Don't let newlywed bliss prevent you from having thoughtful discussions about money with your partner.
Wedding season is on the way, and lovebirds are getting ready for married life. What they aren’t prepping for, though, is money misery—despite research showing that finances cause relationship stress for one in four Canadian couples.
What can newlyweds do to cross the threshold on the right financial foot? Avoid five of the biggest marital money mistakes.
1. Not discussing goals
If one partner is saving for a family, and the other is on a spending spree thinking parenthood is a long way off, that creates a lot of friction, says Shannon Lee Simmons, a certified financial planner, chartered investment manager and founder of the New School of Finance in Toronto. “Couples need to make sure they’re on the same page about their goals—and the time horizons for achieving them.” Once those “pillow-talk plans” are agreed upon, couples can look at their earnings and spending to make sure they can save enough money to make their goals happen.
2. Ignoring income
Partners often neglect to tell each other exactly how much they earn, and then simply split household expenses down the middle. But if one has a ton of discretionary income while the other earns less and goes into debt trying to keep up, both of them are hurt. “Couples need a financial arrangement that is equitable—for example, contributing to expenses based on a percentage of their income—instead of equal,” says Simmons. “These are the things that breed the most guilt, stress and fights.”
3. Becoming house poor
When couples overspend on a home, it leaves little funding for other priorities. “One of my clients cries every time it rains because she can’t afford to fix the leak in her house,” says Simmons. Similarly, couples who buy a house based on two incomes can dig themselves into a financial hole if they immediately have a family. “If you can barely afford your home and then you decide to have a couple of kids, there’s a seven-year period where it’s a financial nightmare between the mat leave and huge daycare bill,” she says. “A baby doesn’t care if you rent until you save more.”
4. Judging your partner’s spending
If you’ve been characterized as being bad with money, it can lead to shame and “secret” spending, says Simmons. So, for example, a yoga enthusiast might hide a Lululemon outfit, and a garage-band musician may have a hidden stash of instruments or equipment. “You don’t want to let your partner down, so you lie,” she says. “But what’s the bigger issue here—that you hid your spending or that your partner doesn’t care about your hobby? Couples need to consider the emotional return on investment.”
5. Not being a part of the financial team
Every couple has its own division of labour, so it’s fine for one partner to be the household’s “quarterback” on money matters. But the other still has to be on the team and in on the play, says Simmons. Say one partner is the AV guru and the other doesn’t know anything about the home-entertainment system. If the tech-master isn’t around, there will be no binge-watching. “Now imagine that feeling of uselessness if you didn’t know what to do with your finances? These are big stakes, so keeping yourself involved is super important.”
Wondering how to start the conversation? Here are Gail Vaz-Oxlade's tips for talking about money with your partner.