Start the new year with a stronger and more stable relationship with your partner with improved money habits.
Many couples feel stressed about their differences. When money is involved, many prefer to discuss it altogether.
But strong, successful relationships mean having effective money conversations.
First, you need to understand what is important to share and discuss.
1. Discuss your financial history.
Susan Zimmerman of Mindful Asset Planning in Apple Valley, Minn., suggests starting with the question: “What was the financial climate like in your family when you were growing up?”
From there, discuss the money messages you receive, he says. Your financial history is an important part of you and your partner.
If you can’t take this first step, ask yourself: Is this the right person for me or is the topic too complicated? The problem is that you can’t trust them or are you uncomfortable talking to anyone about this?
Old habits die hard. If you grew up in a family that didn’t talk about money, you may need a professional to help you break this pattern. If you feel that sharing this part of your past will lead to a loss of independence, you have a different problem. Either way, consider talking to a financial therapist.
Even long-term couples will benefit from this conversation. The goal, Zimmerman says, is: “By sharing stories, you can figure out your own financial philosophy as a couple.”
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2. Create a joint account.
Set up a joint account only after you decide what the money will be spent on, how much one can spend without consulting the other, and who will contribute how much to the account.
Intentionality and conversations are key. It’s not just all your money in one account to solve all your money issues with a partner and provide instant togetherness. Part of the process is team communication and problem solving. Although some couples operate with one “lead” person or are completely financially independent, that system is not the best for long-term happiness.
Studies from Cornell University and the University of Colorado show that couples who share the bill are happier. According to one of the researchers, “We expected that joint finances would increase the level of dependence on a partner.” Instead, they found that couples with joint financial accounts tended to display stronger emotional bonds, and their interactions were more positive, stable, and secure.
For this system to work, couples need to discuss priorities as well as needs and wants. This symbolic move means they are planning a future together. Most of all, they trust each other. Money is only one piece of the puzzle. Conversations that lead to a joint account make the couple happier. Other researchers argue that couples who expect their relationships to last are more likely to pool resources.
Remember, you don’t have to pool all your money. You can choose to keep money in individual accounts. A joint account represents teamwork and allows you to continue financial conversations as you grow and change.
3. Be financially transparent.
By disclosing everything financially, you and your partner will have a better chance of having a lasting relationship. By sharing the details of your financial life, from paychecks to assets, debts to retirement account balances, you’re connecting a lot with the most important person in your life.
If you don’t feel comfortable doing this step, start small. First, share your checking and savings account details. Then move on to salary and how you manage your money. Then to the debts, and finally to your assets.
Also, check and share your credit reports. These free reports, and be sure to check out all three, have more information about individual credit behavior than just your credit score.
Why do you want to share this type of information? First, you share many other things of a personal nature, money information is part of the partnership.
Second, not disclosing this information honestly can do more harm than good. Over 40% of people admit to keeping financial information from a partner. However, according to one study, 64% of people say it would be seen as a type of cheating.
4. Dream together.
Money discussions don’t have to include bills, funds, and debts. Talk about your dreams, both as a couple and individually. These conversations can be fun and lighthearted, but they will help you get to know your partner in a new way. Bonus: This step will help set team priorities by identifying your individual and joint goals.
You could, for example, set up a savings account for a second home on the lake that you both contribute to each month. While your partner plunks down a few bucks for that trip to Machu Picchu.
Finally, remember that all partnerships in life are full of conflict and compromise. Ongoing communication around building a shared financial life takes time. Investment can be the most important of 2023.
CD Moriarty is a certified financial planner, MarketWatch columnist and personal finance speaker. He blogs at MoneyPeace.