Money in the context of marriage can be notoriously difficult to navigate especially where couples find themselves with widely disparate views regarding personal financial management. While we know that open and transparent discussions between spouses are key to a couple’s financial success, what are the conversations that couples should be having about money and why? From our experience in joint financial planning, these are the types of discussions that can improve financial outcomes for couples.
Your planned life together
While it’s unrealistic to expect couples to have identical visions of their life together, it’s important that a couple can find common ground on the broad strokes of the life they intend to build for themselves. Keep in mind that all decisions have financial implications attached to them, so having a shared concept of the type of life you plan to build is an important starting point for couples. What does financial success look like for you as a couple? Are you both committed to building wealth together? Are you a team?
Your financial value system
Sharing a common financial value system is an important part of a couple’s financial planning journey, so be sure to understand how your budget and lifestyle will fairly reflect the morals and principles you live by as a couple. Whether it’s your commitment to continued education and learning, your aversion to debt, your desire to travel, or your altruistic ambitions – these are important conversations for couples to have. Remember, while you may come to the realisation that you are not always on the same page, your discussions are likely to lead to a better appreciation for each other’s goals and dreams. It may require deep conversations and mutual compromise to fully align your budget so that it fairly represents and accounts for each partner’s value system.
Household financial management
Laying the groundwork for a healthy financial life starts with deciding how you as a couple intend to manage the household finances. Remember, there is no right or wrong way to set up your joint finances, so find a system that works for your particular set of circumstances. Determine what role each of you will play when it comes to managing the budget, paying bills, tracking expenses, buying groceries, and record-keeping. From our experience, it’s important that both partners are involved, engaged and committed to the management process. Problems very often arise where one partner is excluded from the process, leading to anger, resentment and possibly even financial infidelity, which can have devastating effects on a relationship.
Your careers and earning
How you intend to navigate your respective careers and earnings is something that couples should consider carefully. Do you both want to build careers? Is it logistically possible? How do you manage your respective incomes? What happens if one person earns more than the other? Does one of you want to stay at home to raise children? How would this affect your standard of living and your plans for retirement? How would the other spouse feel about being the sole breadwinner? Do you share the same work ethic? Remember, career and earning trajectories change over time, so these discussions will likely need to be revisited regularly.
The financial implications of having children are something that all couples have the responsibility to consider, keeping in mind that as parents you have a duty to support them until at least age 18. With so many costs involved in raising and educating children, it’s important for a couple to be on the same page. Do you both want children? Will you both continue working? If so, who will care for your child? Does one partner want to be a stay-at-home parent? How will this affect the family’s financial position? How does the stay-at-home parent build wealth in their own name? What financial value system do you want to impart to your child? What type of schooling do you envisage for your child? These may seem like innocuous questions but, if you and your partner have widely differing views on raising children, the costs associated with the decisions you make regarding your children may become points of contention.
Supporting each other
When hard times arise, how will you support each other financially? Are you each prepared to make compromises? What happens if one partner gets retrenched, wants to take a sabbatical, or wants to start a new business? Your respective careers will likely be interspersed with new job opportunities, potential job losses, promotions, salary increases, transfer opportunities, job dissatisfaction, new business opportunities, or even business failures, and it’s important that each partner supports the other through the ups and downs. That said, honest and consistent communication is essential to ensure that all decisions are made as a team. When one partner takes decisions on his own and then expects his spouse to handle the financial fall-out of his bad financial decision-making, problems are bound to arise.
Providing for each other
All couples should plan for the reality that one partner will outlive the other and contemplating what life will look like alone is an important discussion for couples to have. Developing a joint estate plan is an essential part of the financial planning process as it ensures that each partner is adequately provided for, that all your estate planning documents are up-to-date, and that estate costs and taxes are minimised. Remember, marriage creates a duty of support between couples and a well-structured estate plan will ensure that this duty is fulfilled in the event of either partner’s death.
Unless you and your partner are on the same page when it comes to your respective families, problems are bound to arise. All families have relationships and dynamics that can be difficult to navigate, especially when it comes to money. As such, speak to each other about how you will deal with money in the context of your extended family. What happens if a family member asks to borrow money? To what extent is it acceptable to discuss your financial affairs with other family members? Are your respective parents adequately funded for retirement? If not, to what extent can or will you assist them financially? How do you feel about your parents living with you if they need to be cared for at some stage? While these issues may not yet have presented themselves, our advice is for couples to have conversations and agree on how to tackle these issues if and when they arise.
Whether you’re contributing to a Church, charity or NGO in the form of time, resources or money, make sure that your partner knows, understands and respects your involvement. Naturally, your giving will have an effect on the household’s finances and it’s only fair that your charitable involvement is tabled for discussion.
Your shared vision of retirement
It’s surprising how often a couple reaches retirement only to find that they each have widely divergent views of what retirement looks like. Very often we find that a couple is so focused on saving for retirement that they forget to actually paint a picture of what retirement means to them. Do you want to live independently for as long as possible, or do you dream of living in a lock-up-and-go retirement complex? Do you want to travel? If so, where and how often? Do you envisage a simple retirement in a small coastal village or a busy retirement in the city? Do you want to live close to your children and grandchildren? Is having pets important to both of you? Is having a garden not negotiable? While it’s not likely that you’ll agree on every aspect of your dream retirement, finding common ground starts with open communication, sharing of ideas, and joint planning.
Have a wonderful day.
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