Money: Yours, Mine and Ours

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Financial management can be a minefield for many couples. In fact, it is one of the leading causes of divorce. So how can couples find financial balance?

Managing money as a couple can be a tricky affair; after unfaithfulness, it is the leading cause of disagreements between partners. According to a survey by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, the average couple argues about money three times a month, ahead of quarrels over kids, chores, work and friends. In addition, more than a quarter of all love birds surveyed say that money is the most common reason they fight.

When single, it’s easy to get used to making financial decisions on your own. This becomes a problem when you have to consider the input of a partner who may have a different perspective on finances. You might be a squanderer who can’t get enough of shoes and bags, while he is tightwad who worries about long-term goals such as retirement. Meshing together the two perspectives may result into explosive disputes which threaten the stability of your union.

Many couples decide to merge their income, either fully or partially. In others, the man takes care of the woman fully in financial matters. As you chart the financial waters as a pair, the most important thing to remember is that there is no wrong or right way. Whatever floats your boat! However, here are a few pointers to help you have fewer tiffs about money with your honey.

Put It In Writing:

A prenuptial agreement is neither sexy nor romantic but it might come in handy when safeguarding your financial freedom in case of divorce. A prenup will show what is solely yours before marriage and what kind of settlement you will get from your spouse if you split up.

Share Goals:

When you were single you probably had your own financial goals. Write them down and compare your lists. Talk about how you can merge your goals so you can make them joint aims for your future. Don’t just live from month to month, earning money and spending it. Your discussion should cover day-to-day budgeting, savings, retirement planning, debt management and an agreement about which money decisions are to be made jointly and which will be made individually. In your discussion include short term goals such as buying a car and long term goals such as planning for your kids’ education, paying off mortgages and saving for retirement.

Schedule Financial Date Nights:

Set aside regular time to sit and discuss your financial goals, the progress you have achieved so far, and to make sure that you are on the same page about ongoing decisions. “Discuss progress on long and short term goals, major purchases and bumps in the road,” Roberto Viceconte, a senior manager at a top New York accounting firm, recommends. Financial date nights don’t have to be drudgery. You can do fun things such as hiking, cooking or dining at a nice restaurant as you discuss money matters.

Consider A Joint Account:

Having a joint account is a bit delicate for couples who have different spending habits. A bank survey some years ago showed that one-third of young couples have separate bank accounts. This is no shocker. Most people would prefer the privacy of separate accounts. But financial experts are all for joint accounts. Jennifer Black, a certified financial planner and co-author of Managing Alone: Your Trusted Advisors’ Guide to Surviving Death of Your Spouse, says that accessing your spouse’s account can be difficult if your spouse dies. “I have seen situations where people cannot get access to the money at all. Usually the bank is waiting to see a probated will,” she says.

Divide And Conquer:

If you want to retain some individual financial privacy and independence and still share responsibilities, it is a good idea to create three accounts: one for each of you and one joint account. “Once you have determined the total cost of your shared living expenses, both of you should contribute a portion of these costs to the joint account each month, based on your share of the household income,” advices internationally acclaimed personal financial guru, Suze Orman. Each partner can then use the money in their own account as they see fit. Keeping a separate account can also provide you with some financial protection should your partner decide to just up and leave after emptying your joint savings.

Have An Emergency Fund:

An emergency fund is money that you set aside for expensive and unexpected expenses such as job loss, illness, or being a victim of a natural disaster. Most personal financial advisers recommend that you save about six month’s worth of your household expenses. That amount will keep your household running as usual even when you have no income.

Get And Stay Out Of Debt:

Debt can be a scary thing for a single person but it is even more so for a couple. Be honest and open with each other about debts you had gotten before the marriage and any others. You can’t just decide that your partner’s debts are none of your business because legally, they are considered as shared debts and can affect your credit rating. Together, make a plan to pay off the debts. Avoid racking up more debt by living within your means.

Be Aware:

Many women make the mistake of letting their husbands handle all the money. This can present problems if your spouse falls ill, dies or leaves the relationship. According to Suze Orman, women should take an active part in making financial decisions, even when the man is doing a good job doing it all by himself. “You need to understand the family finances and weigh in on all major decisions. The fact that women tend to live longer than men means they may need to rely on the money longer and will also find themselves managing it at some point. The longer you wait to engage, the bigger the surprises you may find down the line.”

Handle Touchy Money-Related Subjects With Love:

Let’s say your partner is overspending, what do you do? Most likely you will find yourself using an accusatory tone when confronting him. However, that approach may damage your relationship. The wiser route is to bring it up during your finance date-nights by pointing out that you are over-budget (as a team), and invite him to discuss on how you can both stick to the budget.

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