Valentine’s Day is a day for candy, special events and quiet candlelit dinners. For some, it’s a time to express love and gratitude to their partner; for others, an opportunity to renew and rekindle a relationship. It may seem an awkward time to talk about money. That conversation can often cause words of love to decay into uncomfortable and angst-filled silence. While a meaningful dialogue on this day might seem unromantic, Valentine’s Day can present an opportunity for a fresh start.
Many marriage counselors place finances and money second only to sex as a significant cause of marital stress. Most frequently identified are differing attitudes toward spending and saving, lack of communication about financial status, and secrecy. Couples tend to discuss their dreams and goals pretty openly but learn each others’ attitudes towards money gradually. Can a saver and planner ever be happily married to a spender and dreamer?
Our attitudes toward money, finance, investment and risk form early in our childhood. We frequently adopt the styles and opinions of our parents, and learn lessons from the household we grow up in on what is advisable, appropriate or wrong in handling money. What is generous and openhanded in some families may be seen as extravagant and wasteful in others.
When a marriage begins early in life, existing assets and finances are less of an issue than in a second marriage or a marriage later in life, when both spouses have become set in their own financial ways. In second marriages, spouses must balance protection for a current spouse with ensuring an inheritance for one’s own children, or navigating the challenges of day-to-day living when one partner has considerably more assets or income than the other. Here are some conversations starters.
Full Disclosure: It’s not unreasonable for each to know the money history of the other, including previous debts, investment habits and styles, attitudes about spending and savings and credit issues. If you are moving forward together, know what baggage you are carrying. Often, when one partner defers all investment decisions, serious and costly errors result, errors that could have been avoided with more spousal input. Two heads really are better than one.
Accountability: Each partner should have some responsibility for the money in the relationship: savings, spending and investing. Typically one person is better at budgeting and paying bills while the other may know how to power shop for travel and vacations, or how to structure investment plans. In any case, share responsibility and share your knowledge.
Spending: Issues here put particular stress on a relationship. They also lead to hiding and untruthfulness. According to a 2010 survey, over two-thirds of spouses admit to hiding purchases, with clothing and electronics leading the categories for both sexes.
Education: While you may not enjoy investing, you need to understand how your funds are being invested by your spouse or significant other, where they are and how to access them. Women should be certain to maintain their financial identities in marriage and relationships. Be sure to establish credit in your own name.
Pre- and post-nuptial agreements might throw a splash of cold water on hot romance, but sometimes things needs to be put in writing. These agreements can protect your share of assets in a separation, divorce or second marriages that involve children. It is also important for couples to know where important documents are located and to be sure that beneficiaries are listed accurately on all relevant policies, annuities, IRAs and 401(k)s.
So, to the Valentine’s Day pessimist who thinks that money makes for unromantic conversation, your significant other who broaches the topic loves you more than you know.
Gloria Harris is director of client services and Steven Weber is the senior investment advisor for The Bedminster Group, providing investment management, estate and financial planning services. The information contained herein was obtained from sources considered reliable. Their accuracy cannot be guaranteed. The opinions expressed are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those from any other source.