KIM: Talk to your spouse early about money, big issues

May 26, 2012

KimDo you and your spouse (or significant other) share exactly the same opinion on financial matters, such as spending, saving, borrowing and investing? If so, you’re in a very small minority of couples.

Why? Our individual life experiences shape how we think about finances. Many of these happen long before we ever meet our eventual life partner.

Thus, many of our opinions about finance have been formed by the time “you” and “me” becomes “we.” It is this difference between the you and me and the transition to we that is one of the primary causes of stress in a relationship. If you’re in the vast majority of couples, you need a way to diffuse this tension.

kim-behaviorgap-chart2-1col.jpgCarl Richards is a certified financial planner who is both insightful and quick with a Sharpie. His book, “The Behavior Gap,” was published earlier this year. He also writes for The New York Times blog, “Bucks—Making the Most of Your Money,” and has given me permission to share his recent posting on this topic.

Richards says even couples who are close and “in sync” don’t automatically cover all the bases when it comes to the “big stuff.” In client meetings, it’s often clear that couples are having their first discussion on big decisions—kids’ education, spending/saving and even retirement. Without fail, one or both individuals are shocked by their partner’s opinion on a topic. From his experience, “it seems obvious that the more conversations you have about money before you have to make major financial decisions, the happier you’ll be in your relationship.”

Agree on a predetermined spending limit, above which both must agree. Talk about education. How much family financial support is appropriate? Housing can be an emotional decision. Decide what’s right for the family. Discuss vacation expectations. Don’t wait until the credit card statement arrives. Review your retirement goals.

Set aside a specific time to talk about finances each month. This allows both individuals to prepare and know what to expect. Because meetings are held regularly, disagreements are less likely to boil over.

Discussions about money can end in angry arguments, so it’s important to take the heat out of the discussion by having a “no shame, no blame” rule. While there should be no shame, commit to learn from your mistakes and move forward. Write down your decisions and track your progress. Take responsibility for your actions and don’t be afraid to hold each other accountable.

Richards says we can dial down the stress from talking about money when we have a better understanding of what matters to our partner. We also increase our chances of success by talking through these big financial decisions before they become critical.•


Kim is the chief operating officer and chief compliance officer for Kirr Marbach & Co. LLC, an investment adviser based in Columbus, Ind. He can be reached at (812) 376-9444 or mickey@kirrmar.com.


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