When dating couples begin to consider settling down together as husband and wife, it isn’t uncommon to focus on immediate and unimportant issues like the wedding and ignore the nitty-gritty stuff like money.
While the future bride agonizes over the flowers in her soon-to-be-forgotten bouquet, and the groom wonders how many kegs of beer would be appropriate for his bachelor party, a pall of doom already hangs over the nuptials because they never discussed if they were financially compatible.
Most Americans say they married for love, but marriage itself is a financial union, and how we treat our money and how we spend or save it is as crucial to marital bliss as how many backrubs we give or whether or not he sends flowers on Valentine’s Day.
Couples aren’t very good at talking about money. We’re so bad at it, we even lie.
In 2004, Smart Money/Redbook conducted a survey that revealed 36 percent of cohabitating/married men lied to their partner about the cost of an item. Forty percent of women admitted to lying.
In a USA Today poll, almost two-thirds of married couples had not discussed their finances before the wedding. Many newly married men and women discover their sweetheart has thousands of dollars in credit card debt or loans that were never revealed during their engagement. After the wedding, a spouse might maintain a P.O. Box to hide bills for clandestine purchases.
CNN/Money asked 1,000 couples about their money challenges and the results revealed that 48 percent of the couples argued about money. For 13 percent of those, the arguments occurred several times a month.
How did the guys stack up in gauging how important their wives considered issues like paying off debt and saving for emergencies? Fewer than half of them thought it mattered to their wives, even though average of 64 percent of the women felt these two issues were very important.
On the other hand, wives overestimated their husband’s desire to pay off debt as well as save for retirement and emergencies.
Citibank polled divorcing couples and found that a marriage has a better chance of surviving adultery than clashing spending habits. According to the Financial Planners Association, almost half of financial planners working with divorcing couples say that money is often a “key factor” in the decision to call it quits.
Betsy Stevenson, assistant professor of business and public policy at Wharton College, says “a lot of the debates people have about money are code for how we want to live our lives. A lot of the choices we make in how we want to live our lives involve how we spend our money.”
With so much at stake, how can couples get on the same page or at least find some middle ground when it comes to finances?
The New York Times recently printed a seven-step plan for couples to come to grips with their fiscal bugaboos and, hopefully, gain control over them.
1. Talk and share goals. Financial counselors say that being honest about money is a top priority. We live in an age where people will tell you more about their sex lives than their finances, and the secrecy makes it all the harder to reach consensus in buying and spending habits.
2. Run a home like a business. The goal of family finances should be similar to a company’s goal: profit (which would translate into savings). This means knowing how much is coming in and how much is going out.
3. Be supportive of careers. Having someone in your corner makes working for those dollars a lot more pleasant.
4. Enjoy, but within reason. This might not be the year for the ski trip or to buy a boat. For other families, it might be time to cut down on the meals out or the weekend trips to the mall.
5. Use a mediator. Money habits often are formed in childhood and, like nose picking, can be difficult to overcome. Nagging, threats and ultimatums may get short-term results but a financial counselor or therapist can help you understand why you have to have the Escalade and then talk you down from there. Money issues have a lot to do with control as well, and the spender may balk at the saver calling the shots. If a disinterested third party steps in, budgets and sacrifices can be easier.
6. Maintain some independence. Pooling together every last dime puts everyone in the position of having to justify each purchase. Setting aside an agreed upon amount each week or month for “just me” money can defuse a volatile situation.
7. Invest in your marriage. If you think marriage is expensive, try divorce. Spending time with your spouse now can pay dividends in the future in positive feelings. An inexpensive monthly date night allows you to reconnect and remember what you saw in one another in the first place.
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