Don’t Fight About Finances: How Couples Should Talk About Money

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When my husband and I first got married, we divided up our financial responsibilities: daily bills were his and taxes and investing were mine. Most of our conversations centered around our lack of money, with my occasional irritation about one of his purchases. Now that we have money, and are steadily working on debt, we’ve begun to change the way we talk about money. Here’s how we got started and how you can learn to be more open about money with your partner.

Talk Regularly About Current and Long-Term Financial Goals

Right now our long-term (ish) goal is to buy a house. We also need to start really saving for retirement. Our short-term goal is to pay off a couple more student loans. When I proposed saving 10% of our income recently, he laughed, but that’s the usual order of things. I suggest a money move, he doubts it, then he comes around.

The point is that we talk about it – even if we’re not on the same page right now. We don’t currently have a scheduled time to talk, but it seems to occur every couple of weeks for regular updates and sporadically for major shifts in our thinking.

Be Aware of All Financial Positions

We both have access to Quicken, so we can check up on the money at any time. We also both know the log-ins for our joint accounts. He’s showed me where to find the passwords for his other accounts, but I can’t remember where it is. I need to be reminded of that, and add the information to access my 401K.

Every couple of weeks, he updates our monthly spending forecast, based on changes to income from windfalls, commissions, and expense reimbursement, and then I “look at the money,” which is my way of saying I review his plan and ask questions about why he’s allotted X dollars to Y or why the balance on Z is so high this month.

Right now he’s not checking up on the investments in my retirement account, but I did rebalance this weekend and inform him that we’ve lost less than the market average in the last year. Then I reminded him that we need to open to Roth IRAs soon, and why we want to open two rather than one.

Divide Responsibilities

Since we both work, we’ve divided up the responsibilities. We looked at our strengths when dividing up our financial tasks. Since I had experience with investing, and my dad is a former CFO who advises me, I handle the long-term stuff and the taxes. My husband likes the nitty gritty, so he does the bills. In this respect, we’re the opposite of most couples.

I also seem to be the one in charge of worrying about how much we spend and whether we’ll have enough for retirement, while he’s in charge of telling me we can afford to live a little. In this respect, we’re in line with what researchers have recently learned about the way men and women think about money. More women than men are very concerned about having enough money for the distant future, most likely because we live longer. We’re also more likely to buy something for the home or our children than for ourselves, and when we buy for ourselves, we buy based on one or two factors like quality or ease-of-use. Men are more likely to buy big ticket electronics and feature-rich toys (even if they have no use for the features) for themselves.

Whatever You Do, Talk

Many couples are uncomfortable discussing money. It leads to tension and may even cause a fight, but it must be done. The more you do it, the easier it becomes. Follow these steps to get started if you want to be on the same page:

1. Scheduled a weekend afternoon to talk about money. Mark it on the calendar.
2. On that first day, talk about your goals. You might be surprised by what the other wants. You could try making two separate lists and ranking the importance, then choosing the most important goals to work toward together.
3. Make another appointment for a month from now. Come prepared with your recent paystub, annual salary, bank statements, credit card statements (all of them), and investment statements. Compare your investments to make sure that your separate retirement plans are in line with your joint goals and that you’re not over-invested in one sector and under-invested in another because you both bought the same things. You should also compare your salaries. Many couples don’t really know what their spouse makes. You need to. And finally review your bank statements and credit card statements. Talk openly about what you buy and when.
4. Keep doing this every month. The more you do it, the easier it gets. At your next meeting, develop a plan to meet your goals, whatever they might be, and commit to put X dollars per month toward that goal.

Although it may be difficult at first, talking about your money and your goals will probably improve your marriage in the long-run. It will also make both of you more comfortable in the present. You may even discover, like I did, that talking about money helps you to improve your financial situation, which also improves the way you talk about money.

How do you and your spouse talk about money? Do you keep secrets or only pay attention to your area? Tell me in the comments or write your own post and link back to it here.

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