Money is rumored to be a minefield on the road to romantic bliss. It needn’t destroy your relationship, though. With a little communicating, compromising and budgeting, even the most frivolous spender can find harmony with the most stubborn of savers.
To get marital finances in shipshape, couples must learn to speak to each other nicely, care about what the other person thinks and focus on the big picture when things don’t go their way — skills they should have acquired long before saying “I do.”
Compromise is key
Marriage is a team sport; the outcome is best when couples cooperate and work together rather than flailing around like participants in a one-legged race who just stepped into a pile of red ants.
For each person to feel satisfied, some compromise is necessary to avoid big blowups that could implode the entire relationship.
Without it, resentment and anxiety could flourish.
“You may love them, but hate the way they handle money. And the goal is to not blur the lines where you begin to resent and strongly dislike your mate as a person,” says Ellie Kay, a weekly expert on “ABC News Now” and author of 14 books, including the latest, “Living Rich for Less.”
To begin, couples should partake in some exercises to assess priorities.
Robert Laura, partner at Synergos Financial Group, recommends that couples list all of their expenses and prioritize them.
The exercise highlights which person values saving over going to the movies or buying new clothes.
“Should Internet connection for your computer be ahead of saving for your kid’s college or your retirement? That’s up in the air, but you just want to know what page the other person is on,” Laura says.
Another exercise couples can do: Categorize expenses into wants, needs and goals.
“Instead of focusing on dollar amounts, look at what this expense is really for,” says Laura.
Sorting out real goals and values will make it easier to cancel the cable and save for a house, or get rid of any of the other little wants that suck money away from achieving your dreams.
The trick to achieving long-term relationship bliss, at least in the realm of finances, comes down to communication.
First, couples should have a designated time for talking about money.
“When you look at the online banking (statement) and see that your husband spent $300 at Home Depot without discussing it with you, there’s a time and place you can bring it up. This will help you avoid daily money squabbles and also help you learn self control,” says Kay.
If you’re just getting started in your relationship, it’s important to sit down and work out the details of your family money philosophy. For instance, will you keep separate checking accounts or combine all your money?
“Ask, ‘How are we going to structure the mechanics of our money?’ And then, ‘Who pays the bills?'” says Michael Masiello, owner of Masiello and Associates, a financial planning firm. “And, ‘Do we set a limit that says either of us can spend up to $50 without having to justify or explain it?'”
Some couples prefer to pool their money into a joint account and then siphon some out to joint savings accounts, pay bills and then spend as needed.
“In the ideal world, you have combined your resources and incomes and each month you put a portion of your money into a household fund. Then when the washer and dryer go out, there is $2,000 so we can go out and buy one,” Masiello says.
Another approach that works for some couples: Keep a joint account for household expenses and common goals, but separate checking accounts for individual purchases.
“Then you each have to say, ‘We need X amount to pay bills and maintain lifestyle. Above and beyond that, do your own thing.’ But make sure that the monthly number is committed on both sides,” says Masiello.
It’s not enough to get the technicalities ironed out and then forget about finances for the next 30 years.
Even in this day and age, far too many women cede control of their financial future to their husbands.
Masiello has seen that with his clients.
“The fairer sex tends to abdicate responsibility for finances to the male, and I do not believe that testosterone adds intelligence,” he says.
No matter who does the investing and money management, both parties should be fully aware of where their money is going and what it does when it gets there. And they should leave the traditional gender roles out of it.