Financial Poise
Couple vacations at a waterfall, symbolizing the importance of finances in marriage

Finances in Marriage: 3 C’s to Address Discontent

Do you remember the first financial conversation you had with your spouse? Maybe it took place before you even exchanged “I Dos.” If you lived together before marriage, these conversations may have been about sharing expenses, paying bills, and more. Discussions about finance in marriage could be about funding household projects, running a joint venture, planning vacations, and more. Sometimes, discussing finance in marraige can even lead to financial discontent.

But, chatting about how to fund your shared vision for the future can bring you closer together. What’s more, talking about finances in marriage is something you absolutely need to do. Here are three C’s couples should plan to address in order to head off or overcome financial discontent in your relationship: collaborate, communicate and control.

The Hard Money Conversations are Hard

Hard money conversations can be difficult, which is why for many couples financial conversations aren’t the norm. In fact, many people believe that money is a taboo topic, even when discussing it with their spouse. For example, only 57% of couples surveyed communicate about debt well, yet 67% argue about money, according to Fidelity Investments’ Couples & Money Study. Debt is as common as it is fraught: more than half of married couples carried debt into their relationship and 55% of couples feel responsible for helping pay off their spouse’s debt. Retirement is another contentious topic, according to the survey, with 54% of couples disagreeing on how much money should be saved by retirement age.

There are many external factors that can impact financial sharing between couples and cause financial discontent, such as the economy and the changing nature of work. Stock market volatility is another factor outside couples’ control that affects those who rely on stock option compensation or securities as a source of income. As more workers participate in today’s project economy, this influx of independent and freelance workers find their incomes fluctuating from month to month and year to year, as assignments flow in or dry up.

Boom or Bust Incomes Complicate Finances in Marriage

The extent of contract work is staggering and on the rise, with an NPR/Marist poll finds that one in five U.S. jobs is held by a worker under contract; within a decade, contractors and freelancers could make up half of the U.S. workforce. The boom or bust nature of compensation for these workers makes financial planning harder and communication ever more necessary.

Setting aside disconnects around basic questions like salary, there are many other topics that demand active communication and cooperation to keep finances in marriage on track:

  • Investment in a family business
  • Spending versus saving
  • How and where to spend retirement
  • Later-in-life issues involving eldercare for family members
  • Estate planning

Taking time to plan increases your chances of creating a strong foundation for the future, increases peace of mind and has the additional benefit of improving your chances of reaching your financial goals.

Relationships and Finances Need Strong Foundations

Building a strong foundation for finance in marriage is key to tackling money-related challenges. And, the best way to bolster your family’s financial footing is to follow the “Three C’s”: Communicate, Collaborate and Control.

  • Communicate – Make it a point to discuss your vision for the future, as a couple and with a financial advisor. Setting these joint goals and carefully tracking your progress can influence your savings strategy, both in the short term in day-to-day budgeting and in a retirement savings plan.
  • Collaborate – Even if you assume different financial responsibilities in a relationship, collaboration is important to overall stability. Unfortunately, in many marriages, it’s common for one partner to find themselves “suddenly single” due to death or divorce, and women are especially vulnerable. Yet, Fidelity Investors’ survey reveals that 36% of women don’t have much experience with their family’s finances, and 36% don’t know who to talk to for advice. Collaboration allows for both parties in a relationship to sharpen their financial know-how, so that no matter the situation, both individuals can feel comfortable in the event they have to manage their finances alone.
  • Control – When it comes to taking control of their financial future, communication and collaboration are instrumental in giving couples the upper hand. In fact, 69% of couples feel good about their financial health, proving that those couples who work as a team benefit better in the long term. Furthermore, 56% of couples say they are joint decision makers in day-to-day responsibilities, while 56% are also joint decision makers when it comes to long-term retirement and investment planning. In a marriage, there are a lot of things you can’t control, but saving for retirement doesn’t have to be one of them.

Even if a relationship has cracks in its financial foundation, it’s never too late for couples to get back on track. From simple budgeting to long-term retirement planning, taking control can be as simple as communicating and collaborating on goals for the future.

[Editor’s Note: To learn more about this and related topics, you may wish to attend the following webinars: Estate Planning and Asset Protection 101, and Investing Basics 2018. This is an updated version of an article that first appeared August 5, 2015.]

About John F. Sweeney

Head of Wealth and Asset Management at Figure, a San Francisco Bay area financial technology company with the mission of leveraging blockchain, AI and advanced analytics.

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