Monday, July 28, 2008

All you need is love ... and a talk about money

They say when you get married you need something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue. Well, that's cute and all, but what "they" (whoever they are) conveniently forgot to include is you and your better half should also have similar spending styles, or at the very least, be cognizant of what you're getting into.

There comes a point in every relationship where you'll need to have "the talk." No, this has nothing to do with baby names, sketchy in-laws or where you should spend future Christmases every year. It has everything to do with money. This talk should probably occur before you walk down any aisle, even before you spend countless hours choosing just the right shade of periwinkle blue for invitations.

According to a 2005 Harris Interactive survey of about 2,000 people, 29% of respondents ages 25 to 55 in a committed relationship admitted to lying to their partner about their spending habits. Yes, that's right, one-third of people surveyed felt compelled to lie about their finances! But wait, it gets even juicier: 33% of women were more likely than men (at 26%) to be dishonest. Lying in a relationship headed toward wedding bells and Pepsi cans dragging behind toilet-papered limos is obviously not a good sign, so be the savvy money vixen you are and instigate "the talk!"

Hopefully you two have already discussed your childhood, whether you were raised with or without allowances, first jobs, etc. (If you haven't touched on this stuff yet I'm going to go out on a limb here and say maybe you're being a little rash to jump the gun and elope to Vegas just yet.) Once you exchange core financial tenets, telling each other your financial goals is really where the magic starts to happen. Kick off your Christian Louboutins, pop open a bottle of champagne (after all, now is the perfect time to celebrate your union!), set the mood with some Ella Fitzgerald and get comfy -- it's time to make your romance ebb with visions of monetary goals and mutual budgets!

Each of you make a list of 5 to 1o financial goals you hope to accomplish, such as buying a house, buying a Porsche, or saving money for an early retirement. It's all so romantic, isn't it? Now compare and discuss your lists and touch on how you'll meet your combined goals. How much would you need to set aside and invest every year to afford that Porsche? How many years would it take? This gives couples realistic goals to financially strive for, instead of being dumbfounded when your other half comes home with a receding hairline and a Maserati, thanks to an insatiable mid-life crisis. Okay, maybe your financial talk won't cure your husband of any potential baldness, but you get the picture.

While I think that similar budgeting techniques aren't a make-or-break indicator of whether you two lovebirds were meant to be -- many would argue otherwise, though -- it is an important, rational way of prophesying the obvious. If Rock spends each paycheck on fancy martinis and cigars, while Doris saves most of her paychecks for a down payment on their dream house, you can clearly see why the couple's pillow talk would quickly fizzle.

You'll see when discussing finances that one of you will probably be the "spender," while the other more often than not is the "saver." There should be no negative stigma associated with either role, but it's important to see who's who, and how each of you will compensate on your long journeys to the middle. And if you just can't understand your fiance/boyfriend/husband's obsession with Wii video games, don't lose your cool! It's not ladylike, after all. Stay classy and perhaps suggest a "play money" account that either of you can dip into for the occasional shopping spree, facial, or video game purchase. No scrutiny allowed, though! We may get our kicks with a relaxing day at the spa, but that can be just as foreign to our Wii-loving Loves as their video game habits are to us girls. (This "play money" account should of course be added to after you've first saved a portion of your paycheck in a 401(k), an IRA, a gym sock under the mattress, or any other way you're amassing your wealth. There's a reason why it's called "play money.")

Which also brings me to my next point. While it's always fun fantasizing about the future estate you two buy at some point down the road, it's important to talk about how you'll get there, via savings plans you two come up with. These can include IRAs, 401(k)s, mutual funds, savings accounts, stock market investments ... anything, quite frankly. (Maybe not anything -- you may want to hold off on giving any weight to infomercials promising you millions based on pyramid schemes. Trust me.)

After you've covered your pasts and futures, focus on your present, such as credit cards, existing checking accounts and debt. Although I've never believed in separate bank or credit card accounts in my relationship -- hey, if he's going to be married to me, he's got to handle all of me! -- I do know many couples who like their space. If this sounds like you, be sure to let him know and vice versa. Further, do the two of you have a massive amount of combined debt? How are you planning on paying it off without resorting to desperate Bonnie and Clyde tactics? (Hint: More savings, less bank holdups.)

And last but not least, don't forget to discuss bills, the simplest financial matter that many tend to overlook when planning for the big day and beyond. Do you each pay off your bills in a timely fashion? This and other questions surrounding bills (from the big ones such as house payments and rent, down to the smaller ones such as electricity and cell phone payments) are inherently important. It's never fun for one person to be the organized bill payer, and the other to lackadaisically "forget" about being punctual with payments. This usually adds to resentment, anger, and all those other feelings that speed up the horrid frown-line process.

Honesty really is the best policy, especially when discussing your financial future. So relish it just as you would picking out the perfect fondue pot for your wedding registry. It may take time and patience, but in the end it's a melting pot that can last a lifetime!


neimanmarxist said...

great blog! we talked about it before we walked down the aisle. i find your posts explaining the lingo to be especially helpful!

Anonymous said...

Indeed, that was very comprehensive. I don't have much to add to the discussion here, except to say -- that ultimately, the ideal is to learn to accept each other for who we are, without changing. Of course, for most of us financial resources are limited, so spending irresponsibly is a hard habit to tolerate.


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