In Marital Finances, Everyone Counts

"We don't count her income." This is something I've heard more times than I'd like to admit. Unfortunately, this kind of thinking still exists when couples are managing their finances. And I always wonder, why wouldn't you count her income? If the money comes into your household and is used for family purposes, of course you count it. It doesn't matter where the money comes from.

To help rid the financial world of this outlook, I’d like to look at how to plan your finances so everyone's income does count, plus other ways you can increase communication and work together within your relationship.

Easy Ways to Mutually Tackle Your Finances

  1. Know you are equals. This one goes for the ones who say things like "we don't count her income," but also for those who think they don't have enough to contribute (I'm talking to you, stay-at-home parents). No matter the income or the amount contributed, you are both in this relationship and are equals. You each contribute more in one area than the other and together make the relationship work beautifully.
  2. Decide on your accounts together. When you join in a partnership, you can choose to keep your accounts separate, have one joint account, or each keep a personal account while keeping a joint account for the family expenses. While there's no real right or wrong way to set up your accounts, it should be something you completely agree on. (For related reading, see: Should You Open a Joint Bank Account?)
  3. Agree to work together. Once you have the mindset that you both contribute equally, agree to work with each other, not against each other. When issues come up, meet somewhere in the middle and compromise. Also, talk about your long-term goals and make big decisions together.
  4. Write it down. While there's nothing fun or exciting about contracts or legal forms, having everything in writing before anything can go downhill protects everyone involved. Prenuptial agreements are often thought of as a negative thing, but they don’t have to be. Especially if it's a second marriage and there are children involved, they can be beneficial, even necessary.

Other Ways to Increase Communication in a Relationship

Keeping a joint account and talking about your finances is just one way to communicate and stay open. In addition to talking about money, you could also:

Talk face to face. Talking about personal or important issues is not the time to text or email. Sit down together for the most important conversations.

Share usernames and passwords. This is especially important when it comes to things like email or personal financial accounts that your partner may have to access in case of an emergency. (For related reading, see: Financial Information Your Spouse Should Know.)

Create a will together. Get your legal documents drafted and go over them together. Also, get paperwork organized and make sure your partner knows exactly where to find the things he or she will need.

Exchange bucket lists. Not legally binding, but totally fun. Sharing your bucket list is a great way to increase openness and really get to know each other.

Find a financial planner you both like. A financial planner is much like a lawyer, you both have to trust the person. Find someone you both like and trust.

As a financial planner, I often hear the breadwinner of the family say things like “we don’t count her income.” And this attitude just needs to go because you both contribute in many ways. Instead, find ways to communicate and work together on your finances and in other areas.

(For related reading, see: The Economics of a Successful Marriage.)