The last two years have been enough of a stress marathon for most relationships that we don’t need any additional negative juju as we take on 2022. Thankfully, leveraging better financial savvy to improve your relationship can alleviate some pressure.
We spoke to more than a dozen couples for this piece, and found that there are five money management skills that always seem to rise to the top of every happy money marriage. So, without further ado:
Be honest with each other
Sure, it sounds obvious, as honesty is the fundamental building block for any good relationship.
Be honest about money: How much you make, how much you spend, how much you save. If one of the partners makes considerably more than the other, that has to be on the table.
The essence of honesty is communication, so set aside time for conversations that give you the feels. You want to be able to tell your partner anything, so don’t hold back. As painful as honest communication can be, if you care about your partner it’s best that they understand your money weaknesses and spending peccadilloes, whether that’s Blackjack, Bitcoin, Louboutin shoes or QVC. And if you’re thinking about a major purchase or a career change that may seriously impact your income as a couple, mention it. No one wants to come home to, “Guess what, honey. I quit my job.”
Transparency is key
If you share your bank accounts and credit cards, it’s harder to keep secrets, so transparency also helps with honesty. And if there’s something that doesn’t look right, that’s where honesty comes in. With transparency, if your partner runs up a massive credit card bill, at least you’ll know about it and have a chance to discuss it before you start getting the fisheye from merchants because your card was declined.
Understand your finances
Even if you struggled with arithmetic in third grade and numbers give you a headache, you shouldn’t hand over all control of your finances to your more mathematically savvy partner. Get a basic understanding of interest rates and investment strategies, and make sure you know exactly how much you’re earning and saving. There are far too many horror stories about couples who learn too late that their partner has invested their life savings, without their knowledge, in some bankrupt biotech or other unprofitable scheme.
Have a plan for the present
A common refrain from interviewed couples is that both partners should be on the same page. If one side wants children and a college fund for those kids, but the other doesn’t want a family and would prefer to start a fund for a trip to Ibiza, that’s probably not going to work long-term.
One longtime unmarried couple I spoke with said they keep separate bank accounts, but they share expenses equally. One pays for food and utilities, the other handles cable and phone, insurance, etc. Then, they each tally up what was spent and whoever spent more is reimbursed or gets a credit toward future expenses. If you decide to try this method out, try to clear the books and level-set every month, and not let things pile up to the point that one partner owes the other a month’s salary. And if, after a few months, you notice that an inequity is obvious, change it.
Another example of how-to: A couple that divided up their expenses also added a layer of financial transparency into the mix. Their checking, savings and investment accounts are linked, and they each have a copy of their joint credit card. The husband’s income goes towards the mortgage, utility bills, insurance, and school tuition for the children. The wife’s income goes towards groceries, childcare, vacations, summer camp or dinners out.
If a home purchase is in your future plans, figure out who can afford what before you file for a mortgage. If one of you is able to put more money toward a purchase (perhaps you have a home to sell and your partner doesn’t) maybe your partner can pay more toward the mortgage overall since they didn’t put up any money for the down-payment. Make it work for both of you in a way that feels equitable.
Have a plan for the future
The future will be here sooner than you think. Planning for the future can mean different things depending on your age, health, incomes, and how confident you are in your relationship. Too many young couples don’t save for their retirement, and then in a flash they’re 55, aging out of the job market, and have no real wealth built. The problem is, if you don’t make a lot of money, it’s hard to save much, but at least you’ll both know you’ll have to work until you’re 100.
If you’re going to be together for the decades to come, there will be big expenses ahead — a car, a home, and more, depending on those joint goals we talked about. But you’ll also need to have a plan in place for the “what ifs.” What if something happens to you? Will you know each other’s wishes for care? Do you know where insurance policies and passwords are? Long-term disability insurance or not? Will one of you take on the other’s pension or social security?
Yes, planning for the future will require having some uncomfortable conversations about things most people don’t love talking about, but it’s those very same conversations that will help you strengthen your relationship for the long haul. A little sting in a conversation now can save you a lot of heartache later.
MORE ON HERMONEY:
- The Definitive Couples Guide to Money
- How To Talk To Your Partner About Money
- HerMoney Podcast Episode 252: Why Modern Dating Is In Crisis
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