It is no secret that money is a hot-button issue for most couples. Discussing finances can be uncomfortable, and some couples may avoid these conversations altogether. Financial issues may also cause some to avoid marriage entirely as individuals may be worried about sharing debts and assets or justifying their ingrained spending habits to each other.
Whether you are recently married, celebrating an anniversary, or simply thinking about taking the next step in your romantic (and financial) life, consider these suggestions to the common financial challenges that most couples face.
If you marry your financial opposite
While most people say they want to find a mate that has similar spending habits to their own, what we want and what we choose may be vastly different. Some research suggests that when it comes to spenders and savers, opposites attract. This could be attributed to the fact that we sometimes seek out those who have opposite characteristics of what we find unappealing about ourselves. Regardless of the reason, if you find yourself a spender married to a saver, it can quickly lead to conflict.
On a positive note, compromising on personal spending habits can lead to healthy, moderate spending habits as a couple. By setting common spending goals together and establishing a system for working toward those goals, you can focus on something beyond the everyday sacrifices or splurges you try to avoid. The important thing is to set a clear budget that keeps both of you accountable to something other than each other.
If one of you makes more money
It would be rare to meet a couple who made the same amount of money; chances are, either you or your spouse are pulling in the larger income. Whether the discrepancy is small or large, a difference in pay could cause tensions in how money is saved, spent, and earned.
It is important to remember, however, that whether you are the higher earning spouse or not, you both ultimately share responsibility for your family.
Your importance to your family and the role you play in your loved ones’ lives is not completely tethered to your paycheck.
If you enter marriage with a hefty combined debt
For Millennials, this is becoming more and more common. According to a Federal Reserve Report, approximately 40 percent of adults under the age of 30 have student loan debt, averaging $32,731 per borrower. That means that Millennials may be starting their marriages with about $65,000 in debt, and with the average cost of a wedding exceeding $35,000 in 2016, getting married may put you even further in the hole.
Unfortunately, this debt burden may be scaring Millennials off from marriage altogether. According to a 2013 survey by the American Student Assistance, 29 percent of Millennials said they have postponed marriage to deal with their student debt. Conversations about debt may range from whether you will pay off your debt separately or together to how much should be spent on a fancy ceremony or new home. By establishing “debt goals,” you can make sure both you and your future spouse are on the same page and that you start your life together with a plan to reduce your loans in the future.
If your marriage is the victim of financial infidelity
One in three adults who have combined their finances in a relationship admitted to lying about a financial issue, according to the National Endowment for Financial Education.
While lying about money may be relatively common, these “little” money lies truly do matter; 76 percent of those who lied about a financial issue said that it affected their relationship. To avoid letting financial infidelity get the best of your relationship, it is important to talk with your spouse about what each of you considers financial infidelity. Something that one of you sees as a minor financial setback may sound like a financial disaster to the other. Establishing financial thresholds from the beginning can keep you both aligned on budgeting goals and foster better transparency when setbacks do occur.
If you are reluctant to combine finances
If your spouse does not want to combine your finances right after your wedding, it may make you feel like they do not trust you. Try to remember that there is no unilateral approach to finances, and there may be practical reasons for keeping your finances separated. If this is the case, one option is to have both joint and separate accounts until you find out which works better in your marriage. If you are hesitant to merge finances, you may find comfort in the fact that there are certain aspects of your financial life that will not merge when you get married. For example, your credit report is yours and yours alone (although if you apply for a home loan or a joint account, both of your scores will be considered).
The most important thing to realize is that disagreements over money are often manifestations of deeper communication struggles. Money represents complex feelings for a lot of people — feelings about power, trust, or self-esteem that may be masked in a fight over your shopping budget for the month. Just recognizing which of these common issues may be causing friction is a key first step in resolving these common interpersonal challenges. The positives of transparent financial communication can impact far more than just your new joint checking account.