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Relationships and money. There are whole books and videos devoted to how these two things work together…or don’t. When couples share the top five stressors in their relationships, it is almost guaranteed that money will make the list. According to the American Psychological Association in their 2014 report on Stress in America, 31% of people with partners reported having significant money stress in their relationships. So, if you recognize yourself in that statistic, now you also know you’re not alone.
Internal money issues
Whether you are in a new relationship or you have been paired off for a while, conflicts happen and communication differences can play a big role. If you want to prevent money issues from hurting your relationship, you will first need to evaluate your ability to communicate about money with your partner. This may sound easier said than done.
Money management is very behavior-based. Many of us received either direct or indirect messages about money in childhood that weren’t always healthy. For example, if one of your parents was a prolific spender, you may find it harder to embrace delayed gratification. Or, if money was a constant struggle in your family, you may find you are constantly trying to overcome feelings of scarcity. Therefore, saving money may be a real challenge for you. Examining and identifying what might be part of your inner baggage with money will need to happen before you start a dialogue with your significant other.
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Once you have a sense of what your money issues are, you should sit down with your partner in a neutral environment. Then, discuss what you each have discovered about your money issues, both in the context of your money goals individually and as a couple. Do not have this discussion right before a large purchase at a store! Having an initial set of money goals is important because it establishes what exactly you are trying to achieve when you split finances. Not having specific money goals, on the other hand, is like following a road map with no destination in mind, you end up meandering and nothing is accomplished. To get started, S.M.A.R.T (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound) goals can be very helpful for translating your goals from ideas into a written list.
Ways you can split finances
I always say to my clients that there is no one ‘right way’ to manage your money or split finances. Having said that, there are two primary methods for money management that I see couples use.
The “All-In” method
The first one I will call the “All-In” method. This is where couples merge all or almost all their financial lives together and decide together how to split finances. They get one joint checking and savings and each of their incomes goes into it. They apply for loans together, including a mortgage. Generally, one member of the couple does the day to day financial management tasks while the other member is kept informed about the details. These couples make all financial decisions together.
In this method, couples keep most of their financial lives separate except for a joint account used to pay “common” expenses. These are typically housing, utilities, and food. Many couples will have their individual incomes deposited into their separate bank accounts. Then, each person will periodically transfer a previously agreed-upon amount into their joint bank account to cover the common expenses. They may have joint accounts for loans or credit cards or they may choose to keep those accounts separate also. Although each member of the couple retains final say over their individual financial decisions, most choose to include the other person in the decision-making process.
Do what works for you
However you choose to manage your finances as a couple, the key is to always make sure that you choose to be open and honest. Money secrets may seem like a quick fix to an issue at the time. But, in reality, they can only serve to keep the person hiding the information on edge. Additionally, these secrets can weaken trust in a relationship. Not to mention the actual financial trouble you may have to deal with if/when these secrets come out. Finally, knowing each person’s values about money upfront can reduce disagreements about money from happening in the first place.
Identify any issues you have with money that could be a potential stumbling block in your relationship. Check out online quizzes and tests that might give you clues to your money mindset individually and/or as a couple.
Whether one of you is taking the lead in managing the daily finances or you are keeping things separate, agree to be transparent and communicate about your finances with each other.
Talk to a professional
If money issues are already a chronic problem in your relationship, there are mental health professionals that specialize in financial therapy. You can see if there is a professional in your area through the Financial Therapy Association. If you need strictly financial guidance, Accredited Financial Counselors can be found nationwide through the Association for Financial Counseling, Planning, and Education.
About the Author
Dawn Torres-Gale, AFC
Accredited Financial Counselor
In 2008, Ms. Torres-Gale was chosen by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) Foundation to be part of a select group of military spouses. Through this, she received FINRA sponsored training from the Association of Financial Counseling, Planning and Education and became an Accredited Financial Counselor® in February 2012.
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