My husband and I are big followers and have sent all relevant articles to our son as he graduated from college and got his first job. He just got married and we’d love to have something to send to him as he begins his new life together sharing money with his wife. We’d love any advice you have to give!
It’s no secret that money and marriage can make for some difficult circumstances. In fact, when two people who were raised by different sets of parents commit to spending their lives together, it’s to be expected that they won’t see eye to eye on a number of things, money potentially included. How, then, should the new couple approach this issue in order to prevent as many headaches as possible? Glad you asked.
1) Goal setting – Want to know the quickest way to make financial progress in your marriage? Be on the same page with each other about where you’re going. The first step is easy enough. Make a nice dinner some night, break out your finest box of wine, and… talk. Talk about where you’re at and where you’d like to be in 5, 10, 20, 50+ years. What would you like to accomplish? What will it take to make that happen financially? If you can start planning for your future now (when you hopefully don’t have many obligations), the easier it will be to attain it later. Kids? Travel? A house with a white picket fence? A fully funded retirement in Florida with enough room to take care of your parents (you’re welcome, Sarah)? All of these things get easier when you identify them and figure out what it’s going to take to make them a reality. What makes a good goal? A number of things, actually.
What I’m more concerned with, however, is measurement. For a goal to be realistic you need to be able to figure out if you’ve made progress on it. In this case, that means the goal needs to be able to define with a period of time and a dollar amount. For example, “We want to save more money,” isn’t a good goal, it’s a good idea. A good goal would be, “We want to save $150 into our emergency fund in the next 30 days.” See the difference? You’ve given yourself a specific dollar amount and a set period of time to accomplish it in. If you don’t give yourself these parameters, it becomes too way to easy to let yourself off the hook for not achieving your goal.
2) Compromise – Two different people. Two different sets of wants and needs. You absolutely must remember that the other person needs to feel like a partner who has input in the finances of your relationship. Think of it this way, if you kept telling the person you love about something you’d like to accomplish or work towards because it is important to you, but kept getting told no without any kind of alternative or temporary solution offered in return, how many times would you have to hear “no” before it would start to influence how you feel about that person? Make sure that you have common, agreed upon goals set between the two of you. If a new goal or desire is important, discuss amending your current goals and what it will take to make the new one happen. Remember that even though you may have different perspectives on what is important, different doesn’t always mean wrong. You’re both playing for the same team, and the team functions better when everyone feels valued.
3) Communication – Talking with each other is an important component in a successful relationship (financial or otherwise). Listening is even more important. I’m not going to break down the communication process for you, rather I’ll encourage you to set aside at least one dedicated time per month to have financial communication. Schedule it so everyone knows it’s happening and they can prepare (if needed). We suggest 30-45 minutes on the 5th of each month (the financial fifth, if you will). You can talk about goal setting, work on your budget, review what went right and wrong during the previous month, discuss savings/investing goals, debt repayment priorities… All sorts of fun stuff can be covered during this time. If once a month isn’t frequent enough for you crazy newlyweds, schedule a second meeting. Keep the length of the meeting relatively brief, but focus so the time is spent wisely.
4) Forgiveness – Let’s face it, one or both of you is going to mess up at some point. Maybe you buy something you shouldn’t have, or maybe a bill doesn’t get paid by mistake. Stuff happens. It’s highly likely that, even though it might set you back, it won’t be the end of the world. It’s also highly likely that the offending person will feel pretty miserable about the error when they realize what has happened, and they don’t need someone else piling on. In fact, that’s exactly how financial secrets start. One person does something unintentionally (or otherwise), realizes they shouldn’t have and feels guilty, but doesn’t want to get a verbal/mental scolding from the other person. So, they hide the offending action. This behavior can have a number of long term consequences to the financial and interpersonal health of the relationship. But, when the person knows that they’ll be forgiven if they make a mistake, communication happens between the two, forgiveness is offered, and the issue is corrected. That seems so much more pleasant.
What you’ll notice is that I didn’t lay out anything that says, “save X% of your income”, or, “pay down your debt ASAP”, or anything similar. That was intentional. Indeed, saving and debt reduction are important, and we cover them quite extensively through our blog and various media offerings. I absolutely encourage you to seek them out if you’re looking for guidance there (I’d start with Power Percentage, personally). There are other concepts, however, like those mentioned above, that will serve newlyweds (and anyone sharing finances with another human) well if they form the base of their financial relationship. Never stop working on, and developing, the interpersonal skills between the two of you. The returns on your efforts will be worth it, both personally and financially.
Congratulations to the new couple, and best wishes!
Damian is the lead Financial Concierge on Your Money Line, the financial help line serving all Pete the Planner® Financial Wellness clients. Damian is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional and loves answering your money questions. Despite sharing a last name and sense of humor, Damian and Pete are not related.