For Richer or Poorer – A Married Couple’s Guide to Money Management
- September 5, 2022
- Financial Planning
Most people marry for love. You want companionship, someone to share life experiences with, and maybe you have a family and want to grow old together. According to the Current Population Survey, 2021 ASEC Supplement, there are some 131.4M married adults in the U.S.1 Marriage has many blessings. But it’s not all roses and rainbows. Challenges happen in marriages. And finances tend to be the number one stressor and leading argument topic between spouses. About 70% of married couples have already or will have arguments about money.2
The good news, though, is that discussing finances doesn’t have to be a negative experience. Disagreements over money can be effectively managed – whether you are a newlywed or deep into your marriage.
Regardless of the age you get married, couples should address these financial topics below. And if you’ve been married a long time, it’s a good idea to revisit some of these topics as your spending habits might have changed throughout your marriage.
- Talk with your partner openly and honestly about money. Be upfront about outstanding debts you might have had prior to your union (credit card debit, mortgage, student loan, car loan, medical bills, etc.) and what your credit score is. Develop a strategy together to plan how you will work through financial problems as they arise.
- Is one person in your relationship a saver while the other tends to spend money more extravagantly? Discuss your money styles and personal preferences. Do you prefer to pay with cash or debit/credit cards? When making a large purchase, what is the dollar amount limit that you cannot exceed before discussing it with your spouse?
- Determine your short-term and long-term financial goals. How will you deal with financial emergencies? How will you save for and spend your lifestyle expenses? What are some big purchases you might like to make down the road for travel or a second home?
- Work together to develop a budget you can live by. It is crucial for both partners to understand how much money comes in and goes out each month. Setting and tracking your budget will allow you to be realistic with these numbers.
- Regularly look at contribution amounts to employer-sponsored retirement plans, 401(k)s and IRAs. There may be opportunities to maximize retirement savings if you’ve recently received a raise, or if children are no longer living at home.
Once you’ve made a plan, it shouldn’t be set in stone. At least quarterly, set aside time with your spouse to review your financial plan, see if it’s working as anticipated, and make adjustments. Use this opportunity to talk about money, financial issues, and your progress and setbacks. By working as a team and being open about finances, you can determine methods that work best for both of you to decrease debt, increase wealth, and live the best years of your life your way.
Approaching Finances in Remarriage
For older adults, remarriage is becoming increasingly more common. In the past two decades, 67% of previously married adults ages 55 to 64 and 50% of previously married adults ages 65 and older had remarried.3 But when getting remarried later in life, you often have added financial considerations that couples in their twenties and thirties don’t have. For instance, if you are combining families, have adult children from previous relationships, or have individual financial portfolios, it is important to be aware of the potential financial impact of remarriage.4
When you decide to remarry, make sure to have an open discussion with your partner about finances, especially if one or both of you are still working, have children, and/or have significant assets. Honesty and clarity are critical to creating a successful plan.
- Arrange a meeting or group of meetings with your new spouse to openly discuss your respective financial situations. Setting a specific time with an agenda will help you stay on topic and not forget crucial details.
- Introduce your financial advisor to your partner to ensure everyone is in agreement on how you want to approach financial planning as a couple.
- If you choose to combine your finances, eliminate surprises early on and honestly depict your financial situation. Consider sharing financial documents, including tax returns, pay stubs, bank and investment statements, as well as a credit report.
- Go over any contractual obligations you may have with former spouses.
- Discuss your long-term financial goals, including how you would like to support each other and any children or additional family members. Talk about any relevant guardianship issues that may occur or are currently in place.
- Develop a plan to guide you in dealing with the differences in each of your ingrained spending and saving styles.
- When there is an ex-spouse or children involved, or if there is a large socioeconomic gap between you, it may be difficult to merge your financial views. Take time to gain an understanding of the other person’s point of view and what their strengths and weaknesses are.
- If opening a joint checking account, define guidelines and boundaries for how that money will be utilized. What is the maximum amount you can spend before you need to discuss and agree upon a purchase? Will you each keep separate accounts that focus on funding a dependent’s needs or education?
- Plans from previous marriages will need to be reviewed, including wills, trusts, and beneficiary designations. Work with your new spouse to develop a new plan that addresses all matters of “yours,” “mine,” and “ours.”
Discussing your finances can be complex – there are many layers to wade through and potential answers for each topic. However, if you discuss your finances regularly and keep the lines of communication open, it could save you more difficult conversations later.