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Five Ways to Minimize Financial Conflict Between Spouses

Why is managing your finances within marriage so hard? Managing finances is hard individually, so adding two parties only magnifies what was already a significant challenge. Ultimately financial planning gives you options, maximizes your chances of success, and provides the confidence in your decisions that we all seek. That is a recipe for a happy marriage and a fulfilling life!
Couple discussing bills

“Should we pay for all our daughter’s college expenses or have her put some skin in the game? Should we max out our retirement savings or take a vacation?”

My wife and I faced these and dozens of other difficult financial decisions in the past year. Unfortunately when money is involved, both the decision and the conversations leading up to the decision is never easy. This is one of the reasons financial stress is a leading cause of divorce, something over half of married couples will eventually face and the most disastrous financial planning move you can ever make.

But why is managing your finances within marriage so hard? I would argue that managing finances is hard individually, so adding two parties only magnifies what was already a significant challenge. Ultimately, we all want to feel in control of our lives and put ourselves in the best position for achieving our unique goals with the finite resources we have. The reality is both spouses come to the table with different values about money whether it is spending, saving, or the status it can bring. For example, my parents paid for all of my college while my wife’s parents paid just for tuition. So, which is better or appropriate for our kids? In addition, life throws curveballs at us constantly, nearly all of which involve money.

At Baker Boyer, we have helped thousands of couples with their life and financial planning. We have seen having an independent third party be an invaluable resource to a happy life and marriage for so many of these valued clients.

My favorite personal story involves one couple that I’ve worked with for the past three years. While talking through some very sensitive issues within their family involving money, fairness, and expectations, in order to help the clients feel comfortable, I gave them the option of continuing the conversation without their team from Baker Boyer. They quickly replied, “No, we want to have these discussions now with you all here. We never get anything done when you guys aren’t in the room with us.”

So after 150 years, here are some key insights we have learned at Baker Boyer that might help you and your spouse:

  1. Make more money than you spend. This includes putting some aside for a rainy day and an emergency fund. Nothing is more stressful on people and couples than the wrong kind of debt. This is by far the most important lesson as it enables all options to remain on the table for both of you.
  2. Dream together and communicate. Dream about what you want now as well as in the future and then talk about it. Then you can work and plan toward the same goals. You don’t want to climb the ladder of life only to find it’s been leaning against the wrong wall or that you climbed your partner’s wall and not yours. We’ve found that most spouses think they are on the same page with regard to their finances and goals for the future, but after further conversation some realize they are not. Communicating about these dreams and your situation is not always easy, but it is time well spent.
  3. Have a plan. This will help you to act with intent instead of being reactive or sitting back and waiting. The best way to achieve anything is to have a plan and then act on it, whether that’s a short-term project or your life’s work. Having a plan can help you see if your goals are realistic, especially with regard to the timeline. The peace of mind this will create for both of you is invaluable. Remember that life and goals change, so remaining flexible where possible is important.
  4. Hire an expert. Find the right team of Advisors that live, eat and sleep these types of issues. The best and the brightest among us rarely go it alone and this will give you more time to focus on what you love or what you are good at. Ideally, these experts will listen to both of you and help you find common ground. Find an advisor that is required—due to federally regulated fiduciary responsibility—to put your interests ahead of their own. An additional qualification that might help you in your search would be to seek out a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™. Eventually, they’ll help you develop your plan and keep you on the right track for both the short and the long-term.
  5. Get started. Today. As with most things, getting started is often the hardest part: start communicating, start a budget, and make a call to an Advisor to get help. The right Advisor will make the process comfortable for you and your spouse. It will be worth it!

Ultimately financial planning gives you options, maximizes your chances of success, and provides the confidence in your decisions that we all seek. That is a recipe for a happy marriage and a fulfilling life!

About the Author

Rob Blethen, CFP®

Rob Blethen, CFP®
Vice President
Family Advisor Manager
Walla Walla

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