Arguments about money hamper many marriages. In fact, couples fight about money twice as much as they fight about sex. And the challenges can actually start even before you say "I do."
From school loans to car loans, credit cards to gambling habits, most people come to the altar with financial baggage. If one partner has more debt than the other or if one partner is debt free, the sparks can start flying when discussions about income, spending and debt servicing come up.
Communication is the key to most marital financial challenges. Dealing with debt is often the first issue on the agenda. Knowing what you are about to get yourself into can help you decide how to deal with it. If you just can't come to an agreement, but your heart won't let you walk away, a prenuptial agreement may be an option.
Personality can play a big role in discussions about money. Even if both partners are debt free, the age-old conflict between spenders and savers can play out in multiple ways.
Personality is another aspect of your relationship that will play a major role in your financial plans and your marital bliss - or lack thereof. Pay attention while you are dating, and be honest about your personality. Talking about your views and feelings can help put both partners at ease, or at least let them know what to expect.
He works; she doesn't. Or he's unemployed and she's working. Or one spouse earns more than the other. Or her family has money and his doesn't. It's power play time.
The power play issue can get ugly quickly. Few things build resentment faster than being made to feel inferior. If you've got the cash, you need to be sensitive. If you don't have the money, you need to be prepared for the stress and tension that are almost inevitable, even in good marriages. This subject comes up with increasing frequency when couples wait until later in life to marry.
Mine, Yours, Ours
Sometimes, a couple will decide to split the bills down the middle or allocate them out in some other fair and equitable manner. Once the bills are covered, each spouse can spend what's left as they see fit. It sounds like a reasonable plan, but the process often builds resentment over the individual purchases made. It also divides the spending power, eliminating much of the financial value of marriage.
One solution that has demonstrated success is for the higher-earning spouse to delegate all spending decisions to the lower-earning spouse. It takes a certain personality to be able to make the decision to give up power, but if you can do it, it may be a sound path to peace.
To have or not to have? That is merely the first question. It now costs nearly $300,000 to raise a child for 18 years. Of course, once you have children, you have to care for them: food, clothing, shelter, little league, ballet, prom gowns, pickup trucks and college may all be in your future.
If children are part of your plan, start teaching them about money when they are young. Preparing them for a financially responsible future reduces the odds of them dipping into your wallet once they grow up and knocking your savings plan off track. Give kids an allowance and use goals to teach them about earning, saving and spending money.
Her mom wants a vacation in Vegas. His parents need a new car. Her deadbeat brother can't make the rent. His sister's husband lost his job. Now one spouse is writing a check and the other wants to know why that money wasn't used to address needs right here at home or fund a vacation for "us."
Extended family can be a big challenge. Even if you are on the winning side of the argument, the loser can extract a penalty that outweighs the win. Living with a resentful, angry, frustrated spouse can be a miserable experience. The best course of action is to agree on a policy in advance about how you will cope if family members ask for a handout.
For Richer or Poorer
Like many marriage problems, lack of communication is often the underlying issue. If your head is in the clouds, You Can't Live On Love provides some down-to-earth financial advice for couples. If you've already said "I do," you may want to Create A Pain-Free Postnuptial Agreement, a marital contract that can underline your love for each other - not undermine it.
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