Money has long been blamed as the No. 1 reason for the demise of happily married couples. Given the current state of the economy, you may be increasingly concerned about how the management of your finances will affect your new marriage. What many couples fail to realize, however, is that it is not the money itself, but the inability to communicate freely and openly with each other that is main cause for such calamity. “You can come up with 100 money management tips for newlyweds, but the bottom 99 won’t even come close to doing what number one will do, which is communication,” says Jeff Opdyke, the Wall Street Journal’s personal finance and investment writer, who for six years penned their nationally syndicated “Love & Money” column. “In divorce, money is not even close to a cause, but it’s always blamed on it. It’s a function of communication – the fact that people don’t know how to talk. You have to be able to open up to people about your finances.” Learning to talk about money can be a challenge, as many of us were raised in households where our parents didn’t talk about money, let alone encourage it. But regardless of the past, it is a skill that must be learned in the present. “Money is not just green paper in your wallet,” says Opdyke. “It is an emotional currency that will reflect in your relationship if you don’t know how to communicate to one another.”
Manage your debt together “If you can learn to manage your debt, you will never have trouble managing your assets, because the assets you accumulate will never be used to pay off your debt.” Opdyke builds upon the foundation of communication and shares some additional building blocks of a strong and successful financial future.
Manage your money together “I hear a lot of chatter geared toward women to keep their own separate bank accounts … It’s clearly spelled out for ‘the modern woman in a modern marriage,’ but it misses the point. When you go into a marriage expecting bad things to happen down the line, you’re assuming it’s going to fail. You need to go into a marriage assuming it’s going to survive. (You should be saying), ‘We’re going to merge our finances, not have two separate businesses under the same roof.’ It creates a mine vs. yours way of thinking. Managing your money together gives you a more complete picture of your finances. You can plan your life together, and do it from a point of knowledge. You can still create autonomy inside a joint account by coming up with various rules.”
Divide the financial duties equally “Don’t stick one person with it. It’s overwhelming and frustration can pop up. The person having to always do it will get cranky, maybe feel resentment and cause conflict. Also, the person not involved will get frustrated, feel out of the loop or feel like they’re being controlled. You each handle certain parts and you communicate what’s going on, which forces you to talk about money.”
Learn to budget “Most people look at (budgeting) as a noose around their neck, but it can be freeing. It all comes down to this: How much discretionary income do you have? After you pay all of your expenses, what’s left over is your discretionary income. (This is where budgeting can go awry. People don’t often think in terms of discretionary, they think in terms of income.) You get to choose every month how you spend that money. Some on groceries. Some on gas. But then do you want to go to a movie or dinner? Do you want to buy a new pair of pants? Decide what you want to do, and do it as a family. Will you have particular needs this month? Will your husband? This is where communication as a couple comes in.”
You and your spouse may come from two very different schools of finance, but as long as you communicate, it does not have to spell disaster. Ask yourselves: Is money a source of endless buying or is it a source of endless saving? Do you want it for security or to buy things that are more enjoyable? The key is finding an equilibrium, as Opdyke and his own wife have done successfully for the last 25 years. “I can’t tell you the last time we fought about money.”
Opdyke’s new book, “Financially Ever After: The Couples’ Guide to Managing Money” is available now.