Money can be an emotional topic for many people. That’s why, even in the best of economic times, couples face unique challenges when it comes to financial planning.
How much do couples really talk about money?
Although most couples say they are usually in agreement about spending habits and financial goals, nearly half say they’ve had fights about money, according to the Edelman Financial Engines Everyday Wealth in America 2022 report.
Even more troubling, about 1 in 5 say unhealthy money issues are a threat to their relationship. One of the reasons many couples fight about money may be their lack of healthy communication on the topic. Our report revealed that just 37% of couples have detailed discussions surrounding their financial goals, and only 38% talk about the ins and outs of their finances.
- 31% of those surveyed say that they have fewer financial disagreements now than they did when they were younger and had less money.
- Only 13% say their disagreements have increased with age.
However, even though nearly one-third of respondents say their money disagreements lessened with age, less than two-thirds of those in their 60s say they agree with their significant other about what they want their retirement to look like. And 11% say they haven’t even discussed or thought about retirement.
The good news is that there is an appetite among all couples – regardless of age – for more and better communication.
- 38% of those in a relationship say they wish they talked more about finances.
- And although we’ve seen that finances can be a source of conflict in a relationship, a whopping 83% of couples say talking about finances more can help resolve disagreements.
- In fact, those who discuss finances in detail are twice as likely as those who only discuss it in passing to report that their relationship has never been stronger.
Yet, despite their desire to talk about their finances more, many couples don’t know where to start. That’s where a planner can help, and in some cases, can even become a catalyst for change.
Couples can benefit from impartial advice
Wealth planner Andy Smith suggests there’s a reason couples need to talk about their finances on a regular basis.
“The worst thing you can do is bury your thoughts and concerns and avoid confrontation,” says Smith. “Something could happen where you will be forced to discuss your finances. In most cases, the situation would have been much easier to handle if you had talked about it a long time prior.”
Focus conversations around your goals
Smith also recommends that couples focus on goals they want to achieve – in the short-, intermediate- and long-term – and how those goals fit into their overall financial plan.
Write down your goals or print them out, then put them somewhere where they can regularly be seen. “That helps make the goal real,” says Smith.
Address the elephant in the room: Money can be emotional
Passions can run high when it comes to discussing finances, which is why it’s one of the first things that wealth planner Linda Campbell addresses. “I try to talk openly about the emotions surrounding money with my clients,” says Campbell. “My goal is to bring it up and address the elephant in the room in hopes of a more relaxed and open dialogue.”
In situations where partners have differences, someone acting as a mediator can be helpful, and Campbell says she is frequently asked to serve in that capacity. That can be a tricky role to play, so she helps clients avoid dredging up the past or pointing fingers, instead, keeping front and center the things they need to do so that a plan of action can be created.
“I try to help clients focus on their ultimate goals and needs,” says Campbell. “That way they feel like they are on the same team – because they are.”
The benefits when both spouses are involved
There can be pitfalls when only one spouse is involved in the finances. Wealth planner Phil Wilson always tries to have both spouses in his client meetings. That can be hard to do, especially when one spouse’s availability is tight. In those cases, Wilson has a “solution” that, though lighthearted, conveys a serious message.
“If I do deliver the retirement plan to just one of the spouses,” says Wilson, “I sometimes joke at the end of the meeting that their homework is to go home and explain everything to the other spouse. While it is lighthearted, it reiterates the importance of both of them understanding the retirement goals and objectives.”
Even when Wilson does get both spouses in a meeting, they frequently don’t see eye to eye, and it’s often apparent that they may not be regularly discussing financial matters. But, with the right prompts, these meetings are sometimes the best setting in which to start the conversation.
“My job in these situations is to act like a catalyst, to help couples begin talking about their goals and objectives as a couple,” says Wilson. “That way we can begin to build a financial plan that will not only help them achieve their financial goals together, but can facilitate better communication going forward, which only lessens the stress around financial planning.”
The bottom line
As our report shows, the more a couple talks about money and finances, the better off they can be. Your financial planner can help facilitate difficult financial conversations and act as an objective third party, one whose focus is on building a financial plan that will help you achieve your shared goals and dreams.
We are here for you for all of life’s financial moments. Talk with your planner if you have questions about this or any other financial topic.