7 Uncomfortable Financial Conversations All Married Couples Need To Have

Are they fun? No. But they're necessary for building a solid financial foundation.

by Adam Bulger
Originally Published: 

Listen, no one likes to have conversations about money. Honestly, a cavity search from a grumpy TSA agent sounds a bit more appealing. Why? No matter how secure your marriage, conversations that deal with finances tend to get a little heated. One person doesn’t want to hear it about their spending habits. The other would rather not mention that hefty credit card bill. But conversations, obviously, are necessary. Because a verbal battle over spending and saving is far better than a busted savings account. Plus, bad things happen when you keep finances secret.

Here, then, are seven financial conversations all couples need to have. Courtesy of Tracy Beveridge, a CPA serving middle-class families in New Jersey’s Union County and Brent Thomas, a wealth advisor for upper middle class and affluent clients in the San Francisco Bay area, they apply to couples on all parts of the income spectrum need to have. Are they the only ones to have? Of course not. Because a healthy financial life demands a constant discussion.

1. How Much do we Each Spend On an Average Day?

Tallying the amount of money you spend on an average day is like a hostile audit. You’re picking apart your daily routine and searching for waste. You’re almost certainly spending more than you think; your daily bacon, egg, and cheese breakfast sandwich is a steal at $3.50 a day but over the course of the year, it’s $850 you could have stashed in a mutual fund or put towards a high -interest credit card. Plus, your poor aorta.

2. What’s Your Credit Situation?

Nobody’s proud of a dinged-up credit report. But you need to choke that shame back and open up to your wife or husband about it sooner rather than later. Especially early in a relationship, your debt and credit history affect how you plan your whole life. “You might plan to buy a house and when you to apply for a mortgage find one of the spouses has a god awful credit score,” Beveridge said. “Now that’s not happening the way you want.” Student Loan and credit debt can force you to shift gears on life decisions. If you’re overextended or have made mistakes, be honest. While it’s a tough situation, it’s not the end of the world. You need to create a money plan and reassess your goals. “Maybe you can’t buy a house in three months,” Beveridge said. “It might be a year.” Either way, it’s necessary to know.

3. What do we Share?

For our parents’ generation, getting married meant opening a joint checking account. Not so for couples today. “Now that people are getting married later in life they’re not so apt to have a single shared account,” Beveridge said. Couples who get married in their mid-30s or older tend to almost act like roommates. They come up with a fixed amount each month for monthly household bills and deposit that every month in a joint checking account.” That’s fine if it works. But no matter how comfortable you are keeping your money separate, your money, you still need to share what’s happening with it.

“You don’t want to find out that you were planning on retiring your spouse borrowed against their 401K to buy presents for family you weren’t aware of,” Thomas said.

4. What’s Going to Happen When We Die?

Nobody enjoys talking about mortality. But failing to face the inevitable can spell disaster for your loved ones. “If you’re dealing with a friend or family member who passed away unexpectedly, knowing what they would want to happen with their children and their money, is really super important,” Thomas said, emphasizing the importance of getting a couple’s estate planning documents in order. Thomas said that if you die and your wishes aren’t clear, you risk having somebody else making decisions about your money and your children.

5. Do we Want to Save or Invest?

Once you’ve saved a nest egg, it’s an open question about what to do with it. Stashing cash in a savings account may provide peace of mind but it doesn’t help your money grow. “We definitely see clients where there’s one spouse that absolutely wants to have X dollars sitting in a bank account that is immediately accessible, FDIC insured, can’t be lost, et cetera, et cetera,” Thomas said. “Whereas the other spouse, might be more of a risk taker and it drives them absolutely crazy to see a hundred thousand dollars sitting in an account earning nothing year after year after year.” There isn’t a right or wrong answer when you’re weighing investments against liquid wealth but you need to figure out what you’re each comfortable with.

6.What Do You want to Spend On?

Disposing disposable income isn’t always easy. Even if two food lovers get married, one might want to spend on restaurants while the other might want to buy a pricey cast iron skillet and enough big-ticket appliances to turn their kitchen into the set of Chopped. “One person might be used to eating out, one person might not,” Beveridge said. “Some people think it’s still wasteful to eat out and other people would rather spend their money on restaurants than maybe buy clothes.” And that’s if spouses share interests. Spouses going off on solo missions can spend a family into bankruptcy. “Let’s say the husband is a golfer,” Beveridge said. “You can buy a million things and spend a fortune. You could buy new clubs. You could buy new gloves. You could buy new shoes. I mean it’s endless.” Hobbies are fine, but you need to set limits.

7. When do I have to Tell You I’ve Bought Something?

In most relationships, you don’t have to tell your spouse that you bought lunch. Unless it was the grilled cheese at Serendipity 3. Your wife would probably be interested to hear about you dropped $215 on a sandwich.

It’s okay to keep small purchases to yourself. Too much detail can do more harm than good. But you’ve got to draw a line somewhere. Beveridge recommends that couples set a dollar amount for spending that you have to tell your spouse. “That amount might vary from couple to couple,” she said. “There might be one couple that the wife doesn’t care that the husband went out and spent $2,000 on the big screen television. With another couple, the husband might flip out if the wife bought a new stove for $500.”

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