4. Form a “core agreement”
Before getting into the nitty gritty, Clayman has her clients form a “core agreement” addressing:
- Equality: Both partners have equal power over their money. “The spouse with a higher income or the one who gets more financially anxious doesn't just get to call the shots,” she says.
- Inclusivity: Both partners participate in dealing with their money — no opting out or excluding.
- Transparency: Both partners have access to all information. “No secrets, but there can be negotiated areas of privacy with boundaries,” Clayman says.
- Sustainability: Decisions made by the couple are not unduly or unfairly burdensome to one partner.
- Flexibility: As situations change or needs arise, each partner has the right to say when something's not working, and the couple can revise their approach.
5. Align your goals and do the math
“In the happiest marriages, people move mountains to make sure each partner reaches their goals,” says Somers. “A lot of times what we want to experience or achieve in life has some sort of financial price tag attached to it.” Get on the same page by discussing your goals — Clayman says it’s important to make the distinction between "we goals" and "me goals." "It's okay for these to not be 100 percent the same. Remember, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and your partner often brings something great (if annoying) to the table when they differ from you," she says.
Deal with the numbers by laying everything out on the table — literally — and strategizing on where to save and where to cut corners in order to save more for retirement or pay off credit card debt, for example. “If you have a real hot button issue, save that for last. Look for the areas you can agree on, work together on, and get some success going,” says Klontz. “The temptation is to go after that sore spot, but it helps to build some momentum first.”
Ask yourselves these questions:
- What is your biggest financial goal?
- How would you prioritize your financial goals?
- What percentage of our income should we invest in retirement?
- What percentage of our income should we use to pay down debt?
- What percentage of income would you like to keep in savings?
6. Divide expenses equally
Both Klontz and Somers say a common hot button issue among couples is when they earn at different income levels, but still divide household expenses evenly. “If you’re building a life together, at some point you need to be looking at ways of equalizing opportunities and experiences,” says Somers. The solution they propose? Each partner contributes an equal percentage of their earnings toward household expenses. “What works is not looking at (contributions) from a dollar amount, but from a percentage amount,” says Klontz.
Ask yourselves this question:
- What do you feel is a fair division of household expenses?
7. Be prepared to compromise
“A workaholic who comes from poverty might want to save 50 percent of their income, but their partner might not want to live in squalor,” says Klontz. “You might want to save 30 percent or meet in the middle and give up some ground. If your partner is more into living for the moment, they might have to give up some ground too. It’s important to find a percentage you both can agree on.” All three experts also say it’s important that once you’ve deployed your initial strategies, you check-in on your finances together regularly and tweak your plan, enlisting outside help in the form of debt counseling or a financial planner, if necessary.
Just remember, the ultimate goal is for money to strengthen your bond instead of coming between you, says Clayman. “It's (money) not just a problem to be solved and checked off the list. These are your needs and your dreams! This is the very stuff of intimacy, and even though it can make us feel vulnerable and upset, it's also where there's tremendous opportunity to grow together.”
Who says an evening with spreadsheets can’t be romantic?
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