If you think your boss or financial advisor has the greatest influence on your financial future, you're wrong. Most likely, it's your spouse who holds the cards.
But many couples aren't even talking about their budgets. According to a recent survey by Capital One, 40% of Americans in relationships have not talked to their significant other about their holiday budget this year, and nearly three in five aren’t confident their spouse will stick to their holiday budget. Perhaps more striking, c ouples report being more likely to talk with each other about their near-term shopping plans t han their long-term retirement goals.
Since marriage is as much a financial pact as a romantic once, financial analyst and Capital One spokesperson Vera Gibbons offers the following tips for getting on the same page with your spouse:
1. Break the ice.
"Couples will talk about almost anything before they discuss money," she says. "While it is an emotionally charged topic, it’s a discussion you need to have. After all, money plays into every aspect of our lives." Set a time, and sit down to talk. It can be as simple as an informal chat around the kitchen table.
2. Set mutually agreed on goals.
Gibbons says it's important to discuss short-term and long-term goals, as well as aspirations for yourself and family. "This will help you set priorities and identify savings goals – together," she says. "Once everything is on the table, and you’re both on the same page, schedule these chats on a routine basis, such as monthly or quarterly." You can also use that time to discuss other relevant financial issues as they come up.
3. Create a budget.
Budgeting may not sound romantic, but Gibbons says you'll be better off. She suggests that couples take a look at what’s coming in the door and what’s going out. Where are you spending too much? Entertainment? Food? Then you can identify and agree on areas to cut back. "Set a budget that you feel you can both realistically stick to, resisting the temptation to pass the blame if it needs tweaking after a few months," she says. "After all, a budget is not a set-it-and-forget-it. Rather, it’s a baseline from which most of your financial decisions will be made."
4. Decide how to split it up.
Finally, it's important to figure out how you'll combine your money and make different types of payments. If you choose separate accounts for your personal expenses and a joint account for household expenses, Gibbons recommends that each spouse contributes an equal percentage of their income to the shared account. On the other hand, you may find that merging accounts is easier, particularly if you have children or share a mortgage. "The key is to find a system that works for you," she says. "This means taking into account your individual money styles. A combo approach or separate accounts altogether may better suit you."
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