August 8th, 2016 | Nicole Miller

Startup couples

When I got married, my husband and I took a series of marriage preparation classes.  The topics were very beneficial in clarifying our own perspectives on such issues as values, beliefs, family and then helping us to create a dialogue on how we each approach these issues differently.  The one area that the class missed the mark was on finance.  We covered the topic at such a superficial level that I decided to share some of my own suggestions with the class.  The class response was so positive that I was asked if I would be interested in teaching the finance course myself!  Having consulted on many divorce cases in my career, I’ve seen firsthand how financial stress can fester and end marriages.

It is important to understand that a person has their own money style they bring into a marriage.  We learn this style during our childhoods, perfect it as we begin to live independently and now try to assimilate it with another person’s money style.  That can be very challenging, particularly if one or both people are not aware of their own styles.  These philosophies can quickly clash as the couple begins to prioritize goals such as saving for retirement, debt management, travel, children’s expenses, and especially when a financial challenge such as a job loss is encountered.

Finances remain a very taboo topic for spouses, families and even among friends.  Often we learn by talking to others, asking questions and sharing our struggles.  Communication around finance is often very limited from even early childhood.  Schools at every level are also not focused on teaching children about personal finance.  Therefore, is it any surprise that we experience financial challenges in our marriage?

Here are some suggestions for couples:

  • Discuss your own money philosophy with your spouse. How was money handled in your family growing up?  How did you manage your money when you lived independently?  How do you feel about saving, debt, retirement?
  • Analyze your family spending and discuss with your spouse. Are there categories you are surprised by the spending level?  Are there ways you both could work to reduce certain categories?
  • Create a budget and networth statement that you look at regularly. Include an emergency reserve account as part of your budget.
  • Discuss your short and long term financial goals, both as an individual and as a family. Work together to prioritize them.
  • Clarify each person’s roles and responsibilities. Who will pay the bills?  How will you each access cash or use credit cards?  How will you communicate about these issues?
  • Review your estate plan, including wills, beneficiary designations on accounts, and life insurance.

I think the most impactful solution is to create a forum for open communication and dialogue about finances.  Set aside time each month or quarter to discuss your current finances, any questions or concerns you each might have, and even share something financially related you learned recently.  One couple I know takes a monthly hike to discuss their finances as it helps relieve the stress during the conversation.  Building a structure for these meetings can be difficult, therefore starting them with your financial advisor can help create that foundation.