As our CEO says in her new book, What Your Financial Advisor Isn’t Telling You, your life partner can be your worst financial enemy. Choosing the wrong person in a relationship can wreak havoc on your financial well being. But what about choosing the right person? Is the converse true? Can your life partner be your best financial friend?
Based on my experience in my marriage and talking to hundreds of couples over nineteen years of financial planning, the right relationship can bring more than emotional satisfaction. It can contribute to a strong financial foundation. In long term, committed relationships, the synergies created by a true partnership contribute profoundly to financial well being. Not every relationship creates those synergies, however. So what does it take?
Respect For Different Money Stories
I married someone who I admired and who inspired me to be a better person. My husband, Steve, is a financial hero. He’s made smart choices his entire working life (the subject of next week’s post).
He was a divorced dad when we met, though, so he had certain negative experiences with money and relationships. I had never been married, and had developed a passion for financial planning by learning from my own missteps. Part of becoming a couple was sharing our individual experiences and beliefs about money so we could develop a shared money story that served both of us and our marriage. Not sure what your money story is? Take this fun quiz.
A Shared Vision
Developing some mutually agreed upon goals is critical to a financially successful partnership. Ask yourselves, “if everything worked out exactly the way we wanted it to, what would that look like?” How will we manage our income and expenses? Do we want a big house or a small house? When will we retire?
Don’t forget to also ask yourselves and each other the tough questions well before the actual situation arises. What happens if one of us gets laid off or becomes ill and can’t work? Will one spouse stay home with the kids if we have them? For more questions see this list. Ideally, you’d go through this exercise before you make a lifetime commitment.
A strong financial foundation requires a firm commitment to full disclosure. No matter what – an investment that lost money, forgetting to pay a bill, a sudden inheritance – you cannot keep financial secrets from your partner. Just getting started in a marriage or partnership? See my fellow planner Kelley Long’s 8 Step DIY Financial Plan for Newlyweds for guidance.
Flexibility and Adaptation
One thing is for sure: life will bring you surprises. The way you plan things early in your relationship may not be the way they turn out. True partners are flexible and forgiving when life brings them unexpected surprises, such as unemployment, illness, taking care of an elderly parent or changes in income.
Using the Financial Planning Process
The most important thing about a financial plan isn’t the actual document. It’s the process that gets you to making those decisions. The financial planning process can help partners better understand their own and each other’s financial beliefs, goals and preferences and develop a shared vision for their financial decision-making. I’ve seen it work over and over again with couples who begin the process at odds and work through their differences to arrive at consensus.