As I see with many of my clients, finances can be a major source of stress in a relationship. This is the topic most couples prefer to avoid, but talking about money is critical. As I see the stress at the beginning of a conversation, I also witness the reward when a couple is connected and can communicate about their finances.
To make it easy for you and your spouse, here are some tips for helping you navigate your finances while keeping your relationship strong.
Get on the same page financially
It is rare for couples to share all the same goals. So, start your conversation around short and long term goals you each may have. When was the last time you talked to your spouse about what retirement looks like, what you want to provide for your children or other dreams you may have that require a financial outflow? Plan a date night to start this conversation. Start outlining your goals and listen to what each of you want. It is important to realize as your goals may not match perfectly, there will need to be compromises along the way.
Divide and conquer
It’s not very romantic to think about a couple being a financial relationship, but to keep finances in good order requires both partners do their part. I suggest trying to match interests and skills with the tasks at hand. If you’re punctual and detail oriented, you’re a good candidate to pay the monthly bills. If you’re more of a big picture person, you may want to focus on long term investing. No matter how responsibilities are divided, ongoing communication is essential. Have a finance meeting every quarter to understand how things are going.
Spend less than you make
Without consciously tracking income and expenses, it’s very easy for spending to get out of control. (See my recent post on budgeting.) I suggest dividing money into a joint bank account for family bills and two separate accounts for individual spending. Watch the balances on these accounts and on credit cards to identify any spending trends that aren’t in synch with agreed-upon goals. Overspending is not a habit that will just go away on its own. Review your spending on a regular basis so you both understand where things stand.
Take advantage of benefits
With two working spouses, it is important to review the benefits available to each. If health insurance is better through one employer (economically, medically or both), take advantage of it. If life or disability insurance is offered, make sure to participate at the level your family needs. Be aware of other benefits as well, including retirement plans and company matches; paid leave for family events, sick time and vacation; support and discounts that may be available through your company’s partnerships.
Set up an emergency plan
You never know when the unexpected will happen. Bad things can happen to anyone and they can be very disruptive to your normal financial routine. Be prepared. That means not only having 3-6 months savings on hand, but also keeping a current list of all bank accounts, bills, insurance contacts and passwords. Make it easy for your partner to take over your financial duties if needed.
Making the effort to connect and communicate about finances can take a couple a long way. Dedicate time and energy to this and commit to reviewing on a regular basis. Taking this stress out of the relationship will allow you to enjoy all the fun and excitement ahead.