Fi(n)ance: How to Keep That One Little Letter from Ruining Your Relationship

By , Columnist

You’re in love — the birds are singing, the flowers are blooming, and a diamond is sparkling oh-so-enchantingly on a very special finger. Right now, you’re stressed about wedding plans, but still SO enamored of your future spouse that you just can’t stand it.

Well, chemistry’s great  — but bankruptcy’s not.

Just as you discovered that marrying the love of your life also means marrying their family (yikes!), it also means marrying their bank account and credit history, and tying yourself to their sense of financial responsibility  — or lack thereof.

So read on for ways to positively and effectively combine your finances with the one you love while keeping the post-“I do” surprises to a minimum… at least when it comes to your wallet.

truth.jpegGet comfortable baring your financial soul. Christine Clifford, CEO and President of Divorcing Divas, has had her share of experiences with financial infidelity and nasty surprises courtesy of a fiscally neglectful spouse. Her number one piece of advice? Be completely honest and require honesty from your partner.

“When the relationship gets serious, make it a requirement to look at each other's finances: bank statements, retirement accounts, real estate transactions, etc. so that you know exactly what each party is coming in to the marriage with, and what each party is entitled to keep if things go wrong. If your significant other is not willing to do this, that is a red flag or a ‘clue.’”

Want to see if you’re financially compatible? Take MSCPA’s compatibility quiz to quantitatively see if you’re on the same page.

Set expectations. Before tying the knot, couples should work together to determine their common values and priorities 
for their assets and cash flow. Ideally they should write them down so they
 can come back to them easily when they need a reminder to stay on track, advises Timothy Parker, a partner in Regency Wealth Management. Establish expectations regarding spending, saving, investing, and division of financial responsibility right up front so nothing gets missed later on.

balancing checkbook.jpegDivide and conquer — or not. While many couples opt for a fully joint approach to money, Jenny McClosky, top-tier publicist with Queen Bee Communications, and her husband follow advice that a lot of financial planners give. She says, “One thing my husband and I did was to each maintain a personal checking account. All our income and major expenses come out of our joint account, but each month we draw an ‘allowance’ to our personal accounts for personal expenses/indulgences . . . Our personal accounts are also what we use to buy each other birthday, anniversary, and Christmas gifts. The idea is that the gift actually represents a sacrifice from our own funds, rather than just another joint expense. Makes it more special.”

Checking accounts aside, work together. Whether or not your checking account is joint, your financial decisions should be. Clifford urges both spouses to “take an active role in paying the bills and learning each and every service/payment/outstanding balance is due with every single bill. Too often one of the spouses ‘takes over’ the bills, and that can lead to total ignorance and trouble” in the future.

Budget your brains out. When it’s just you, you can probably bend your finances a little bit because the only thing you’re accountable to is, well, your bank account. But when you start pooling your fiscal responsibilities with someone else, expenses can slip through the cracks, accounts can get overdrawn, and credit can go downhill. Even if payments and accounts are usually divided between partners, each should be aware of all payment deadlines, particularly if bills are taken out of a joint account that’s used for other daily expenses.

Parker says that “a budget won't work if you don't track your
 spending, so using Quicken or Microsoft Money can help track spending to
 your budget.”

holding hands.jpgFinally, bring up touchy subjects with love. Money Crashers writer Casey Slide cautions in a recent article that being accusatory when someone slips isn’t the way to go. Instead, she advises, “bring up touchy subjects with care and out of love. For example, if you feel your spouse is overspending, don’t start yelling and accusing. Bring up the matter by pointing out how you’re jointly over budget this month and how you’d like to look at ways to get back on budget. View yourself as a team and look at what the team needs to do to improve.

“For example, if your spouse is overspending, what can you do to support him or her in better habits? Whatever you do, don’t point the finger.”

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Emmie Scott is an English major-turned-marketing exec, with a passion for writing, humor, sharing knowledge, and "pink drinks." After hours, she started Are Toe Rings Professional Attire?, a blog for college grads and twenty-somethings looking to find their way through that daunting labyrinth called…

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