One of the benefits of being in a relationship is having a partner to share household responsibilities with. But while you may be good at dividing up the cooking, cleaning and child care, how well do you share the financial duties?
If you’re like a lot of couples, one of you is probably in charge of the money: One American Psychological Association survey found that less than a third of couples share an equal role in financial decision making, and less than a quarter manage the household finances equally.
And while it's not necessary (or realistic) for a couple to write every check or pay every bill together, it is important for both people to be active participants — rather than silent partners — in managing the finances. Here are three reasons couples should work together on their finances.
Why couples should be on the same page financially
It helps both partners feel empowered
When one partner is completely out of the loop about shared finances, it can lead to problems in the overall relationship. “We know that one of the leading causes of divorce or breakups is fighting over money,” says Lauren Yoder, CFP®, vice president of product management at Northwestern Mutual. “That’s about not being on the same page, feeling like you don't have a seat at the table, or that you're not an equal partner. Having a say and providing input puts you on equal footing.”
Tip: If money has always been a taboo topic with your partner or spouse, start with your personal experiences around money growing up. Did you talk about it freely with your family? Was it a source of shame or pride? Did you always feel financially secure growing up, or did your family have money troubles? What you were taught (or not) about money will shape how you make your financial decisions, so it’s good to share your experiences with one another.
It helps you define shared goals
Each of you has probably thought a lot about your vision for the future — but do your visions line up? Whether you want to buy a home in five years, grow your family in two or go on a lavish vacation in six months, you need to be aligned in your financial goals before you can determine what steps it will take to make those goals happen. “Not knowing where you’re going or what you're driving toward makes the day-to-day financial decisions difficult,” Yoder says.
Tip: If you’ve never talked about goals together, Yoder recommends discussing where you see yourselves in one year, five years and maybe even further out. Once you’ve discussed what your priorities are, then you can determine how you can both contribute to keeping your finances healthy day to day.
It holds you accountable
When you both know what your shared goals are, it makes it that much easier to keep each other accountable. “I've seen some pretty bad examples where one spouse has racked up tens of thousands of dollars in credit card debt, either because they weren’t on the same page about what they were trying to do, or because it was easier to hide,” Yoder says.
Tip: What you don’t want is for one of you to be stuck with trying to dig out from the other person's mistakes — that responsibility can cause a lot of strain. “It creates distrust in the relationship,” Yoder says. So be open and honest, and set joint parameters. When you are both aware of how much you should be spending and saving, it’s easier to manage your budget as a team. “Agreeing that spending can’t go over a certain threshold, as opposed to someone instructing the other partner how to spend or telling them what to do, creates a balance,” Yoder says.
Also, think about what each other’s strengths are when it comes to money. It’s OK to admit your partner is stronger than you in certain financial areas, as long as you’re in agreement of what the end goal should be. "The person who's taken a little bit of a backseat needs to be really tightly aligned with their partner,” Yoder says. “There needs to be transparency.”
Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards Inc. owns the certification marks CFP®, CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ and CFP® (with flame design) in the U.S., which it awards to individuals who successfully complete CFP Board's initial and ongoing certification requirements.