5 Painless Ways to Manage Money With Your Partner
Whenever I see a talk show or reality show that deals with finances, I'm always most amazed by the couples.
"She makes about $60,000 per year ... I think."
"I know he has credit card debt, I just don't know how much."
These are the kinds of things I hear people say about their spouses and their money. When you're sharing bills, a household, and (hopefully) a future, it seems a little insane that so many people aren't on the same page. Or haven't even talked about what page they're on. Not before they were married, not after, and not even when they land in major financial trouble.
Not that managing money as a couple is easy. It isn't. That said, there are few key things that couples can do to help get — and stay — on the right financial track. Here are the top five. (See also: What Couples Should Ask About During the Money Talk)
1. Just Talk About It
You'd think that once someone's seen you naked, bringing up something as mundane as a bank account would be easy. You'd think. According to a poll conducted in 2013 by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, 68% of couples surveyed held a negative attitude about discussing money with their fiancee. And just 32% of people described a financial conversation as being "productive."
That lack of communication can be bad news for couples. Another poll by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation found that most married Canadians regretted having not discussed money before they tied the knot. I can only assume most Americans do too, especially since arguing about money is considered one of the top predictors of divorce.
2. Tell the Truth
There's one big — and rather obvious — caveat to talking about money with your partner, though: You have to tell the truth. According to a 2011 study, 15% of people who shared finances with a spouse kept a secret bank account. The same study found that about 10% of married people lied to their spouse about how much they earned. And a 2012 survey by American Express found that one in 10 people have misrepresented the cost of a purchase to their spouse.
Financial falsehood is common because it's oh-so-easy to do. The problem is that without the whole truth, it's impossible to really plan your finances. It might also be impossible to get along. According to a 2005 survey, 25% of Americans say it's more important for them to know what their partner's making than who they're making it with. In other words, lying about money is likely to put you in the dog house. (See also: Happy and Married: 24 Tips From a 24-Year-Old Marriage)
3. Have a Plan
Once you've had the big, scary discussion about assets, debts, and earnings with your partner, it's time to move on to another conversation: What you plan to do with all of it. Maybe one of you aims to retire at 40 and is willing to live a Spartan lifestyle to make it work, while the other dreams of retiring later — but richer. According to a 2013 study, one in three couples disagree about the lifestyle they want to lead in retirement. The problem is that if you never come up with a plan to achieve your financial goals, you probably never will. Sometimes that means meeting in the middle. (See also: How to Talk About Retirement With Your Spouse)
4. Divide, Conquer, Reconvene
One of the great things about being a pair is that you get to divide duties. If you're lucky, you might even find a spouse who likes doing taxes. Your taxes. (It happened to me!) Division of labor is a great way to get things done and even maximize each partner's strengths. There's one big caveat though: You have to reconvene regularly to make sure each knows what the other is up to.
And ladies, this one's especially important for you. A 2007 study of retirement planning among couples found that women are significantly less likely to be involved in it, even among same-sex couples. Leaving it to your spouse — whether male or female — can have serious consequences. A 2013 survey of recent widows found that when their partners died, many women struggled to manage their money on their own. Sixty-one percent had trouble filing their income taxes; 26% had difficulty locating bank accounts and investments; and 23% had trouble locating — and cashing — their spouse's life insurance policy.
It's fine to divide financial tasks between spouses, just be sure that you both know the basics. That means you should regularly discuss what's being done, how it's being done, and where each can find pertinent financial information when necessary.
5. It Isn't Easy...
Managing money as a couple isn't easy. But then, being a couple isn't always easy. Just as one of you might disagree about the right way to squeeze a tube of toothpaste or replace the toilet paper, you'll probably disagree about the right way to manage your money, too.
Actually, the truth is that there is no one right way. You just have to talk it over, argue, adjust, and figure it out as you go along. Come to think of it, that probably goes for the toilet paper and toothpaste too. But you can avoid some major mistakes. (See also: The 7 Worst Money Mistakes Married People Make)
How do you manage your money with your partner? Please share in comments!