In a marriage, being on the same page with your spouse regarding your finances is extremely important. Not talking about money can lead to fights, overdrawn bank accounts, underfunded retirement savings, home foreclosure, bankruptcy, and even divorce. But many couples steer clear of financial conversations because they’re afraid of sparking disagreements and arguments. In fact, marital experts say finances are one of the top sources of anxiety in married relationships.
So what’s a married couple to do? Sit down and talk, that’s what. Here are some tips to help you and your spouse get on the same page about your finances.
First and foremost, schedule a time to meet. Talking about money is serious, and you should treat it that way. Try to have your discussion in a place that’s free of distractions, whether that means heading to a local coffee shop, or waiting until the kids are in bed.
If you and your spouse don’t each have a good sense of where your finances stand, that’s where you should start. Go through your all of your bank accounts, investment accounts and retirement accounts, noting the balances of each. Then, discuss all of your debt such as credit card balances, the money you owe on your mortgage and any vehicles you have, plus any other payment obligations you’re facing such as student loans, alimony, or child support.
If while digging through the numbers you find that your current financial situation isn’t as rosy as you’d like, it’s important to stay calm. Don’t point fingers at one another and start playing the blame game. Doing so will only derail the conversation and make you both weary of future financial discussions. Look over the numbers together, but don’t judge.
Once you’re both on the same page regarding where your finances stand, you should start talking about your financial goals. Listening is key here. Each spouse should have a chance to voice their own goals – without interruption or judgment - and then you can hash out which goals are the highest priority to you both. Once you’ve each laid out your personal goals, you should evaluate together which ones could have the biggest positive impact on your lives, and consider which ones will be easy or difficult to achieve. Rank the goals based on these factors, and pick one that you’re both comfortable with – whether it be paying off your credit cards, saving for a family vacation, starting a college fund for your kids, or buying a second home.
After you’ve agreed on a goal, it’s time to create a budget that will allow you to work toward it. Together, you should determine exactly how much money is coming into the household each month, and how much money is going out. In other words, how much income are you bringing in, and how many bills are you paying every month, and how much money are you putting into savings? Make tweaks to your budget that align with the goals you’ve laid out. For example, if you’re trying to pay off your credit card debt, you need to determine where that money will come from. It may mean canceling cable and going with a lower-priced video streaming service, or it might mean shopping around for less-expensive car insurance.
Once your goals have been established and you’ve mapped out a budget for achieving them, it’s important to remember that that the conversation is far from over. Keep each other informed about any expenses that fall outside of the budget – ideally before they happen. For example, if your child is going to need braces, or you’re thinking about buying a membership to a golf club, sit down and talk with your spouse first about how it will impact your finances and goals. No one likes to be blindsided with a major purchase they had no say in. Without ongoing communication about financial affairs, confusion and mistrust can surface and wreak havoc on your marriage.