It’s well known money is one of the leading causes of divorce. In fact, a recent study showed that couples fight about finances on an average of three times per month – more than children, chores, and work. And though it sounds trite, the truth is it doesn’t have to be that way. There are steps couples can take to keep the tension low. Here are some tips to ensure the separation of love and wallet:
Whether you’re living together, newly married, or longtime partners, money can be one of the most difficult topics to broach. Our attitudes about it are more deeply ingrained than we even realize, and so people tend to be secretive or misleading about their purchases.
Additionally, men and women approach money differently, so that’s a built-in obstacle. The specific topics of discussion depend on your individual situation, of course, but if you’re simply open about your feelings on spending and saving, retirement investing, major investments, and paying off credit card debt, you’re on your way to clear channels. Seriously, if you can’t talk to this person in your life, you have bigger problems than money.
2. Be Upfront
While sugarcoating comes up often in relationships – “No, honey, that dress doesn’t make you look fat,” to cite one example – when it comes to finances, honesty really is the best policy. Money matters, as it’s the foundation upon which you are affording the life you build together. If your partner spent money on something that upset you, speak up. If you made a mistake with the finances, admit it. Don’t let your frustration with the way your loved one handles your collective money fester, or it will be too big of a knot to untangle. Little arguments can be resolved, but big ones start to take a toll on the trust between you.
3. Get Out of Debt
One of the best ways to keep money from getting in the way of love is to be as financially fit as possible. If you both owe more than you’re bringing in, come up with a joint plan for each individual to become debt-free. If only one of you is in the red, the other should be as supportive as possible in helping pay off those obligations. Two people in a committed relationship will have a much better chance at success without significant personal debts dragging them down.
4. Jointly Set Spending Limits
Now, no one is suggesting that one partner needs to call the other if they want to buy a new shirt. However, some limits need to be agreed upon. What is the spending limit before one has to consult the other – $200, 500, $1,000? Only you two can answer that question. If one partner is super frugal and one is a spendthrift, you need to start talking to each other pronto. The same applies for income inequality – where one partner earns significantly more than the other, or one is a stay-at-home spouse. Use the above tips, and have a discussion. In fact, have lots of them. Set up a “money-date,” where you get together and focus on your financial situation.
5. Get on a Budget
You can’t know what you should spend until you both are clear about what you earn and what you owe. The fastest way to do that is to make a budget. Then perhaps open a joint bank account for collective expenses, and you can each have individual accounts to still feel unencumbered. Try an online budgeting program, such as Mint.com, so it’s all there in black and white. The goal is to get your spending under your income. And if you attack it together, you present a unified front.
Since it’s clear you’re serious about your significant other, it’s time to treat your finances in the same way. Put a plan in place for how to save for a 529 plan and set aside money for retirement. Most importantly, do it jointly. That way, you’ll ensure your financial future is a partnership – and one built to last.