When two people form a union in marriage, they often neglect to thoroughly consider they are also forming a financial merger with an understanding of its implications on their relationship. Considering that money issues are one of the leading causes of divorce and that nearly 70% of married couples admit to arguing about money, having serious discussions about it before tying the knot can probably prevent a lot of heartaches. That includes a clear understanding of what it means to combine finances and its impact on the relationship.
What it Means to Combine Finances
When considering your finances, several aspects are involved, with each creating distinct issues if they are to be combined in a relationship.
Bank accounts—Joint, Individual, or Both
Many couples use a joint account to pay for all the monthly expenses while retaining individual accounts for their personal expenses. This can prevent bickering over spending habits while allowing for some individual financial freedom.
The same goes for credit cards. A joint credit account makes sense for paying for everyday household expenses, but if two people have different credit card habits, it would be important to maintain individual accounts. It’s also essential for building individual credit scores.
Debt—Yours, Mine, Ours
It’s not uncommon for couples to bring their own debt into the marriage. However, when the debt is weighted towards one person, it can create problems. Before the wedding, there should be an agreement on how debt should be handled to pay it down as quickly as possible.
Spending is the one aspect of a couple’s finances that invariably leads to animosity. Whether it is one of the spouses or both that can’t control their spending, it starts out as a minor problem and typically compounds into a much bigger problem. Couples need to discuss their attitudes about spending and setting savings goals. It is essential to create a realistic spending plan and support each other in living below their means, and then find ways to reward themselves with a small splurge now and then.
Managing the money
When it comes to managing the money, issues range from who writes the checks to how dual incomes will be allocated for expenses, savings, etc., to holding each other accountable. Money management needs to be a shared responsibility, with both spouses having a stake in it.
Attitudes and Beliefs about Money
When couples have a shared vision of what a good life means to them, they can better stay focused on their values and beliefs about money, which gives them more clarity and conviction in their financial decisions. When financial decisions are goals-based, there is less chance of disputes over money.
How to Decide if Combining Finances is Right for You
Couples who are entirely open and honest in communicating about finances have the best chance of making it work. They tend to have a shared vision about what they want and what’s best for them. Combining finances may be the right move if you have spent a lot of time considering the advantages and disadvantages and why it may be the best approach in your circumstances.
Combining finances may be right for you if
- Your top priority is building a healthy and stronger relationship. Studies show couples with combined finances are happier.
- You want to streamline your money management activities.
- You agree on short- and long-term goals.
- You are willing to spend sufficient time each month discussing finances.
- You both are willing to commit to a spending and savings plan.
- You share beliefs and attitudes about money.
When Combining Finances Might not Make Sense
Combining finances in marriage is not for everyone. While there are several practical advantages in doing so, there are some potential landmines that could go off at some point. There are several circumstances in which combining finances may not be in a couple’s best interest.
A couple should not consider combining assets when one or both individuals
- has significant, separate assets or debt
- has a business interest
- expects to inherit substantial assets
- has children from a previous marriage
- has dependent family members
- is expecting a considerable increase in earnings from a business or profession
Steps to Combining Finances
Combining finances in marriage is not an event; it’s a process that allows both partners to enter into a new arrangement with eyes wide open. It’s about getting on the same wavelength and then taking deliberate steps to ensure it will have the outcome you both desire.
Have a long talk about money
Couples who share a purpose, something they aspire to as a family, are able to confine their financial decisions to those that will help them achieve it. The money talk should focus on your values and purpose—what’s important to you and why? How will you handle debt? What’s your stand on spending above your means?
Over time, the financial tendencies that you bring to your marriage will probably be blended into a financial lifestyle that both of you are comfortable with.
Set financial goals
This involves more talking, but the purpose is to establish clearly defined short- and long-term goals. Your goals should be realistic and quantifiable with manageable timelines. They are what you’re saving for, whether it’s for a house, college fund, vacations, or early retirement.
This is where both partners put all their cards on the table, listing assets, debts, all sources of income, and future inheritances. It’s a snapshot of where you are financially right now as a couple. In this step, you need to decide how the assets, debts, and income are allocated. Do you combine your debt and tackle it as a couple? Does it make more sense to maintain separate assets or combine them towards one of your goals where you can achieve faster compounding of returns? How should your incomes be allocated—to one single pot or two separate accounts, or some combination?
The key to this step is to think practical consider what’s in the best interest of you as a couple as well as individuals. Above all else, it’s crucial for both partners to be open and honest.
Create a spending plan
It’s time to sharpen your pencils to create a realistic spending plan or budget designed to help you achieve your goals. Ideally, you first set a savings goal—what you want to allocate towards savings each month and budget around that. If you have debt that needs to be paid down, your first allocation should go towards that.
Your priority should be to create a spending plan that increases the cash flow available for savings or paying down debt. Any dollar spent on things that won’t help you achieve your goals should be questioned.
To make your spending plan work, you need to review it each month to see where adjustments should be made.
Both partners should play key roles in managing the finances. It’s not uncommon for one partner to have more interests in the finances than the other. But it’s essential for both partners to be a part of the decision-making. Some couples prefer one partner to manage the books while others trade months or quarters.
Merge your accounts
This is the execution step for setting up new accounts as per your strategy. If you decide on having a joint account for household expenses, you need to set one up with your bank. If you plan on investing together towards your goals, you should have a joint brokerage account. If you keep separate personal accounts (brokerage or banking), you need to assign your partner as a beneficiary.
Communication is the key to making a financial merger work. Schedule a money date night at least once every few months to review and affirm your goals, critical financial decisions, spending plan, and anything that has come up that could impact your finances.
What Could Go Wrong?
Things can go swimmingly for a couple but then quickly turn sour. The leading cause of financial disharmony is a communications breakdown, which could include not involving your partner in some key financial decisions. Worse is financial infidelity, where one partner carries on financial activities without the other’s knowledge. The key to financial harmony in marriage is “ABC”—Always Be Communicating.
Why Married Couples Need a Financial Coach
The problem for many couples is they don’t know how to address their financial issues. A good financial advisor is also a financial coach. An advisor can help couples establish clearly defined goals based on an understanding of their attitudes and beliefs about money. Once a couple’s priorities are in place, a financial advisor can keep them focused on the objective, preventing disagreements.
Developing a real plan for the future, with meaningful goals and a framework for making important or difficult financial decisions, is the sure path to financial success.
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