BY KARA I. STEVENS
Marriage is not only an emotional commitment, but it is also a financial one. When you decide to share your life with another person, you implicitly agree to share in collective expenses, liabilities and windfalls.
Whether you are recently married, recently engaged or are a seasoned married couple, make sure that your shared financial goals will safeguard your family's fiscal peace of mind and sanctity. Here are five questions to consider when embarking on building a strong financial foundation and creating lasting financial intimacy.
1. How compatible are our money mindsets? Without knowing it, we each enter into relationships with a set of beliefs about money, spending, debt, and wealth. We also attribute certain values to money such as freedom, power, self-worth, control, and status. While there is nuance and complexity when it comes to pinpointing a financial identity, most of us tend to be either spenders or savers.
It is important that you complete this exercise to uncover the why behind your financial habits and beliefs. The process will shed some light into shared or disparate fears, goals, and hang-ups when it comes to money management and financial goals.
2. How often should we talk about money? Behind sex, money is probably one of the most taboo topics to talk about. I am no psychologist, but I think money helps us express our deepest desires and wants -- causing us to become very protective of our funds and weary of judgment from those that can hurt us the most (i.e. our partner). Overcoming this issue can only happen when you talk about money and what you want to do with it regularly and honestly.
Begin by scheduling short monthly meetings with your partner to discuss not only your family's yearly savings goals, upcoming costs (i.e. vacations, surgeries, college tuition), challenges, but also how much each partner will have to spend without guilt, approval, or consensus. (Translation: if s/he wants to blow his/her weekly or monthly money personal budget on tickets to the movies, Philly cheese steaks, Pop Tarts, then so be it, as long as total cost does not exceed the limit of the allocation.)
In the event that monthly meetings are not sufficient, adjust the meeting times to meet your needs. Throughout the course of your partnership, you will encounter a number of financial realities -- layoffs, deaths, births, windfalls, raises, and retirement. It is important that the frequency of your meetings responds to these realities and remains meaningful and action-oriented. Also, make sure your discussions allow you to brainstorm ways that will allow you to use some of your hard-earned money to experience pleasure and fun.
3. How should we celebrate our financial progress? When a couple reaches a particular milestone whether it be a paid-off credit card, a pay increase, or a down-payment on a home, celebrate the financial progress in low-cost ways: a dinner, a little champagne, or a high five for a job well done.
4. How should we handle paying bills? A lot of financial pundits will tell you that it is a must to open a joint savings and checking account when you first get married. I would have to disagree. I think each couple should experiment and test out what works best for them. If that means that each partner maintains the savings and checking accounts that they brought into the marriage and gradually works toward establishing a shared set of accounts or divide bills evenly or by percentage of income, that is fine. What is most important is that you communicate and figure out what is best for you.
5. Is it smart to invest in a financial counselor? Investing in the strength and longevity of your marriage should happen before you decide to wed. Having a third party facilitate hard conversations around gender roles and money, communication styles, and planning for the financial unknown provides couples with positive models to emulate. If you have not had the chance to invest in a financial counselor before marriage, you still have time. After you say the "I dos," make your first gift to yourselves a financial counselor or financial planner.
Marriage is a beautiful and wonderful journey. It is also serious and not to be taken lightly. Ensure the longevity and health of your marriage by taking all of the necessary steps to build a strong financial foundation.
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