Before you get married, talk about money. Forget the flowers. Think finances. According to Jeffrey Dew, assistant professor at Utah State University, you are 30% more likely to end up with a divorce if you and your spouse argue about money once a week or more. Hands down, money is the most important point of discussion if you want your marriage to work. The question is, how do you start “the talk”?
1. Dream and Discuss
The first step is to make sure you and your honey are on the same page. The only way to know is to talk about your financial goals and objectives. This is crucial because your ultimate goals are what usually direct your spending and investment decisions. You may not be aware of it, but your financial dreams are ultimately the operating system your financial behavior runs on.
Encourage each other to openly discuss financial dreams without judging each other.
It’s unlikely that both you and your partner are on the same page completely. That’s why a frank and open conversation about priorities is next on your “to do” list. It’s fine to have different goals and objectives. It’s unavoidable to have different dreams. But it’s crucial that you compromise with each other and prioritize. If you are unable to do this it will be very difficult to get along financially over the long run. If that’s the case, you are better off knowing now rather than figuring it out a few years down the road.
I suggest you create a matrix to rank each priority on a sliding scale of 1 to 5. Rank items “1” if they are not that important and “5” if they are very important to you. And don’t rank a priority just on overall importance either. Assign a number based on how achievable it is, how easy it will be to attain, how available the resources are, if you understand what you need to do, etc. A great resource for learning how to develop and achieve your priorities is a book by Navy Seal Richard Machowitz, Unleash the Warrior Within.
Remember that this doesn’t have to be “all or nothing.” Most couples work on a number of financial goals at the same time. For example, let’s say you want to build up an emergency fund and your honey wants to save up for a trip to Madrid. Based on how much you to save to achieve these goals, you might come up with a plan that calls for you to contribute $200 a month to the emergency fund and $200 a month to the Madrid fund. There is nothing wrong with that.
3. Action Plan
Once you’ve come to terms with your spouse on what your joint priorities are, talk about how you’re going to achieve your goals. What actions do you each need to take? When? How much will you put in in order to make this dream come true? How much will your partner add?
Alternatively, you might decide to keep a certain amount of money separate and allow each of you to make your own priorities and build funds to achieve those priorities by themselves. There is nothing wrong with this course of action – as long as you both agree to it.
4. Going Off the Grid
Everyone needs freedom. There is nothing more stifling than to lose your financial power. The solution is to set up a discretionary account for each of you and each have compete discretion over how that money is going to be spent. The other party can’t even look at it. This could go a long way toward keeping peace in the family. It may not be the best use of financial resources, but it’s a heck of a lot cheaper than divorce.
Along with this, decide how much is the maximum that any one person can spend without letting the other person know.
Without tracking your spending, it’s going to be very difficult do any of the steps above. Tracking your spending puts all the steps I outlined above in perspective. For example, if you spend $75,000 a year total, it might be OK to have $2,000 a year in a discretionary account. If you spend $25,000, it might not be. Budget tracking is the number one thing you can do to safeguard your relationship – hands down. It’s the only way to know if you can afford something or not and whether the expense fits in with your overall financial plan.
BONUS POINT – Run a Credit Check
If you want to keep everyone honest, agree to run each other’s credit report and score once a year and discuss it. This is crucial if your spouse has a history of hiding his spending or abusing credit. If there is a problem with the score, you can discuss why. Fortunately, you can get a free credit score and report without signing up for a “free trial” or providing your credit card information.
What other issues should be discussed in “the talk” before marriage? What was your experience? Did you have “the talk”? Did it help?