Personal Finance

When Financial Opposites Attract

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In case there is any doubt that your steady, partner, spouse or significant other is your financial opposite, know this: A 2009 academic survey of married adults found that people with opposing emotional reactions towards money (e.g. spendthrift versus tightwad) will, indeed, attract.  On the surface this dynamic seems to make a whole lot of sense. There may be some emotional upsides related to being with your financial opposite, at least initially.

“As a spender you may find the financial boundaries and discipline of a saver to make you feel safe and secure.  A saver by contrast may find your spend thrift ways wildly exciting,” explains Manisha Thakor, author of Get Financially Naked: How to Talk Money With Your Honey.  But the excitement won’t last, she quickly points out. Over the long run, your financial differences with your partner may run deeper if avoided and cause more stress than any other matter in your relationship. (Need I even mention the divorce rates in this country?)

The way I see it – both from a financial journalist perspective and that of someone who’s been in a committed relationship for several years – getting your financial house in order with your significant other involves, at the least, these five, basic steps:

•    Effective communication. We promise to stay together “for richer or for poorer,” which is to say that money shall not break us apart. While that’s a fine promise, we know by now that money problems – beyond being “rich” or “poor” – are more than enough to create turmoil and bring down even the strongest marriages. And yet we still avoid the topic.  A recent online survey found only 24 percent of couples created a budget before walking down the aisle. Nineteen percent avoided or didn’t think of talking finances, and 33 percent didn’t know their spouse’s credit score.

•    Respect your differences. The fact is, we’re all different. You can only control what you can control, which is your future together and the path you both agree to follow.  To do that successfully, you have to explore and understand why each of you is different. Go down memory lane together and observe your upbringing and financial experiences (good and bad). The goal is not to look for excuses to permit sloppy financial decisions in the marriage.  Rather, your financial histories can provide the context you both need to be patient and understanding towards your money differences. It can also lead you both to getting the proper help you need to get on a better track.

•    Share financial responsibilities. One of you is either naturally better or more interested in tracking the household finances. To that end, designate a chief financial officer, perhaps the person who’s most organized and has the most time to dedicate to managing the household budget and paying the bills most of the time. But make sure whomever you designate teaches the other partner how everything is handled. Switch roles once in a while so that both are aware of the responsibilities.

•    Commit to your family’s goals. All goals carry financial price tags.  The sooner you decide what you hope to accomplish in the short and long term as a married couple, the sooner you can begin saving up and executing on your plans.  (The sooner you learn you have different goals is a good idea, too.)  Discussing where you want to live next, when you’d like to buy a home, how many children you’d like and your career path should be a constant part of your marriage’s dialogue.

•    Have financial independence. Throughout your marriage you may experience various levels of financial reliance. You may be dependent for some time, if you aren’t working and your spouse is earning all the household’s income.  If both of you are working, you may experience interdependence. But no matter what, you want to always have financial independence. That means have savings of your own, a bank account of your own and a credit card with just your name.  You want to be protected financially in the event of a setback like disability, job loss or divorce. For women, this is especially significant since they – on average – outlive their husbands and will need to take care of themselves either due to being widowed or divorced. In fact, according to AARP, roughly two-third of women between 40 and 79 years of age have gone through a major financial “life crisis,” like unemployment, divorce, death of a spouse or a serious illness.

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