Why is it important for couples to have honest money conversations?

This article is submitted to us by Helen Baker, an Australian financial adviser and founder of On Your Own Two Feet, part of the Career Money Life Supplier Community. 

We all develop our own attitude or philosophy to money, based on our upbringing. What did your parents teach you about saving, spending and giving? Were they comfortable with debt? Are you? When you’re part of a couple, your money actions and reactions impact on one another.

In my opinion, women are wired for security whereas men’s identities are generally tied to what they do and what they earn. For women, any sort of financial insecurity will cause them to wobble, emotionally.

What prevents some couples from having these conversations?

I believe many people avoid conversations about money initially because they’re uncomfortable about talking about it, perhaps out of fear of an argument.

In the past—say, my mother’s generation—women often left money matters to the men, trusting the other that everything was okay.

When in a relationship should you start having those conversations?

Several studies have found that not talking about finances before saying ‘I do’ is the single biggest mistake a couple can make—and the biggest predictor of divorce!

I suggest seeing a financial adviser together, early on.  A financial adviser will help you explore your values and goals, teasing out issues and helping you both align goals, timeframes and commitment and enabling you to build together, rather than pulling in different directions. And the financial adviser can play devil’s advocate and voice issues or concerns you may not be comfortable raising or confronting.

What kinds of topics/key issues should those conversations include?

Talking about financial matters isn’t all about money. It’s about lifestyle. What are your life goals? How do you imagine retirement to look?

It’s important to talk about where you are at financially and where you want to go, what you want to commit to, as a couple, in the next month, six months, year, decade and so on.

To do that effectively, you may need to acknowledge differing attitudes to money and strategies to enable harmony. Are you a spender or a saver? What of your partner?  There can be tensions, whatever the mix, without strategies, even for two savers: while they have potential to well financially, it may be at the expense of lifestyle—and you only live once!

When or how often do you revisit those conversations and have an update?

Money matters need to be talked about at least annually and absolutely as soon as there’s a significant change, good or bad.

What can be the result if couples don’t have honest conversations around money?

I believe that stress over money leads to emotional neglect, and emotional neglect leads to dissatisfaction.

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