fun without a lot of money. A bike ride, walk in the park, home-cooked meal, free concert, or ice cream cone are just a few of the opportunities available to enjoy time with your lover without spending a lot of money.
- Pay attention to your partner’s financial habits. Just because your beloved is a lot of fun and a good kisser does not mean that she is fiscally responsible. Before you commit yourself, learn how your partner handles the big issues of real life, including financial matters.
- Discuss your dreams and goals with your partner. Almost everything you will do during your lives together will cost money. Make sure your partner’s goals are compatible with yours.
- Don’t move in by degrees. Some people leave their toothbrush one night, then a few changes of clothes, and before they know it, they’ve moved in. Have a discussion with your partner about leases, household expenses, and other important matters before you make your decision.
- Create a written living-together agreement. Clarifying your intentions in writing will help you to avoid misunderstandings and costly disagreements later. In most cases, your agreement will be enforceable in court.
- Plan carefully before you borrow with your beloved. Determine in advance who will be responsible for debts incurred during the relationship. In the absence of an agreement, each partner is generally responsible for debts for which she has signed, often without recourse to the other partner for repayment.
- Time your marriage to minimize taxes. If both you and your beloved are employed, the “marriage penalty” may force you to pay more taxes as a married couple than you would if you were single, so marry the following January rather than December. However, if one spouse earns most of the money, you’ll enjoy a “marriage bonus,” paying less tax as a married couple than you would as two single people, so a December wedding might be wise.
- If you are paying for your own wedding, pay cash instead of going into debt. Have the courage to care more for the reality of your joint finances than the symbolic ritual of a lavish party. Consider having a small get-together to memorialize your love, and then throw a larger party when you can afford it.
- If you receive monetary gifts on your wedding day, don’t spend them all. Set aside as much as you can to invest for shared dreams, such as a house, business, or children.
- Review your investments. Determine if you need to change your investment allocations to meet your joint goals. Your partner’s assets can provide you with some investment flexibility that you could not achieve while single.
Joining Your Financial Lives
- Create a workable structure for your financial lives. Who will be responsible for paying bills, filing invoices, balancing the checkbook, and researching large purchases? Establish a division of labor that suits your talents and needs.
- Celebrate your differences. 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 part of the budget, while you invest the savings.
- Confide in your partner. Keeping financial problems to yourself is destructive to the openness and stability of your relationship. Discuss your worries with your mate and ask her for practical suggestions and support.
- Rank your financial priorities. Where your individual goals coincide, make a list of the steps it will take to accomplish those goals. Where they collide, figure out which you can live without and how to combine the rest with your partner’s plans.
Starting a Family
- If one partner will stay at home while the other works full-time, discuss the model you will use for your finances. Will you pay the homemaker a salary for her services? Have a spending limit for purchases, like a corporate buyer? Create an arrangement that shows respect for the most important job on Earth: raising a wonderful human being.
- If you haven’t already, now is the perfect time to prepare your will. You don’t want guardianship issues to be settled in court if anything happens to you. Ask a friend or relative if he would be willing to be the legal and/or financial guardian for your children after you’re gone. Then, follow through by updating and signing your will.
- If you stay home, keep up your career skills. Work part-time to maintain your skills and contacts, or go to school part-time to improve your financial prospects. Maintain your skills so you can ease your transition to the workplace.
- Contribute to your child’s Roth IRA. Children, like many other taxpayers, can contribute up to $2,000 of their earnings to an IRA. If your children have part-time jobs, encourage them to save the money in a Roth IRA, perhaps by “matching” the funds they contribute. Roth IRA contributions can be withdrawn tax- and penalty-free and used for college expenses. Earnings can be withdrawn as well after the IRA has been open for five years, but they are subject to tax.
Relationship Skills for Financial Success
- Organize regular “money meetings” to discuss your financial situation, dreams, and goals. Use this time to brainstorm creative solutions to problems and generate ideas to improve your future.
- Work with your mate’s personality, instead of against it. One of you makes financial decisions instantly, while the other one deliberates for days. One of you hates paperwork, while the other has anxiety if every blank is not filled out completely and perfectly. Focus on a positive outcome, not the method of traveling.
- 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 partnership. Treat your partner as a business associate, not a dumping ground. Hear what your partner is saying, consider it, and respond.
- Join an investment club, or form one for your family. Investment clubs are social gatherings where the members can learn about finances together. It’s a great opportunity to share good times and learn how to invest at the same time.
- Talk about the money differences you had with your prior spouse. That way, your new mate will learn more about you and will know where you are coming from when differences arise in this relationship.
- Be polite to your partner’s ex-spouse. He or she is the lion at the gate guarding your partner’s relationship with his children. Don’t indulge in vengeful or petty actions that may keep you from your larger goal of a happy stepfamily.
- Don’t let the children come between you. It takes special vigilance to keep children from prior marriages from fueling disagreements. Discuss in advance how you will share responsibility for children who live with you and how their expenses will be handled.
Gain more insight and tips: Love & Money: 150 Financial Tips for Couples By Kathleen Gurney, Ph.D, and and Ginita Wall, CPA, CFP