Financial Management for Couples, Part 2: Are you sitting at the table?

Patricia Bell |
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It used to be common, especially in my early years as a Financial Planner, to meet with only one person in a household. Time constraints, a lack of interest or sometimes feeling uninformed contributed to a lack of involvement by both parties. I’d like to tell you it was split equally between men and women but sadly it wasn’t. It was mostly men at the table.  

I’ve worked hard in my practice to ensure both spouses have a basic knowledge of the strategies I recommend and understand how it helps them reach their goals. But getting both people to the table is only half of the equation. How do you reconcile differing views on savings and spending habits? Here are a few strategies to help couples come together at the table. 

Talk about it.

Like everything in a relationship, communication is key. Talk often and revisit the conversation when the need arises. Ask things like how will we share expenses and who will actively manage these on a daily basis? How much will we save and how much risk can we take? Where will emergency funds come from?

Don’t keep secrets. 

From hiding major purchases you’ve made to your feelings about an investment strategy, if you aren’t honest with your partner, your plan will fail. If one of you has difficulty managing credit card debt don’t suggest this as a way to manage the monthly expenses. Acknowledging we bring different strengths and weaknesses to the table helps avoid pitfalls. 

Set goals and revisit them regularly. 

A plan is only as good as the ability of both people to implement it and stick to it. Make it as simple or as complicated as you like but make it realistic too. Make time to ensure you’re both still on board with the original plan. Is it working the way you anticipated? Is one of you finding it more challenging than the other? How can you adjust it so both of you succeed?

Pretend you’re the Barenaked Ladies.

What would you do “If I Had A Million Dollars”? Would you invest it? Spend it? Hide it under your mattress or in your freezer? Talking about what you’d do with a windfall can help clarify what you ultimately want your savings to do for you. It can also reveal biases and prejudices you may not have known you hold. 

Balance your budget but balance your life too. 

It’s important to enjoy the journey. We all know folks who’ve reached a goal only to have life throw them a curveball. While it’s important to plan, it’s also important to enjoy the journey. I think the pandemic has made this abundantly clear. 

I’m privileged to meet with many single women throughout my day. In some instances, we’ve been planning as a couple and now, due to death or divorce, they’re navigating the path on their own. Sometimes we’ve only just met and they’re looking for someone to help them move forward during a difficult time and, maybe, when it’s least expected. However it happened that we’re the only two at the table, a good grasp of their situation and their active participation in getting there means they’re confident in their ability to manage what comes next.