Summertime equals wedding season. And with a wedding, comes couples facing the task of merging their finances.
Experts agree that finances can be the number one cause of marital strain. Money issues are so troublesome that people who say they’re experiencing stress in their relationship cite finances as the number one reason – easily beating out the second place contender: annoying habits. Money issues are also responsible for 22% of all divorces, making it the third leading cause.
This may seem like a grim prognosis for married couples, but it doesn’t have to be. There are various steps that experts say couples can take to avoid letting money matters get the best of their marriage. So whether you’re about to say “I do” or money problems have you thinking maybe “I don’t anymore” the following tips can help prevent money from destroying your relationship.
Discuss your demons.
Experts agree that fully disclosing your financial situation with your significant other BEFORE tying the knot is a must, regardless of how uncomfortable it may be. This is the time to mention outstanding debt, loans, income sources, investments or other financial assets or obligations.
If you’re in a second or third marriage and you have alimony or child support payments or even if you expect to provide financial support to aging parents or adult children in the future, that is something you need to address as early as possible.
Define shared goals.
You talk about building a life together – buying a home, having children and their college education, but what about finances? Consider talking about your personal financial goals. Are they the same? Financial planning might not be romantic, but there is some peace of mind in sharing the same goals.
Rein in the purchases and the debt.
A large amount of debt is the number one cause of stress in a marriage. Much of this debt can start to accrue early on in a marriage when a couple is merging finances but still spending a lot.
Newly married couples have a tendency to purchase things beyond their economic capacity. Young couples tend to want everything immediately and they end up getting themselves deep in debt before they are ready to handle the responsibility. So how do you handle the urge to want things? You’d be surprised at the number of purchases you don’t make if you sleep on it.
Understand your partner’s money mindset.
A lot of fights between spouses that seem as though they’re about money aren’t about money at all. It’s actually a clash of temperaments. And temperament is a huge potential source of conflict. One person may be upset that their spouse is spending too much, but the issue may not be just that they can’t afford it but may be something deeper, such as a real fear of not being able to pay their bills someday.
It’s also important to have an understanding of how your spouse views money and how they were raised around money. Were their parents frugal or big spenders? Did you live on a budget? Did your parents talk about money or was it a taboo subject? What is your spouse’s greatest fear when it comes to their finances? All of these answers will play into a marriage and how that partner treats money today.
Establish a joint account.
It can be hard for new couples to merge finances immediately after getting married, but it’s almost always good to establish a joint account. Separating finances may work in the short term, because nothing needs to be worked out. But things change when you need to look down the road.
Expenses that usually need to be covered by the joint account includes houses, cars, child care, utilities, etc.
Don’t ignore the “B” word.
Don’t sugarcoat it: you need to have a household budget. It’s the most effective way to keep track of your money, however only around 32% of people have one.
Budgeting seems tedious, but having one can yield significant benefits, not least of which is preventing the marital turmoil that arises when one or both spouses are in the dark about where their money is going.
The good news is that technology has made budgeting a lot easier with the use of online tools and apps that track your accounts and spending for you.
Don’t keep secrets.
Keeping secrets from your spouse can put you on the fast track to marital mayhem. Unfortunately it’s not uncommon, especially when it comes to keeping secrets about money. Roughly six million consumers in the U.S. have concealed financial accounts such as checking accounts, savings account or credit cards from their spouses, partners or significant others they live with (according to a poll by CreditCards.com).
So many couples are hiding money or debt or charges and then the spouse finds out and its war in their marriage. While no one should be micromanaged or expected to disclose every purchase, hiding accounts or lying about big purchases can be toxic to the relationship and can lead to bigger emotional issues down the line.
Give each other some breathing room.
In fact, conferring with your spouse about all of your purchases can feel very restricting – especially when you find yourself having to defend a purchase that your partner doesn’t endorse. That’s why various experts suggest having a separate budget for each spouse to spend on discretionary items of their choosing. Have a line item on the family budget for “fun money.” These are funds that can be used any way they choose and partners don’t need to report back to one another as to what they used those funds for.
All in all, you have to plan, earn, save and spend together. Otherwise, you are essentially living two different lifestyles under one roof.