Money and Marriage Issues: How COVID-19 Has Affected Couples
There are 3 things about money that you should always remember: It makes the world go ’round, it doesn’t grow on trees, and you can’t take it with you when you go.
Whether you have too little, just enough or more than you’ll ever need, money is a huge part of our everyday lives, and when you get married, money becomes a huge part of your life as a couple.
Because money is something that often causes stress and anxiety, it should come as no surprise that money is the topic of many marital arguments (it tops the list of things people fight about) and regrettably, one of the most common reasons couples call it quits. Unfortunately, money issues often lead to divorce and loss.
As unemployment rises, money issues have naturally become an even bigger stress for couples as they struggle to make ends meet. And with many families in tight quarters because of Shelter-In-Place orders, new work-from-home offices and kids off from school, the stress has reached new levels for many people.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
Communication and teamwork can help tremendously in maintaining a healthy checking account – and a healthy marriage.
Another element that potentially adds extra strain with couples is the ironic reality that financial opposites tend to attract – spenders often pair up with savers. These marriages aren’t necessarily doomed from the start, but couples who are polar opposites, financially speaking, will have to work harder, compromise more and be even more open and willing to talk things through. No matter what kind of financial pair you are, money management is a constantly evolving journey, not something you can talk about now and then forget.
Here are some tips to help you and your partner avoid money mistakes and financial arguments, divorce and loss.
Open the Lines of Communication – And Leave Them Open
Having and maintaining a dialogue about your financial goals is important: Roughly 94 percent of couples who describe their marriages as “great,” discuss their money dreams together, compared to only 45 percent in “OK” or “crisis” marriages.
If you’ve never had a deep conversation about finances with your partner, it’s not too late. Even if you have, now is a great time to revisit the discussion and talk about how your goals and your situation may have changed.
When you do have the conversation, it’s important to be honest about your debts, your financial goals, your spending habits and any concerns you might have. If you haven’t been honest about any large assets or expenditures in the past, it’s time to come clean. Stashing money or hiding big purchases can be a huge breach of trust for couples, one that some marriages might not survive if the truth is uncovered before fessing up. If you did not ask permission, then you certainly better ask for forgiveness.
Everything Isn’t Always ‘Ours’
Financial planning isn’t a one-size-fits-all equation, and therefore, splitting everything evenly doesn’t always work for couples. Someone may have come into the relationship with more, earns a higher paycheck or has more debt. Dividing assets and expenses in a marriage can be even trickier for blended families.
It's important to set a goal with your partner, regardless of the situation, and work together. Make a list of your financial goals.
- What’s on your list?
- What’s on your partner’s list?
- Compare your goals. Combine them, if possible.
Then, make a plan to reach these goals, whether it’s paying off debt, funding retirement or saving for that trip you both want to take.
Remember to respect your partner in this process. Instilling good financial habits – and working on perfecting some of your own – can help create a safe environment when it comes to your spending.
We All Come From Different Financial Backgrounds
Your spouse may have been raised in a family that didn’t have much extra money, and therefore, may be inclined to go the extra mile to stretch every dollar to the max. One spouse may have grown up in a family with more discretionary income. Even though the two of you do not have the same money history, it’s important to work as a team.
If you’re a spender and you married a saver, the benefits can be obvious. However, even a saver needs a spender sometimes. It’s possible to be too frugal. In our almost 50 years of advising families, we've certainly seen cases like this. A spender can teach a saver to treat themselves once in a while.
Remember, sometimes compromise is practical. And remember, you can't take it with you!
The Real Issue
Too often, the significant risk we observe is that one spouse takes over managing the finances, setting the budget, paying the bills and balancing the checking account. This can easily lead to arguments over spending, confusion about account balances, and even bounced charges and overdrafts. It might also leave one spouse feeling left out in the dark, while the other feels burdened by the responsibility. And it can lead to great confusion and uncertainty if the family accounting partner unexpectedly becomes incapacitated or passes away.
Work on your household budget together and make sure each spouse takes time to hear the other’s ideas. Take turns paying the bills or carve out time to sit down and do it together. This way, both partners are reasonably aware of what’s coming in and what’s going out, which can provide a strong understanding of your overall financial picture.
Don’t be Afraid to Ask for Help
Money can be a difficult thing to talk about. If your financial goals are complicated, or if you don’t know where to start, it can help to talk to a financial advisor. At Linscomb & Williams, we often serve as that objective third party for couples and can offer personalized guidance without the emotional ties.
Don’t put the conversation off until an issue arises. Today’s environment is stressful enough. Contact a financial advisor and get the conversation started. Divorce and loss don’t have to be the answer.