For the Love of Money: Couples and Finances

By: Barry Steelman, AIF®

If you do a simple search on the topic of relationships and finances, you’ll come across countless sobering statistics. For example, you’ll find that money is the primary reason for arguments between couples, with many couples averaging three arguments per month revolving around financial issues. You’ll also learn that 3 in 10 married adults admit to potentially deceitful behavior about money and that disagreements about finances are the most common predictors of a future divorce.

Why is it so difficult for money and love to peacefully coexist?

How We Handle Money Differently

Finances tend to be an emotional topic for most people and cause plenty of stress in everyday life. Often, couples attempt to avoid these conversations at all costs. In addition, everyone has their own opinion on how to manage money and most of us also have a unique financial personality. Some of us are savers, some are spenders. Some of us may be conservative, while others are free spirits. These differences can cause friction and discord, which then affects many other aspects of the relationship. On top of money personality, gender differences play a significant role in financial management and understanding how you approach financial decisions is key to achieving financial harmony.

Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus

While being careful to avoid overgeneralizations, understanding the way each gender handles money is key to finding balance. Multiple studies show that women take less risk with their money. (1) They seek stability over chasing returns and tend to stay the course when the markets go wild. Their goal isn’t to accumulate wealth as much as it is to achieve financial peace of mind. (2) When it comes to investing, a recent study released by Fidelity Investments reports that female investors earn better returns than their male counterparts and tend to save more. (3) Their conservative tactics may protect them from the downside of risky behavior.

On the other hand, men are not afraid of risk and are more likely to chase returns and play the market. (4) They see finances as a game and make decisions more quickly and with a shorter-term perspective. (5) Men also have more confidence in their financial knowledge and decision-making skills.

Is any one gender better with money than the other? Not necessarily. The strategies and defaults men and women use when dealing with money have strengths and weaknesses. For example, the conservative view women take can cause them to play it too safe, while the money confidence of men spurs them on to go after what they want. The main thing is to be aware of your personal money traits and those of your partner.

Is there a way to reconcile gender differences and financial personalities to achieve financial harmony? Here are a few simple strategies that may help couples avoid financial friction.

Be Honest

It’s important for both partners to offer full disclosure of their finances and be open about expenses, regardless of whether you’re married, or you live together, have joint accounts or separate bank accounts. You and your spouse should be aware of how you spend your money, especially when it comes to significant expenses, loans, or ongoing fees. Studies show that around 49% of financial arguments are about unexpected expenses. By maintaining an open line of communication regarding spending habits and upcoming bills, you may be able to avoid such confrontations.

Set Healthy Boundaries

It’s important for couples to be on the same page regarding their finances. Sit down together and discuss how much can be spent per month on non-essentials. Establish and agree upon a few basic guidelines and create a structure for how you will spend and save money. If one of you is more disciplined than the other, you might consider having the disciplined spouse manage the monthly budget and spending.

Collaborate

Most often, one spouse acts as the Chief Financial Officer of the household, managing all bills, budgets, savings, investments, and insurance policies. However, it can be helpful for both partners to understand their spending versus their saving. If time allows, sit down together once a month for a “financial summit” as my sister Tracy says, to review credit card statements, account transactions, and other bills and check for any possible errors. Ongoing input from both partners will strengthen your relationship and create a true partnership.

Reward Yourself

Set aside a portion of pocket money that you and your spouse can each spend every month on something you love, whether it’s a massage, a round of golf, or a steak dinner. Along with saving for long-term goals, set small objectives or goals you can reasonably accomplish each month and celebrate your success.

Enlist the Help Of An Unbiased Third-Party

Sometimes the best way to ease money tensions is to work with an objective third-party, whether that’s a financial advisor, a marriage counselor, or both. A financial professional can work with you and your spouse to review your financial landscape, identify any gaps in your insurance coverage, assist you in establishing short and long-term goals, help you stay on track, and provide professional and knowledgeable advice.

Although the topic of finance can occasionally cause tension, money doesn’t have to become a constant source of concern in a relationship. Invest the time to understand your unique way of viewing finances and address spending habits and savings goals, uphold transparency regarding purchases, and communicate effectively.