Talking about money may not be the most romantic conversation, but it just may be one of the best things you can do for your relationship.
At a time when the stress of a global pandemic has set divorce on the rise — particularly among younger couples, according to the National Law Review — minimizing money disputes is even more important.
But it’s not all doom and gloom: Setting a solid financial foundation is one of the first steps a newly married couple can take on their path to enduring financial harmony. Couples who can avoid the following financial mistakes may best position themselves for future success.
Mistake No. 1: Not talking about your money past
Many of our beliefs about money form at a young age, and we’ve all had different financial experiences as adults. You and your partner are not going to agree on everything when it comes to money, but understanding each other’s money beliefs and experiences can help you appreciate why they make the financial decisions that they do.
Mistake No. 2: Keeping money secrets
“Financial infidelity” can range from small purchases that one’s spouse doesn’t know about to running up large debts that threaten the couple’s financial security. In the case of more serious deception, the act can cause just as much harm to a relationship as an affair. Nearly 30% of Americans said that financial faithlessness is worse than physical cheating, according to a recent CreditCards.com survey.
Mistake No. 3: Neglecting to talk about your financial future
Many of the money decisions that you’re making now impact not only your current financial security, but also the way you’ll be able to spend and enjoy your money in the future. Thinking about that future together — and making a plan for how you’ll pay for it — is a great way to make sure you’re both on track to make it happen. It can also be one of the most enjoyable money-related conversations that many couples have.
Mistake No. 4: Letting one person make all the financial decisions
While it’s fine for one partner to take the lead on handling day-to-day bills, it’s important for both of you to have a broad understanding of the household finances and that you tackle big money decisions together. This not only helps avoid surprises or resentment later, but it also ensures that either partner could take over in the event that one person is unable to.
Mistake No. 5: Not having a safety net
Nothing causes financial stress (or arguments) like not having enough money when an emergency hits. Working together to build up a savings account with at least three to six months’ worth of expenses can alleviate that anxiety — and leave you better prepared when the unexpected happens. Plus, building up an emergency fund is often one of the first financial goals a couple achieves as a team. Once you’ve succeeded together, you may be more likely to see what other money mountains you can climb together.
Mistake No. 6: Avoiding uncomfortable conversations
Sometimes money conversations aren’t fun. You may have to decide whether to help a family member in dire straits, or make a financial plan for what could happen if one of you gets seriously sick or dies. But having that difficult conversation (in a respectful manner) can only strengthen your relationship. And depending on your specific situation, making sure you have the right life insurance coverage could also strengthen your safety net (see No. 5 above). Deciding whether you need life insurance, and how much, is a good place to start and could take less time than you think.
Mistake No. 7: Not agreeing on who’ll pay for what
The decision as to whether to combine all, some or none of your finances will vary from couple to couple. The important thing is to make sure you’re both comfortable with not only where you’ll keep your accounts, but also — if you have separate accounts — who’ll cover which bills. Once you’ve divvied up the expenses, automate as many payments as possible, so that you never have to deal with late or missed payments.
Mistake No. 8: Sending mixed signals to your kids
Just as you picked up money cues from your parents, your kids are learning from the way that you spend, save and invest your money. If you’re not on the same page about your family’s approach to money, you may wind up with a confused child, or a scenario in which one spouse is unhappy with (and potentially blames the other spouse for) the child’s future money choices.
Mistake No. 9: Not asking for help if you need it
Sometimes even the savviest among us could benefit from advice. Working with a financial professional can help you crystallize your financial goals, and make sure that you’re on a path to achieve them. Bonus: A financial professional can serve as a neutral third party when disagreements get heated or conversations get uncomfortable. Look for a financial professional who has experience with couples, and one who makes it clear that they want to connect with both of you, rather than focusing their energy on connecting with only one spouse.
Mistake No. 10: Thinking you’ve settled all your money issues
Your money needs and goals change over time, and just because you’re on the same financial page now, doesn’t mean you won’t need to revisit many of the same money issues again throughout your marriage. For example, your life insurance coverage needs early on in your relationship may change if you have children or a mortgage, so you’ll want to think about adjusting accordingly.
The good news is: The more you talk about money, the easier it gets, so having regular money conversations may make the discussions themselves less stressful, and ultimately help build a financial future you both feel good about.
President of Prudential Individual Life Insurance, Prudential Financial
Salene Hitchcock-Gear is president of Prudential Individual Life Insurance. She represents Prudential as a director on the Women Presidents’ Organization Advisory Board and also serves on the board of trustees of the American College of Financial Services. In addition, Hitchcock-Gear has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan, a Juris Doctor degree from New York University School of Law, as well as FINRA Series 7 and 24 securities licenses. She is a member of the New York State Bar Association.