I often joke that the number one cause of divorce is marriage. But the truth of the matter on relationships (married, dating, family, etc.) is that money management (purchases, debts, lack of a plan, etc.) is often one of the primary causes of stress, strife, and ultimately your happiness together. This is unfortunate as some of these situations could be improved just by doing one simple thing: Communicating about it.
Being a Financial Advisor has afforded me the opportunity to be that “fly on the wall” that gets to hear and see a lot of the dirty laundry families contend with. So I speak from a position of authority when I say that couples who communicate openly about their plans seem to be the happiest, while those who delegate responsibility to the “other” spouse/partner seem to be in disagreement a whole lot more. If this is your situation, here are some things you can do to improve your relationship while getting a better grasp on your finances:
First: Find and designate a date and time (like an appointment) to sit down together in a place with no interruptions. If that means getting a baby sitter for the kids, do it. Turn off the TV, radio, cell phone, internet, lock the front door, clean off the table and sit down together. Now that we have this tranquil setting, proceed to step number 2.
Second: Prepare a list of goals that each of you would like to achieve over the next year. This may be an eye opening event for some couples, but at least it gets the conversation started to enlighten each other on “why” you want to do (or are doing) something. If “she” wants to take the family to Hawaii, and “he” wants a new motorcycle, a deeper conversation about priorities may evolve.
Third: Show your cards. Bring out the credit card statements, the bank accounts, the brokerage statements, even the stash of gift certificates from last Christmas. When both of you know exactly where you are at financially, it makes it a lot easier to crunch numbers and see if you are able to accomplish what you “want” to do. This is in contrast to what you “need” to do.
Fourth: Create a budget and stick to it. In other words, create a list of needs and wants and make sure all of the “needs” are fully covered. Then you can start to fulfill your “wants.” It is critical that you understand and agree on the difference between needs and wants.
Fifth: Hold each other accountable. All too often, one member/spouse is the bread winner (or the only source of income) while the other member/ spouse/ partner is the one who carries out the day to day operations of spending and maintaining the home and social calendar. This can create an adversarial approach, but with a little discussion, you’ll soon discover that each of you has a role and is reliant on the other.
Sixth: Trade spaces every so often. If you are the one who pays the bills all the time while your partner is the one who does all the shopping, swap responsibilities for the next month or two. It is then that each of you will have a new respect for what the other tries to do. Or, you could come up with a better solution that saves money for those more fun activities. Either way, money will become a more comfortable subject to talk about.
Seventh: Stop comparing yourselves with the neighbor or your friends. People generally only want you to see their good side. You don’t know the inner workings of other families and you don’t know their financial situation. Just as beauty is only skin deep, wealth is only what we perceive it to be. Additionally, what does it matter what other families do (or have) when they might be in a totally different situation (financially and personally)? Some people like cars, while others like to attend plays. Some people want a beach home, while others aspire to have an RV. And still, some people like to have big parties with all their friends, while others strive for seclusion. The point is that everyone is different and other people’s financial doings shouldn’t have any bearing on your personal situation.
Putting these suggestions into action can only strengthen your relationship. The more you talk openly and honestly about your finances and goals, the more likely you’ll be able to obtain them. Talking with a Financial Advisor during these discussions can be very helpful—sometimes I feel like a priest conducting confession—as it removes some of the pressure from this delicate situation!! I have all the tools, forms, guidance, and experience to guide you through this process…I’m ready when you are!