Couples who are walking down the aisle this summer may want to set up a financial date night or at least start talking as a couple about where the money is going.
Couples are inundated with all sorts of advice about how to keep the spark alive. But how do you keep the sparks from flying when it comes to managing the money to pay the mortgage, cover college tuition, and keep an eye on retirement?
How do you even get a conversation going when money remains a taboo subject for many families?
“Most couples don’t start talking about money until there are bills to pay,” said David Bach, author of “Smart Couples Finish Rich” and vice chairman of Edelman Financial Services.
But it’s essential to track the cash coming in and the cash going out, long before the children head off to college or one spouse leaves the workforce to retire.
“Your first job is to figure out where you are right now,” said Bach, who visited Birmingham in May to talk to Edelman clients and others. He has written 12 books and many titles include the words “Finish Rich.”
One of his tips: Financial Date Night.
Granted, many couples, especially parents with young kids, struggle to sneak out of the house for romantic fun. Who wants to set aside precious time to talk about cash flow?
“As couples, you just get busy. You have kids and you get into that whole mode of survival,” Bach said.
But Bach and others say a couple needs to discuss: Where do you have money saved? What’s going on with the 401(k)? Do you have life insurance? Disability insurance? A will?
Even beginning a conversation can avoid some drama and possible trauma down the road.
Topics might include:
Who gets the money when you’re dead?
Ok, maybe you don’t want to start out a date with that blunt opening question. But too often, Bach said someone marries but continues to leave Mom or a sibling on a retirement account as a beneficiary. With a second marriage, many times the ex-spouse remains as a beneficiary, mainly because some paperwork was overlooked.
Where are the insurance policies? Does a young couple have term life to cover a death of a young parent? If you had a second child, did you update beneficiaries on life policies?
How are we going to pay down our credit card debt and save for a house?
Robin Wooten and her husband Terence Wooten said they never fought about money. But they hit their early 40s and they had no savings, more than $8,000 in credit card debt and no idea how they’d ever save for a down payment for a house.
“He wasn’t the problem. I was. I was the spender,” said Robin Wooten, 44.
The Wootens, who have been married 21 years and now have a home in Westland, said they took part in a financial program at Triumph Church in Detroit and started writing down every dollar they spent on everything.
By working together, they figured out a way to pay off the debt and build up a 20% down payment.
He gave up cable and she gave up getting her hair and nails down each week. They didn’t eat out as much. They brought lunches to work.
Now, they are able to tithe to their church, put savings into a 529 college savings plan for their 11-year-old son Jacob, and build retirement savings.
She’d advise every young couple to start out by writing down a financial goal from the start of their marriage.
“You literally have to put everything on the table,” she said.
What are you hiding? Got credit card debt? Maybe more money at a bank across town?
No one wants to get blindsided by some buried financial secret.
Your partner or spouse should know if you had a foreclosure or bankruptcy or if you’re battling student loans or your credit score is a train wreck.
“You wouldn’t manage your business like that would you? You wouldn’t hide things from your CEO,” said Jordan Niefeld, a certified financial planner at Raymond James in Miami.
One husband who had tucked away thousands of dollars into a bank account that he hid from his wife. Niefeld said he advised the husband that he had to be more upfront.
It wasn’t easy, but he did it.
“She thanked him that he was honest with her,” Niefeld said.
“I believe their marriage was even strengthened by that action,” he said. “There’s so much that couples can do by just talking to each other. I’m telling you, people become happier.”
Do we really have the money to buy that thing?
Shannon and Scott Knight are two engineers in the auto industry in metro Detroit. She works for FCA US, formerly known as Chrysler; he works for General Motors.
But they’re not buying whatever they want when they want. They review their spending and savings each month. The Waterford couple, who have been married four years and have no children, were able to save for a home on the water and a boat. Now, they have set up targets for saving for retirement, a five-year anniversary trip and a down payment for a car they plan to buy in October.
“We have a priority list,” said Shannon Knight, 37. “It’s very black and white. We either have the money or we don’t.”
Can we figure out a way to compromise or do we need a money coach?
Detroit-based financial author and coach Glinda Bridgforth said couples who want to achieve harmony must figure out ways to communicate.
It’s not about judging your partner on how he or she chooses to spend or invest some money. Many people will become defensive or shut down when confronted by someone who is critical.
“How willing are you to talk openly and honestly?” said Bridgforth, author of “Girl, Get Your Money Straight: A Sister’s Guide to Healing Your Bank Account and Funding Your Dreams in 7 Simple Steps.”
If you cannot talk it out, some couples can turn to their financial planner or a financial coach to act as an intermediary to keep them on a spending plan for the family.
Do you want to travel across Europe next summer? Or stay at the cottage and go fishing? What dreams do you have when it comes to vacations and, yes, retirement?
Bach said it’s key to talk about one’s dreams too – and not just nitpick over the phone bill.
Sometimes, you find out your husband has plans in retirement that you never dreamed.
Bach asked one husband who planned to retire soon what he was going to do in retirement. The man said the couple has some land in South Carolina and they were going to build a cabin and he would go fishing there every day.
“The wife looks at him and says ‘Who are you going fishing with?'” Bach recalled.
While the couple had the land for about 20 years or so, he said, the husband had not really mentioned South Carolina as part of the retirement picture.
The wife said: “We haven’t talked about that land in 10 years.”
The couple had to start talking and once they did, they reached a compromise.
Both wanted to set up 529 plans for their grandchildren and they agreed to sell the land and fund 529 college savings plans.
The husband decided to rent a house in South Carolina for an entire month each year so he could go fishing. His wife agreed to join him for one week of that month. And they were happy.
This article original Appeared on Detroit Free Press: