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For Love & Money: Finance Issues that Confront Couples

For Love & Money - Insights from Midland National Life

Love may be blind, but it definitely knows how to count. Finances and spending habits head the list of common disagreements among couples, whether they are married or not. Couples desiring a strong, happy relationship must be able to talk about money because it can damage an otherwise harmonious bond.

Often, couples know little about each other’s financial situations or their views on spending and saving. In a recent survey, one-in-three people said their partner’s spending habits proved different than expected, 40 percent didn’t know their partner’s credit score and 32 percent didn’t know what they’re partner earned. Money issues range from a partner’s spending habits, major purchases and debt to savings, finance and investment decisions.
It isn’t always easy to have that “finance talk.” But it’s essential since a clear majority of individuals surveyed say they are likely to split from someone who isn’t financially responsible. Whether you’re just beginning a relationship, considering moving in together with your partner, getting married or are working towards financial goals with your spouse, each step of a relationship demands a different approach to money as well as ways to approach potentially thorny issues should they come up.

What's your Relationship status...and how do finances fit in?

Dating

You’re in a new relationship, everything is exciting, and you look forward just to being together. In terms of money matters, it’s better initially to observe more than ask many pointed questions related to finances. Still, right from the start, it pays to begin gauging your dating partner’s money mindset without being labeled as controlling or seeking a partner based on financial security.

To do that, observe the basics of your date’s financial habits. A trip to their apartment or home can offer a peek into his or her spending habits. Also, the types of activities your partner suggests — going out for a fancy dinner or suggesting a home-cooked meal — can provide a glimpse of how they view finances. Are splurges a regular occurrence, or are they saved for a special occasion?

On date nights — probably not your first or second — ask a few basic questions about money, even one as simple as: How should we divvy up date night costs (for meals, movies, etc.)? A question that explores how a date handles conflict in a relationship, or relates to what issues a date won’t compromise about, can suggest how your partner might handle a money-related matter or dispute. 
Also, if conversations about aspirations and long-term dreams come up, be honest about your goals since they undoubtedly will involve money. You should get an idea of your partner’s future financial plans, if simply to see if they are compatible to yours.

Casual dating isn’t a likely time to talk about where to get financial advice, but it can be a time to probe how a dating partner feels about getting help with financial, insurance and investment issues. Also, when the relationship begins to get serious, it can be the right time to ask about your partner’s financial situation.

Moving In

When planning to move in together, the money questions become more practical — and serious — because cohabitation usually involves sharing expenses. This is the time when a couple must determine whether their core values and beliefs match, and that includes knowing more about each other’s finances and views about money as your finances become more entwined.

Of course, casual conversations will reveal quite a lot, as they probably did as the relationship bloomed. Planning a vacation together also will divulge such information. But if such situations don’t elicit answers, a serious discussion about money is advisable before you start packing up boxes and hiring movers.

Discuss issues conversationally, if possible, to find out how financially stable and dependable your partner is. This includes asking about a partner’s debt situation, student loans, savings habits, credit score and, perhaps, skeletons in each other’s financial past. It even includes any medical issues that could impact your financial situation. It’s a good idea to share income materials including credit reports, particularly if you’re renting a new apartment or buying a home together.

It also is a time to explore earlier money issues more deeply, such as savings habits, investing, financial goals, past financial challenges, even retirement planning and life insurance.

Does either partner have a trusted legal or financial professional? If not, should you consider seeking out qualified individuals to help with matters like taxes, insurance or retirement planning? Cohabitation can have financial implications depending on where you live, and a financial professional can help you understand any potential benefits or costs.

Tying the Knot

When the conversation turns to marriage, talks about money must get serious. Aim to discuss finances regularly, perhaps once a month or at least once a quarter. Such conversations should tackle issues like income, debt, credit scores, investments, and goals about family and a home.

These conversations are essential for several reasons. One, a strong link exists between disagreements about finances in a marriage and divorce. Two, marriage — and children, if you have them — occasion a financial dependence upon each other. Three, it’s important to discuss what to do if difficult times arise, such as a job loss.

A couple specifically should strive to find out if they are compatible about major lifestyle decisions and purchases, including a house, cars, large purchases, and credit and savings objectives.
Married couples also need to determine whether a prenuptial agreement is a good idea, and if accounts are going to be separate or managed jointly. There are no “right” or “wrong” answers to these questions, and each couple can determine what is the best situation for them based on honest communication.

This can also be a good time to talk to a financial professional to explore financial planning and, generally, to start the marriage off right as a couple looks toward realizing future aims and dreams. If they haven’t before, they should consider how to handle life insurance and other related matters that financial agents can explore. If the couple has a financial planner, it may be time to talk about changing their current individual strategies to meet their joint financial goals.

Planning Your Future Together 

Financial questions after marriage often differ from other stages because they usually relate to future planning for a house, children or retirement savings, as well as matters that get out of hand, such as when one partner spends too much. For many couples, it pays to establish structure or guidelines for their financial lives that both partners must follow. These occasions often include when to check with each other on big-ticket purchases or when spending from one or the other’s personal funds. You should strive to ensure that money meetings are regular and relaxed, and that occasionally you talk about issues that are important but don’t usually surface. These can include establishing an emergency fund, assessing retirement fund/401k allocations, whether to start an investment fund if you aren’t investing already, or even to consider joining an investment club.

As your marriage progresses, other major money-related issues need to be discussed. For instance, you are likely at some point in your marriage to face “sandwich generation” pressures related to caring for and supporting both young children and aging parents. Millennials, those born between 1980-2000, and Gen-Xers, born between 1962-1980, increasingly find themselves squeezed by such generational issues, surveys find, including one by North American Company for Life and Health Insurance®, a Sammons Financial Group® company. This survey also looked at planning for retirement and revealed that most couples don’t discuss this important aspect of their future, and then find they’re unprepared for retirement.

If you haven’t done it earlier, soon after you’re married is a good time to seek out a legal and financial advisory team. It can include a lawyer, tax advisor, insurance/financial agent and investment professional to help set your financial goals and priorities for meeting them. A lawyer can talk about making and/or reviewing your wills. A financial and insurance agent and counselor can help decide on health, life, disability and property insurance coverage; begin exploring annuities, explore college funds/529 plans if children have arrived; and discuss investing and determining each partner’s risk tolerance.

Conclusion

“Talking money” and hashing out issues related to finances are essential in every stage of your relationship. And those conversations get more serious as a relationship deepens. Couples who are in tune financially talk routinely about money, roles and responsibilities, spending limits and financial goals. Casual and calm communication about finances proves crucial in every stage of a relationship.

However, arguments over money do happen — in fact, 70% of married couples fight about money. It therefore is vital to talk about investment strategy and risk-taking, and to reach decisions together about investment goals and time frames.

Couples often credit a third party for helping them with financial matters including insurance, investment, tax and legal-related financial issues. One survey found that 40 percent of couples who disagree about money said an adviser helped them make decisions about financial concerns that otherwise might have triggered tension in their relationship.

If you and your partner are interested in speaking with a financial professional, Midland National® Life Insurance Company and its independent agents are ready to help, specifically with life insurance and other related financial matters, including annuities and retirement planning. To find an agent at Midland National, please click here.
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