As January fades and February blooms, we’re going to turn our attention from basic money management to something much more complicated: how money affects our relationships.
In December 2016, Bloomberg published a piece that profiled seven different couples from around the United States. The article — which was essentially a series of short interviews — offered a quick glimpse at how other people handle money in their relationships.
Here, for example, are Rebecca and Ari discussing what it was like to move in together:
Rebecca: So I moved here to be with him, was broke, and was accepting this big loan. But you were like, “I’d rather you owe me the money than owe the credit card company.” I was really impressed by that but also scared, because it was like, “What if we break up?” It definitely felt fraught. But I did accept the loan.
Ari: I mean, I loved Rebecca, and I just really hate credit card companies.
Rebecca: We had totally different relationships to money. Ari had been saving for retirement since he was, like, 17. He had this whole system of personal finance, and I had: Money comes in, money goes out. I think I felt embarrassed that Ari was this unbelievably responsible person.
Some of the highlighted couples have high incomes — over $100,000 per year. Others are barely scraping by. (One couple makes $24,000 per year; both partners work at Wal-Mart.) Some struggle with debt. Others are saving to pursue entrepreneurial dreams. But they’re all discovering how to navigate the murkiness that can come when two people decide to join households.
Here’s the couple that works at Wal-Mart:
Renée: I get a little frustrated at him. Sometimes I get a little bit surprised that he did that when I told him, “Not right now.” I’ve got anxiety over money. I do.
Matt: I do want to go back to school or get a second job. But what it does to you to work that much, I’m afraid I’d be gone all day. My wife would not see me. By the time I got home, it would be too late at night. I’d be way too tired. Not being able to come home, sit down, and say, “Hey, how was your day?” and all that?
Money management is tough enough when you’re on your own. Throw a romantic partner into the mix and things get more complicated! The best way to balance love and money is to maintain clear lines of communication.
Talking About Money
Reading through these conversations reminded me of a 2009 New York Times article in which Ron Lieber argued that couples need to talk about money early and often. Lieber says that couples should discuss the following four subjects before marriage (or before entering into a long-term commitment):
- Ancestry. What does you money blueprint look like? What did your parents teach you about the meaning and value of money? How your family handled money has a huge influence on your own relationship with the stuff. If you and your partner have drastically different approaches to personal finance, that can cause friction.
- Credit. It doesn’t sound very romantic, I know, but partners in a committed relationship ought to pull up their credit reports and credit scores together and discuss the results. This isn’t a competition. It’s a way to be open and honest, and to see where your team has strengths and weaknesses.
- Control. Before marriage, decide the household financial structure. Who’s responsible for which bills and which accounts? Will you have joint or separate finances? Will one person operate as the Family CFO, or will you share the duties?
- Affluence. Finally, be sure to discuss your financial plans and goals. As a couple, how wealthy do you want to be? Are you interested in early retirement? What are you willing to sacrifice to get there?
As you have these discussions, don’t get emotional. Stay calm and collected. Remember that your goal is to manage your household finances like a business. If you, as a couple, don’t like how your business is running, then agree to make changes. But make the decisions together, as a team. [Read more…]