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Money Management Tips for Couples

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by on February 7, 2013

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As Valentine’s Day approaches, many couples will be concerned with giving their partner the proper gift. What most won’t consider is that building a secure future and reducing financial stress in the household may be better than any typical gift of chocolates or flowers.

Don’t let quarrels over money ruin your Valentine’s Day this year. We spoke to some experts about how couples can improve their personal finances as a team. Read on for tips:

1. Never underestimate the importance of open communication

A simple solution is for couples to sit down and discuss gift giving between themselves.   Maybe instead of buying things that aren’t really needed, they can put money in a vacation fund – that’s what my signfiicant other (of 20 years) and I do, and have done since the second year. For birthdays, we usually buy an “experience” – whether a helicopter ride, or a weekend trip, or such. For things like Valentines, we usually go to a fundraiser dinner for a win/win. For christmas, etc, we set the money aside for our vacation or a weekend trip. 

-Ilene Davis, CFP(R), MBA

Debt is a huge issue. Many young people have student debt. Older people looking at marriage may have medical bills or other debt. Don’t hide it! Financial secrets can ruin a marriage. Make sure you’re honest so that together you can develop a plan to reduce your debt burden.

Don’t worry if you don’t see eye-to-eye on everything. It’s not a deal breaker. But it may be time to bring in an objective third party to help you out. I’ve been a part of many of these conversations.

-George Villa, Financial Advisor and Founder of Villa Tax Advisory Group

2. Keep it simple and budget-friendly for Valentines Day or other holidays

There’s nothing your partner wants more than to be seen, acknowledged, loved, and appreciated on Valentine’s Day. Nothing accomplishes that better than making a personal effort to do something special, being present, and emotionally connecting. That always works better than stuff – even when it’s fine jewelry. And to the extent it saves you money, it furthers your financial well-being which is a hugely positive factor in supporting loving relationships.

-Colin Drake, CFP and Founder of Drake Wealth Management

I like to give my clients a fruit tree to plant in their yard – which could be an amazing Valentines gift if done with some panache. The tree symbolizes that a small tree produces nothing at first, but with continued care, water, feeding, care and time the tree will bear all the fruit they’ll ever need.

-Karen Dry, CLU, CLTC

Although money doesn’t sound very romantic, it’s the foundation that allows you to be less stressed and enjoy your life together, so it’s a very romantic topic. What could be a more loving gift than to help each other establish a future where you have the means to make your dreams come true? For a romantic occasion, such as Valentine’s Day, gifts of stock purchases can be not only lovely in the present, but, if they’re well-chosen, they can be the foundation of your future. In the first few years of my now-31 year
marriage, I gave my husband, who loved cruising, the gift of 10 shares of Carnival Cruises stock at $10 per share (we were on a tight budget then) which later split twice and is now valued at over $30 per share. Now, 25 years later, we are spending our retirement years enjoying cruises, because we planned ahead.

-Tina B. Tessina, PhD, Psychotherapist and Author

3. Keep a long-term mindset when it comes to your finances as a couple

Don’t forget to take the long view and review retirement and estate plans, including life insurance. When you are part of a couple, your lives and futures becomes inexorably linked with each other. And if children are in the picture, this bond becomes even stronger making estate planning and life insurance an even more important part of the financial equation alongside saving for retirement. A study<http://ing.us/about-ing/newsroom/media-kits/life-insurance-study> done by ING U.S. found that many couples avoid discussing life insurance with each other. In fact, among married respondents, 45 percent had rarely or never talked with their spouse about what would happen to the family finances should one of them pass away. Protecting what you’ve built in life together, your income, assets and possessions, is important so that your partner and children don’t suffer financially after your death.

-Jacob Gold, Financial Advisor and Retirement Coach, ING Financial Partners

What’s most important for couples to do is sit down and create a budget. Doesn’t need to be an Excel spreadsheet, but it does need to include all inflows (income) and outflows (expenses, student loans, car loans, mortgage payments, utilities, water, cable, cell phone bill, entertainment, etc.) The easiest way to save is to invest in your employer’s 401k, this money comes out pre-tax and directly from your paycheck before you can spend it. After maxing out your 401k, you can take a look at an IRA or Roth IRA, depending on your income, there are phaseouts and exclusions, but that’s another great place for couples to save.

And before couples start to save money, they should also consider eliminating high interest rate credit card bills and consumer debt. Maybe I’m just one of the few fortunate ones whose Wife would rather see the $50 on Valentines go into our IRAs rather than into the pockets of our Florist.

-Dave Ogman, Financial Advisor, The Shapiro Ogman Group at Morgan Stanley

4. Make time and save money for the fun, spontaneous experiences

Money is a big factor in any relationship but it doesn’t always have to be a negative topic. In some instances money can bring people closer together and teach them about their partner.
Create a “fun” fund – You may not want to forego all of life’s little luxuries now to save every penny for a future trip, so create a “fun” fund to help you cover short-term activities. For example, use a piggy bank, shoe box or envelope to stash away $15 or $25 a week for small events or purchases. You may decide to use those funds each month or every couple months to enjoy a nice dinner, attend a concert or splurge on a bottle of champagne for your anniversary. Having these funds available may give you something to look forward to without worrying about how it will affect your checking account.

-Howard Dvorkin, CPA and Founder of ConsolidatedCredit.org

Make a contest out of it… each person has the luxury to contribute however much or little they want per month. At the end of the contest, whoever has saved the most gets either a gift card or something that they would want but wouldn’t buy for themselves.

-Dr. Taffy Wagner, CEPF, CCRR, CEO of Money Talk Matters, LLC

5. Remember that you won’t get far without teamwork, and a good plan

Young couples typically get invited to other couples’ weddings and showers with gift obligations. Savings can offset some of the expense of this compulsory gift giving.
Appliances break! Hair dryers, curling irons, razors, microwaves, toasters, blenders, mixers, etc can break and need replacement. How many women can go without a hair dryer or curling iron for even a day? How many men can go without a coffee maker or microwave? These are expensive to replace and can be trouble for your monthly budget. Save money for their replacement.
Is there someone the couple loves who lives far away? A grandparent, parent, or other favorite relative? Suppose that relative became gravely ill? Would they want to see them? Emergency travel is another good reason we save! Considering the expense of traveling, this may only be possible thru savings. (or the dread use of credit).

-Gregory B. Meyer, Community Relations Manager and Blogger, Meriwest Credit Union

  1. Trust is your most valuable asset. Be honest. Don’t hide debts and other liabilities from each other.
  2. Talk about everything, and in far in advance as possible. Decisions and events which are very far away are less emotional to discuss, and you’re more likely to reach a good compromise the less emotional you are.
  3. Discuss budgets and finances honestly, but don’t jump right into having just one joint account. It can take a while to get used to someone else’s “style” of financial management. While their style might be wrong for you, it’s not necessarily wrong for them.
  4. Joint budgets are sometimes the toughest part of being in a couple. It’s hard to figure out a “fair” way to split joint expenses when there are inequal incomes. The best way I’ve found to split expenses, but still be fair, is:
    • Figure out what your joint expenses and incomes are.
    • Include big items you want to save for, like holiday presents, vacations or a home in expenses.
    • Figure out what percent of joint net-income each party earns.
    • Have each contribute *that percent* towards the joint expenses.
    • That way you get to spend your individual disposable income however you want, but still ensure joint expenses are met fairly.
    • Be patient and forgiving. You’ve both probably just started feeling like you have a handle on your single financial life. This will upset that, but (hopefully!) it’s worth it.

-Daniel Egan, Director of Behavioral Finance at Betterment

Money heart image via shutterstock

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