Financial Fitness

5 Money Conversations to Have With Your Spouse

These discussions will help keep you on the same financial page.

by Stephanie Taylor Christensen - October 17, 2016

Ask couples what they most often disagree about, and there’s a good chance the answer will be money. Indeed, finances are a cause of nearly 25% of divorces, according to the Institute for Divorce Financial Analysts. And at the root of many of these arguments is a lack of communication. In a 2014 survey by the American Psychological Association, more than one-third of people said talking about money made them uncomfortable.

Even though it can sometimes be challenging, and while the specific financial matters that most concern couples will ebb and flow throughout life, all spouses should plan to have these five important money conversations regardless of their age, income, or goals.

1) What financial assets and liabilities do we bring to our marriage (and how do we handle them)? 

James McKown, CFP®, Financial Planning Manager at Wells Fargo Advisors, says couples who plan to marry should talk about what assets and financial obligations each brings to the relationship and how they’ll deal with them as spouses. (Ideally, this talk will happen before tying the knot.) Generally speaking, McKown says the more you each bring to the relationship — in terms of assets, debts, and even children — the more crucial it is to have a financial plan that suits both of your interests equitably before you wed.

2) Who will manage the different aspects of our financial life?

If one spouse is comfortable managing investments and the other prefers to handle the monthly budget and bills, for example, McKown says it’s fine to divide tasks and designate household financial duties based on your individual strengths and weaknesses. Regardless of how you assign who will handle various aspects of your finances, McKown says spouses need to make a standing date at least once a quarter to review finances together.

“It’s important to meet so you don’t start to wonder what the other is doing,” says McKown. “You don’t need to know everything about a stock or bond if you’re not the spouse who chooses where to invest the money. But you should know the process your spouse uses, where the money is, and who is managing it.”

3) Are our goals aligned?

The financial goals you set as a couple have to be shared and agreed to as you move through life — especially if you have different financial personalities. “Goals give clarity to what is reasonable (or not) and where you may need to agree to make adjustments to reach them,” says McKown.

Even beyond goals, you should discuss financial priorities. If saving is important to you because you’ve been through money struggles in the past, be open and share that concern instead of silently worrying that your partner is more of a spender.

Couples should sit down at least once a year to discuss the details of all their financial accounts, benefits, and insurance policies.

4) What accounts and financial products do we have?

Major life events like births or job changes tend to remind couples to check their finances and beneficiary designations. Yet you’ll also want to talk about even small changes to either spouse’s banking relationship, account usernames, and passwords. In addition to the quarterly check-in about household finances, McKown recommends couples sit down at least once a year to discuss the details of all their financial accounts, benefits, and insurance policies they may hold — individually, through an employer, and together. Assess where the accounts are, how to access them, who manages them, and what they cover (in the case of insurance policies and similar products).

“Both spouses need to know what benefits each has at work, including stock options, life insurance, and disability insurance policies. Both need to understand how things function in a worst-case scenario,” says McKown.

5) Is our estate plan current? 

“Estate planning is one of the easiest things to ignore when you’re busy, especially if you’re younger and in good health, but it’s incredibly important, says McKown. If one spouse dies, for example, the other is instantly faced with decisions that have long-term ramifications. “You need to both be prepared for what’s happening and will happen: Who are the advisors, and what is the game plan in case of an emergency,” says McKown.

In addition to making sure that children and assets are properly accounted for in estate plans, McKown says that having regular estate planning conversations can also reveal needs to protect against risk associated with investments, property, and businesses with products such as liability coverage or umbrella policies. Ultimately, the goal is to protect both partners from financial loss or hardship before the unexpected happens.

Starting the conversations

While it may not always be the easiest topic to broach, money conversations are worth the effort. Try starting with easy questions — what makes the other person happiest, what is the best lesson they learned about money — and go from there. Before you know it, you’ll be discussing budgeting and investing and setting the goals to get you and your partner to your dream retirement.

Stephanie Taylor Christensen is a freelance writer covering personal finance, career, and small business news. Her work frequently appears in USA Today, ForbesWoman, Real Simple, and Yahoo! Finance.

Additional Resources

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