While watching a romantic comedy the other night with my wife Jill and our girls, the subject came up of how their Mom and I first met. With Maeve at college, Phoebe and Sophie peppered Jill with questions about her first impressions of me and how she knew I was the one. They asked, “Was he handsome?” “Not particularly,” she replied. Hmmm. “Did he have money?” “Nope, your dad was broke,” she said. At that point Sophie blurted, “So, did you just feel sorry for the guy?” The girls laughed, but then Jill grabbed my hand and gave me a wink and said, “I just knew.”
And you know . . . I did too.
After twenty-seven years of marriage, I must tell you it is difficult to imagine building a family and a business without Jill. Like any couple, we navigate through the joys and challenges of sharing a life together. Even though we built a wonderful business centered on financial planning, we still find ourselves at times needing to negotiate on our own financial decisions. One plus of working in our field is that so many of our clients are married couples or partners in lifelong relationships. We get to see firsthand couples that have successful healthy relationships with money and finance. For most, they seem to share the ability to address disagreements honestly and resolve with a common goal in mind.
Unfortunately, financial disagreements consistently rank near the top of issues that create conflict between couples. In fact, I was reading this past weekend about a recent study by the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) . The study found that 73% of married or cohabitating couples find that financial decisions cause tension in their relationship. And more than a quarter of the same couples say those types of discussions occur at least once a month. So this week I’d like to spend our time together and talk a bit about how money issues affect romantic relationships and things we can do to increase our chance for success – while at the same time reducing some unnecessary marital stress.
With couples, many financial disagreements stem from having different views on wants versus needs, spending priorities, and debt. Couples who are unwilling to positively address financial issues often put the health of the entire relationship at risk. Even worse, up to 40% of people in long-term relationships practice what some people call “financial infidelity.” Financial infidelity can range from failing to get a partner’s approval for large purchases to having secret bank or credit card accounts. And it can be a big deal – in fact, over 40% of people say they would end a relationship over “financial infidelity.”
Often, when couples decide to blend their finances, they need to agree upon what is yours, what is mine, and what is “ours”. Some people feel everything should be unified, but others feel a need for some form of financial independence. One couple might opt to hold entirely joint accounts, another might keep everything in separate accounts, and yet others will look to a combination of joint and separate accounts. They all have their pros and cons, and the right solution is dependent on each couple. Often, the age a couple starts living together or whether this is a second marriage or blended family will influence what works best as well.
Regardless of how the practical matters of household finance get resolved, honesty, open-mindedness and agreed upon goals are crucial for couples to succeed financially. Keeping money or debt secrets can destroy any hope of financial success as well as trust in the relationship. Being open-minded helps ensure equality and is a key component to success in romantic relationships. Individual partners need to keep in mind that we all come from different family backgrounds, and consequently have different “money personalities.” Understanding your partner’s financial values and clearly expressing your own is the foundation of a happy financial partnership. It is important to look at the upside of achieving common goals, rather than using money as a currency for power or control.
When money issues become an obstacle to a happy family, it sometimes makes sense to utilize an outside resource to help resolve the problems. Couples struggling with debt may find help through a non-profit credit counseling service. Others may seek a non-biased third party such as a fiduciary financial advisor to help plan a smooth path to retirement or deal with blended family issues.
So much of it comes down to honesty and willingness. I must tell you, if you’ve found the right person to share your life, overcoming financial disagreements is well worth the price.
And as always – be vigilant and stay alert, because you deserve more!
Hey, can you believe this column marks eight of years you and I getting together each week to help take the complicated issues of Wall Street and break them down for Main Street? Thanks for checking in and have a great week.
Jeff Cutter, CPA/PFS is President of Cutter Financial Group, LLC, an SEC Registered Investment Advisor with offices in Falmouth, Duxbury, Mansfield. Jeff can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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