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By Dee Dee Sung
Q: My partner and I have always kept our finances completely separate. I have no idea how much money he has or where he has it invested. He doesn’t really know about my financial situation either. We have done this to avoid a mess if we ever parted. However, we have two kids now. We both carry a lot of debt and find that the topic of money is creating stress and discord between us. Should we revisit the idea of putting our finances together in some way?
A: I commend you for recognizing that you may need to handle your finances differently, especially since you’ve started a family. The fact that when the topic of money leads to increased stress and heated conversations, it’s all the more reason why you need to be revisiting your current financial setup. Money problems are a difficult topic at best to deal with and interestingly, are cited as the number one cause for relationship breakup in our country.
The reality is that it often has very little to do with the money per se as relationship discord is usually about issues far deeper than what’s going in and out of your bank account. A survey conducted by the Consumer Credit Counseling Service (CCCS) showed that 60 percent of those surveyed reported fighting about money with their partner, while 93 percent reported that financial problems increased the amount of stress in their lives.
What I have found is that when we don’t communicate openly and honestly about the state of our finances, no positive changes can be made. In addition, lack of communication creates a situation where it becomes increasingly more difficult to be open about other areas of the relationship. Trust is a major factor in any successful relationship and cannot be built through lack of communication. Although you haven’t expressed any relationship problems, my first thought is whether there really are problems which you’re choosing to avoid under the guise of “keeping your finances separate to avoid a mess if your ever parted.” Many couples I’ve spoken with have expressed concern that if their finances were kept completely separate as yours are, they would be suspicious of other secrets being hidden from them.
Here are 4 suggestions for how to proceed from here:
1. When both of you are ready to start the discussion set up a formal meeting time and have a list of what you want to discuss. I suggest you be willing to share a snapshot of your respective financial pictures. This can include how much both of you have in savings, investments and debt. In addition, you can share your plans for both your joint and separate assets in the event something happens to one of you. In addition, talk about your money beliefs, values and habits as this will create greater insight into each other. Be willing to share how money was treated in your families growing up. It’s important that you schedule these money conversations on a regular basis to keep you both connected and financially fine tuned!
2. It is so important that both of you remain non judgmental and allow each other the time to voice your money fears, concerns and goals for the future. Listening without interrupting can be hard to do and I guarantee that you will learn a lot about yourself and your partner and most likely experience them in a different way.
3. Be willing to having open discussions with your children about the family finances. The sooner you agree on what they need to know, the faster they can get a head start on becoming responsible stewards of money. This can include how much they get paid for allowance, who pays for what, the importance of savings, the realities of earning a living. It’s important that you maintain a united front when including your children in money discussions.
4. Create a financial roadmap for your family’s future together. Write down your individual goals and priorities and from there recognize which ones are common goals for you to build on. Determine a way to merge your finances without feeling like you’ve lost your personal identities. This could include one joint checking account which you both contribute a predetermined amount to each month. Out of there, household bills can be paid. At the same time, you may choose to maintain your individual bank accounts so you don’t feel like you’re losing your independence. Most important is to realize there is no set formula for success as what works for one couple may be different for another.
You’ve decided to make some changes. Realize that you’ve been used to handling your finances one way and that there will be speed bumps along the way to your new “money merger.” The key to success is open, non-judgmental communication along with taking immediate and positive action!
Metro Detroit speaker, author and syndicated radio personality Dee Dee Sung is the founder and creative director of The Debt Free Diva with a mission to educate, entertain and inspire people in reinventing their relationship to money. Be sure to listen to Magic 105.1 every Sunday at 7:30 a.m. for “The Debt Free Diva” talk show. To learn more, visit http://www.debtfreediva.com.