Do you ask your spouse before you spend?
We’re in the throes of wedding season, so lately I’ve been getting a lot of questions from newlyweds and soon-to-wed lovebirds on how to combine finances after marriage. They tell me it’s hard enough to reconcile sleeping and eating habits—is it really necessary to run every purchase by my new spouse?
I decided to talk to Lee, a researcher on my team who recently tied the knot. At first she scoffed at the idea of asking her husband for permission to shop. After all, she reasoned, they’re both adults who earn their own salaries. But, she said, they do run things by each other if it’s a big purchase or competes with paying bills.
“The truth is, we actually often encourage each other to buy things,” she said. “I know it’s so wrong, and that we should be helping each other save. But if he buys a new pair of jeans, that means I get to buy that dress I’ve been eyeing!”
Even though their system seems to work, she admits it’s not the best. Lee said she could use some guidance on how to set up a budget that will allow them to pay bills on time, save for the future, and still have some (not limitless) fun money left over for personal purchases.
For some solid advice on the topic, I turned to Katherine Holden, a certified financial planner and chartered financial consultant (ChFC) in Wayne, PA who has loads of experience helping couples come together on spending plans.
“The very first and most important step is communication,” said Holden. “It takes time, but you have to sit down and figure out your goals—both short- and long-term.”
While this may seem obvious, research shows that more than 91 percent of people say they find reasons to avoid talking about money with their partners (whoa!). I asked Lee if she and her husband talk about finances.
“We’re trying, but what we really need are some hard-and-fast rules in the spending and saving department,” Lee said.
Holden’s advice: Agree on an amount to be automatically diverted to savings each month—after paying bills and saving for retirement, of course. And make sure you’re being aggressive with any high-rate debts. What’s left over is “extra”—feel free to spend it as you please, or sock it into savings if you’re feeling particularly saintly that month.
Lee’s review: “Sounds like a good plan! Now if only I could get him to put the seat down…”
Do you and your partner talk about money? What are your frustrations? What approach has worked for you?