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Couples and Money

couple looking at financial goals using Education and communication as primary tools.

We are all likely familiar with the statistic that money is one of the top five reasons for divorce in our country.

What if we could do something about this? Based on my experience, both personal and professional, I’m convinced something can be done about this stat. Education and communication are the primary tools.

When my husband and I first married (after many years of dating), our counselor assumed it wasn’t necessary to cover the financial side of marriage since my career has been in financial planning. I remember laughing it off at the time and agreeing that there was no reason to waste time talking about finances.

I’m a financial planner. How could we not have discussed money endlessly? How could we not be on the same page about money? Years later, I’m laughing at my naïve thoughts from that time.

Here’s where education and communication come to the fore. Anyone that cohabits or gets married should write out and discuss their “money stories.” What’s a money story? It’s your history with money—specifically, how your values about money have developed throughout your lifetime.

Knowing each other’s money story will help tremendously when you discussing your combined finances.

Here’s how this looks for my husband and me. My money story is rooted in safety and security. I grew up in a family with very few financial resources.

As a kid, life felt unstable because money was not always reliably accessible. As a result, I became an extremely motivated saver—sometimes not in a healthy way. I’ve had to come to grips with the fact that I may never feel that we have enough money in savings to sit back and relax. Sometimes, I allow lingering feelings of scarcity to take the fun out of life.

My husband, on the other hand, grew up in a family that was willing to take a little more risk with money. My husband’s money story boils down to something like “it takes money to make money.”

These two money stories don’t really jibe with each other all the time. My husband loves to think through his options out loud. He might say, “You know, if I had a bigger truck, I could handle a lot of work that I’m subbing out now, and we’d end up way ahead.” What I heard, of course, was “Hey, you can forget that savings goal for this year. Not going to happen.”

Both of us are incapable of hiding our emotions—he’d see me cringing, then his own disgust would register. We didn’t require many words to end up completely stymied.

Over time, we’ve gotten wiser about our financial communication, but only through some very intentional work. Here’s how our process works now:

· At the beginning of each year, we sit down (separately) and put our financial goals in writing. For each item outside our normal monthly budget, we come up with a timeframe and the potential cost. For example: Finish the basement by the end of 2020 at a cost of approximately $15,000.

· We then prioritize each item on the list by ranking: 1 – most important, 5 – least important.

· We sit down together and review each other’s list. Generally, we’ve already talked enough that most items appear on both lists, but one or two are often not on the other’s list. Our sense of what’s more important diverges more, but the ranking process serves as an entry point for discussing how we came up with our lists and for making any necessary compromises.

· Throughout the year, we check back in on our list and see how we are doing. Often times, another project or an emergency comes up and we need to prioritize our list again.

The list can be as flexible as you want it to be. If an expensive “want” comes up in the middle of the year, we already have a method in place to figure out whether it’s important enough to us to sacrifice some other financial goals.

Changing up responsibilities for some financial tasks has also helped us see things from the other spouse’s perspective. For years, I had been the one who downloaded all of our expenses into a spreadsheet that allowed me to compare year-to-year spending.

Anyone who has done this has likely had a similar reaction—I can’t believe we’re spending so much money on this thing that’s not very important to me!

Recently, I deputized my husband to carry out the spending review. This has helped us in a couple of ways. First, I avoid triggering my (irrational) panic that we’re spending money we could clearly be saving. And my husband has a better-informed sense of where our money goes.

These changes haven’t created financial nirvana in our household. I’m still capable of a wicked eye roll when my husband shows up in the theater with $12 worth of creatively processed sugar for our daughter.

But we’ve managed to avoid pitched battles about the really big issues and, more importantly, generated a feeling of teamwork in moving toward financial goals that are important to both of us.

Jennifer L. Adams is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ practitioner, Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA) and financial advisor at Starks Financial Group (440 Montford Ave. Asheville, NC 28801 // 828-285-8777). Starks Financial Group is not a registered broker/deal, and is independent of Raymond James Financial Services. Securities offered through Raymond James Financial Services, Inc. Member FINRA/SIPC. Investment Advisory services offered through Raymond James Financial Services Advisors, Inc. This article expresses the opinions of Jennifer L. Adams and not necessarily those of RJFS or Raymond James. Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards Inc. owns the certification marks CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER ™ and CFP® in the U.S.


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