My husband and I have differing opinions on insurance. Yes, we're both multi-cultural and multi-racial. My dad showed me where the life insurance policies were located in a safe when I was 10 years old. Joe’s dad died while he was getting his undergraduate degree.
Joe has a large extended family in Indonesia, so there’s no shortage of relatives to care for loved ones in the event of an illness or premature death. In his mind, why buy insurance when you have family?
My reaction to Joe’s perspective on financial planning was making him feel guilty. I then applied for life insurance on my own, scheduled the paramedical exam when I was six months pregnant, and agreed to pay the life insurance premiums for us both.
When a Skills Gap Can Lead to Divorce
Sure, one could say I’m risk averse. I prefer to say risk aware. I didn’t think that buying life insurance would jinx me. I didn’t think avoiding the topic would prevent me from dying, either. I wanted my family to have the money they’d need in the event of my illness, disability, or death.
As a Certified Financial Planner® I get to see first-hand how financial planning can affect a marriage. In fact, I don’t think there’s a single segment of our lives that’s not affected by financial planning.
Imagine the hurdles a couple will face If one or both partners lack even the most basic financial literacy. Missteps and their resulting arguments frequently lead to ongoing tension and mistrust in a relationship, sometimes reaching a point of no return.
Declining financial literacy (and solvency) in Americans is such a growing concern that even the Federal Reserve took note. In a recent study, it found that 40% of adults wouldn’t be able to manage $400 in unexpected expenses or would have to sell something or borrow money to cover it.
Add the stress of a romantic relationship to the tension of unpaid bills, looming student debt, or over-spent credit cards, and it’s no wonder money is often the number-one cited instigator of marital discord.
It’s Not Just Spending Less
Financial literacy is relatively bland-sounding way to describe the ability to understand money and the role it plays in your life. For couples, it means knowing how your beliefs about money impact your decisions about money, which in turn affect the other person in your relationship. When you’re part of a couple, financial literacy should include personal financial planning, creating a budget, setting goals, and managing debt—not just because it’s the “right” thing to do, but because your decisions will affect your partner whether you make them intentionally or not.
The Path to (Financial) Infidelity
As a CFP®, one of the most important steps in helping clients plan for their financial futures is to make both parties clearly state their views on money, which pretty quickly highlights where they differ. As a couple, two individuals bring with them two different perspectives on saving, spending, and investing—not to mention what’s an acceptable level of debt or risk.
When both partners come from different backgrounds, having contrary opinions on how things “should be” are common. Agreeing on how to handle finances and having frequent conversations about your progress is essential. Otherwise, financial infidelity can creep into your relationship.
Financial infidelity can be difficult to detect, but here are a few red flags to look for:
- Your name has been taken off a joint credit card
- Cash is missing
- Noticing your partner has a lot of new possessions
- Finding a statement for a credit card you know nothing about
- Your partner is obsessive about checking the mail
- Finding evidence of a financially addictive hobby like gambling
- Seeing beneficiary changes on any investment accounts or insurance policies
How to Prevent Financial Conflict in Couples
Straight up, money is an awkward topic, and you’re probably avoiding a conversation about it. Even if you think you’re on the same page, checking in with each other can help you avoid or at least mitigate major miscommunication about where your money is being spent, saved or invested. Here are some steps that can help.
Commit to transparency
Being open and honest is the foundation of creating financial harmony in a relationship. Full disclosure includes sharing details about debt, credit scores, bank balances, and spending habits. When taking this essential first step, it’s crucial to listen without judgment to gain a clear understanding of your financial situation.
Understand their motivations
Like it or not, your approach to money is often strongly influenced by your parents and a lifetime of experiences that molded you. If you grew up wealthy, your outlook is probably quite different than that of someone who grew up economically disadvantaged. Make a point to understand your motivations as well as those of your partner. What may seem thoughtless, selfish, or strange may simply be the way things were always done to them.
Set goals, then share them
Sharing financial goals can help to build a happy relationship. Keep in mind that goal-setting extends beyond money. Ask your partner about what they want to achieve in the future and how they envision their everyday life and your life together. Then put your plan in writing and include the steps you’ll take to reach them.
Have regular checkups
Financial literacy isn’t something that happens once. It’s an ongoing conversation between the two of you. A monthly or weekly “marriage meeting” is an excellent way to make sure you stay on the same page when it comes to your finances.
You get a medical checkup every year, why not get a financial checkup, too? Tapping into the expertise of a financial advisor can go a long way to bring a much-needed neutral party to a tense corner of your relationship.
To find the best ways to help you, a financial advisor will get to know you both as a couple. A few questions you could be asked are:
- Can you tell me about yourself, your career, children, and work history?
- How would you like me to help?
- Are you doing anything now to improve your financial picture?
- What are your goals and have you talked about them together?
- What concerns you the most about your financial literacy as a couple?
- What’s a good next step and how can I help you?
In some relationships, one person takes care of the primary financial responsibilities. But a financial advisor will want to meet with both of you because financial decisions will have an equal impact on you as a couple, regardless of who makes the initial choices. Plus, if the worst should happen and one of you passes away, the other won’t be left wondering what accounts they had or where their money is.
Money is tense. Money is awkward. Money is personal. It's simultaneously one of the most uncomfortable topics in a relationship, and the one most likely to play a prominent role in a couple's success. Just like a mental health professional guides individuals and couples over their emotional hurdles, financial professionals can help ensure couples have the right vocabulary, financial literacy, and confidence to make the best choices with their money.