Money Talks Can Help Your Happily Ever After

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By Michael Schoonmaker - June 21, 2019

Ask any couple what they argue about most, and finances usually rank first or second. Perhaps not a first date subject, but money should become a regular discussion topic between two committed people. The health of your finances and relationship may depend on it.

The Downside of Silence

Not talking about money can be detrimental. Even if you manage finances separately, understanding each person's money values, how they manage debt and save are important to know.

Those who talk about money may actually be happier in their relationships. According to a Love and Money Survey , 90% of happy couples discuss finances once a month, compared to 68% of unhappy couples.

Below I've outlined the different stages of relationships and some of the financial things to consider as a couple.

Before the Commitment

While most people don't want to talk finances when they just start dating, there is a point where you should share your money views. Are you a carefree spender and your partner's a staunch saver? Is your partner a credit-card junkie and you believe cash is king? These are important to discover before making your relationship permanent.

When learning each other's financial habits, it's important to note that you are both products of your upraising. Parents' financial beliefs and behaviors significantly impact children's financial views  even if money problems were hidden or money wasn't talked about.

Blending Lives and Money (or Not)

Whether you marry or live under the same roof, it's critical to discuss money before joining your lives—even if you decide to keep finances separate. While combining finances used to be a common practice, that's changing. One in five couples lead separate financial lives , and 24% don't share major accounts, such as checking, savings, credit cards or mortgages.

If you do or don't share your financial accounts, you should still plan together.

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Keep It Honest

Experts agree that keeping finances separate has pros and cons, but the worst thing you can do is hide or lie about your situation.

Four Points to Agree On

1. Budgeting

If you blend finances, set parameters for spending and saving. This can be fairly easy, even with separate accounts. Decide which bills each person will pay and how much each will invest. Consider your incomes, debts and how much you want to save for future goals—like purchasing a home and retirement.

2. Managing Debt

Debts and credit cards are areas ripe for disagreements. If either partner is coming into the relationship with a lot of debt, deciding how to manage it (separately or together) is critical. How you will use credit and debt in the future also requires mutual agreement.

3. Saving for Emergencies

Regardless of your incomes, it's important to set money aside for surprises. Nothing can derail finances faster than an unexpected event, such as a medical emergency or a job loss. The general rule is to set aside six to nine months of expenses.

4. Investing in Your Futures

Some people are natural savers, while others struggle. We always advocate starting early with investing because it can add up to so much more, but you will need to consider each person's values and agree on priorities.

Remember that these are not one-time talks. Regular financial discussions should happen at least monthly. It could even become your "money talk" date night.

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Plan Together

Investing separately can be a bit complicated, especially if one saves a whole lot more than the other. Develop your game plan together.

Starting a Family

Bringing children into a relationship can change your lives in many ways, not the least of which is financially. Excluding college expenses, it's estimated that from birth to age 18, it will cost $233,610 to raise a child  in the U.S.

Luckily, you don't have to pay it all up front. Budgeting for extra expenses is a must when you start a family. Planning ahead for college expenses should also be on your list. Other pricey items to consider are child care, and increased household, food, clothing and transportation expenses.

Now is also a good time to consider other financial planning needs, such as evaluating your life insurance and estate planning.

Empty Nesting or Sandwiched

Your 40s and 50s are a good time to evaluate your financial status. There are several things occurring: Your income could be peaking; the kids may have struck out on their own and retirement is getting closer.

Some find themselves still supporting children and also caring for aging parents, causing additional strain on your expenses and your relationship.

Rethinking budgets for changing expenses is a must. And it's also a good time to talk about the future and develop a solid, written down plan, even if you're still 10-15 years from retirement.

Talking to a financial professional about your plan could be your best course of action as a couple.

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Answer These Questions

When do we want to retire?

What do we want retirement to look like?

How much will we need?

How long will our savings last?

Will we need to adjust our expectations?

Life After Work

Just because you stop working doesn't mean you stop talking about money. You still need to budget, maintain emergency money and invest. You may even still be managing debt; it may, however, look different in retirement.

There are other decisions that you should have already made or should make now. Those include how much you'll withdraw each year from investments and from which ones first, spending priorities, drawing Social Security benefits and paying for potential medical expenses.

And if you haven't already, make your estate plan a priority—especially consider how to protect a surviving spouse or partner financially.

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Review Beneficiaries

Keep beneficiaries updated, especially if you aren't married. This will eliminate the possibility of your money going to default beneficiaries.

Keep the Dialogue Open

No matter what your relationship stage, talking about your finances should be a priority. Though you each bring views to the relationship, it is possible to come to agreement over your financial plan.

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Michael Schoonmaker
Michael Schoonmaker

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