The divorce rate in America continues to stay around 50 percent with couples frequently point to money as a contributing factor in their split. Don’t wait until you say, “I do” to have the tough talks about finances. Instead, you can start off on the right foot (or get back on track) with your finances and remove money as a cause of stress in your relationship.
How can you do that? You can begin by having a financial plan for your life as a couple. If you’re a new couple that is just combining finances – whether that’s through marriage, living together, or for some other reason – you can take the six actions that I’ve listed below to get control of your money as a couple and move toward financial success.
1. Talk about your financial past
Before you combine finances and start making decisions as a couple, it’s a good idea to talk about your financial past. Opening up about your individual experiences with money will help you understand each other because you’ll learn why you each make the decisions you do.
Tell your partner the good, the bad, and the ugly. Credit card debt, student loans, bankruptcy – you name it. Get it all out there. Ask each other what your beliefs are about money. Do you want to be rich? Do you hate rich people? Did you grow up poor? Ask questions that help you learn about each other’s deep-rooted beliefs about money. Whatever you think is relevant for your partner to know, tell him. This doesn’t all have to come out in the course of one conversation either. But keep in mind; if you talk about your financial past and really get to know each other, you’ll be better equipped to make decisions as a unified team.
2. Decide how you’ll combine money
Discuss and decide how you want to actually combine your money. There are several ways to combine your finances that you can consider. You can combine everything and have completely joint accounts. You can keep everything separate. Or, you can do something in between.
There is no right or wrong answer here. In fact, I hear people say all the time that they started out keeping their finances separate and later combined, or vise versa. Feel free to start one way and change later based on how things are going. This is just one of the many reasons it’s important to have regular money check-ups with your partner.
3. Set financial goals
Set financial goals for your short-term (less than one year) and long-term (more than one year) future. I like to set goals using the SMART method, but any method will work. The SMART method has you create goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely. This means that when you create goals, they should be narrow, in writing, achievable, and have a deadline.
To set financial goals; ask your partner about what he or she wants your financial future to look like. Maybe you need to get out of debt in the next year, or maybe you want to save for a down payment on a house and retire at age 55. Whatever the case may be put your financial goals in writing. It’s pretty much agreed upon that writing down your goals makes it much more likely that you’ll accomplish them.
Continue to reflect and change your goals as time goes on. The point of having goals is to live intentionally – it’s not so that you have to be rigid. Consider any life changes and circumstances and adjust your goals as need be. The point is to work together and accomplish what you want for yourselves as a couple.
4. Make financial decisions together (as a team)
When you combine finances as a couple, commit to making financial decisions as a team. Managing your money as a team means that you always consider and respect the other person’s financial wishes, make financial decisions together, and don’t hide anything from the other person. When you make financial decisions as a team, you set yourself up for success. This will intuitively make finances easier for you as a couple.
It’s really hard to fight about money if you make financial choices that are for the benefit of you and your partner as a team. Keep this in mind with every decision you make.
5. Have finance meetings
Schedule weekly (or monthly) finance meetings. This is a practical tip that will pay huge dividends. Schedule 30 minutes to an hour every week to go over your finances together. During this time, discuss whatever you want to with respect to money. This may be updates on purchases, budget discussions, big purchases that are upcoming, etc.
The point of having a scheduled meeting time is to avoid awkward and unpleasant financial discussions periodically. Whenever you have something meaningful to say about finances, you can be certain that you’ll have your partner’s undivided attention at your upcoming financial meeting. It’s comforting and helpful.
6. Be transparent
One of the most important standards for any new couple is to have total transparency with your finances. When you talk about money, be open an honest about your past, present, and what you want in your future. If you make a financial mistake – tell your significant other. Start off together by committing to total transparency, even if money is in separate bank accounts. You should also be open and forthcoming about financial decisions so money doesn’t become a taboo topic in your household.
Start the Process Early
When you’re a new couple, it’s extremely important to start out on the right financial foot, so to speak. You can do that by being completely transparent, talking about your financial past, setting financial goals, committing to making financial decisions together, regularly having financial meetings as a household, and deciding how you’ll combine money. Life will throw wrenches in your financial plan and goals, but open communication and help you work through the unexpected.