Let’s face it, balancing your checkbook is never going to be foreplay. Many couples avoid discussion of financial issues because they feel it deters from the romance in their relationship. Research shows that arguments over money are one of the leading causes of marital problems and divorce. But being smart about what you spend and save is critical to a balanced relationship.
During her high-profile divorce, Lorna Wendt, shocked a room full of lawyers when she showed up with all the necessary financial papers on their first meeting. “I was surprised to find out that so many individuals aren’t fully informed about the value of their partnership and avoid conversations about finances,” says Lorna Wendt. “I believe that joint management of your money is not only critical, but a romantic notion that displays honesty and trust.”
Wendt’s non-profit organization, The Equality in Marriage Institute, has developed a checklist to help you get smart, not sentimental, about your money.
Delegate Action, Share Responsibility: It’s not unusual for one spouse to play the primary role in managing the finances, but it is critical that both are involved and aware. Be certain you can clearly articulate your partnership’s assets and debts and locate the necessary back-up documentation. Managing the various dimensions of your partnership is a mutual responsibility.
Save Money, Express Opinions: Financially, it’s wise to tuck money away, but your opinions shouldn’t be stockpiled. If you have concerns about your partner’s spending habits, financial decisions, or your delegated role in managing money, make sure you express those thoughts. While one partner in your relationship may be more financially savvy, there is a lot to be said for instinct and there are TWO CEOs managing the process.
Separate “This” From “That:” Too often arguments over money are about something entirely different. Finances and the things you “own” are often the most tangible component of a relationship. It’s easy to project more abstract emotional issues onto these concrete money matters. The Institute recommends that each partner think carefully before discussing financial concerns to ensure there isn’t a larger problem at the core. Also, when it comes time to discuss spending and saving habits, investments, etc., avoiding doing so at a time or place that may have preexisting stress or tension.
And the Two Become Two?: Yes, it’s a partnership…and while equality in your relationship is important, so is a certain amount of independence. The Institute recommends you maintain your own credit and possibly an individual checking account. If you are a non-working spouse, don’t think of money allotted to your account as an allowance, but instead a salary for the vital role you play in maintaining the partnership.
Put On Your Seatbelt: Our world seems full of acceptable precautions. However, couples are often afraid to discuss scenarios related to death or divorce. Discussing these issues is no more a declaration of doom than putting on your seatbelt in the car. Prepare your wills together and consider the option of a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement. The conversations involved with creating these documents are valuable and the legal process will help protect your union in the case of death or divorce.
Take the Easy Road: Don’t be afraid to utilize the many technological advances that make managing your money easier. “Ten years ago, keeping both parties in a relationship up-to-date on their partnership’s worth meant sorting through a stack of invoices, statements and portfolio reports,” says Susan Petree, Senior-Vice President at Fleet Bank. “New online banking options allow either party to quickly access account status, investment portfolios and other financial information with the click of a mouse.”