There are many facets of a relationship that need nurturing in order to be successful, not least of which is the financial facet. With many marriages ending in divorce — and a number likely due to money stress — it's helpful to review some of the keys to making your relationship financially successful.
After 12 years together with our own share of financial failures and successes and our combined 30-year tenure in financial services, we narrowed down four keys for a successful financial relationship. While there are many others, we believe these four are the most important.
Trust is the foundation of all successful relationships. Trust with money is just as important as honesty. We would argue trust, in fact, is more important when it comes to money. Money is an emotional topic for people. Whether valid or not, money represents hard work, work ethic, security and status.
When one person in a relationship breaks that trust, it's hard to overcome. In fact, a couple we know divorced because the wife spent their life savings and their kids' 529 Plans on herself. While there were other issues with their relationship, it was the distrust caused by the wife's lack of financial transparency that finally ended their marriage.
2. Checks & Balances
To that end, it's important to institute financial checks and balances. One person in a relationship shouldn't be solely responsible for managing all the money. That's a lot of responsibility. Management of the family money is definitely a two-person responsibility.
The benefits of this include both partners knowing what's going on with the family finances today and having an idea of what to expect in the future. This understanding reduces stress if, for any reason, the couple doesn't stay together or if one passes away.
It's also helpful for both parties to voice their opinion when it comes to the family money. This allows for better decision-making and for both people to be heard. Oftentimes, one individual can't see all the risks and opportunities. It also prevents one from feeling slighted when money is spent.
3. Support of Goals
It's not imperative to have the exact same financial goals, but it helps. It is imperative, however, to support each other's financial goals. If one person is diligently saving for tomorrow and the other is diligently living for today, a rift will occur. Two people cannot drive the same financial car if they want to go in different directions.
When we were paying off our $51,000 in credit card debt, there was a period of time when John refused to even carry his credit card and I still used my credit cards on occasion.
None of these purchases I made with my credit card were large, but they added up. Eventually, we had a discussion to get on the same page with our strategy for paying off our debt in an effective way. Once we did, our progress towards being debt-free was expedited. (You can monitor your financial goals, like building a good credit score, each month on Credit.com.)
4. Don't Assume Generalizations
So much has changed in the world that it's sometimes hard for our brains to keep up. For example, now that same-sex marriage is legal, John and I and the rest of the queer community are adapting to all the rights and responsibilities that come with marriage. One such change is common-law marriage. John and I haven't officially gotten married, but because we've lived together more than 12 years and have referred to each other as husbands, essentially "holding ourselves out there as married," we're common-law married. This was news to us shared this year by our accountant and will affect how we file last year's taxes.
With all the workplace, healthcare and marriage changes over the last couple of decades, it's important for all couples to not assume traditions that don't apply to their situation. It may make more sense for a couple to be on the wife's healthcare plan or for the husband to be the stay-at-home parent. There are situations when it's best for a couple to be married and file separately. We made one simple healthcare change this year and it is saving us $40 a month.
Look at all the facets of your financial situation with a critical eye and do what's best for you. Don't do what's always been done by previous generations or even what has been your norm in the past.
Managing the family money can be complicated, but by following these four steps you and your other half can reduce the effects of that complication and live a better financial life. The more you reduce the financial complications, the better chance you'll have of relationship success.
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