Society has changed a lot since our parents first started their families. It is wonderful that our society has transformed our relationships, our marriages/partnerships and our ways of parenting. These changes allow a couple to explore personal and professional interests and goals without making the same sacrifices our parents often had to make. However, financially it can be very confusing. In these uncertain, gender-equal times, the role of money, and the title of “provider” is no longer so clear cut. The role of financial provider is more likely to bounce from one spouse to another depending on the time of life, and career goals, education, the nature of employment, and the economy.
Men are staying home with children. Professional highly paid women are putting their careers on hold for early year child-care. Sometimes the couple does not have a choice about who stays home or for how long due to the nature of the industry, or because of unemployment. It is hard to maintain financial rules in a relationship when the game is always changing. Here is a good structure to build a solid financial home.
Some people sleep next to their partner for 40 years and never once have a conversation about money. In my experience, this is a dangerous situation, especially if you are dependent on your partner for your lifestyle. What if something happens to your partner? What would happen to you? A marriage is a partnership. If something happens to the wealth in your family you are equally responsible, no matter who is earning what. It is both partners’ responsibility to understand the financial scope of the family. Discussing finances should happen weekly, daily, as part of an ongoing conversation. If your partner is not willing to discuss his or her finances, in my experience, it may mean that those finances are not being managed well. When you deal with your money well, you are proud and, therefore, excited to discuss it. If your partner is not interested in discussing family finances, don’t give up. Talk to a professional or find a good mediary (the family accountant is a good first step) to start the conversation about money.
Make sure each partner takes the responsibility to set aside a percentage of personal income in case of an emergency. Many marriages struggle and often end during or just after a financial crisis. As you probably know, money problems are the leading reason for divorce in the United States. Without a safety net, only pointed fingers remain (just look at the mortgage crisis of 2008!). An emergency fund allows a couple to work through a crisis without having to resort to the blame game. You’re a team, and difficult times are the most important time to stick together.
I am in full support of an individual having an emergency- emergency account (that’s a double emergency) that no one knows about but you. However, when it comes to your credit rating, upcoming expenses or current financials status, your partner needs to know. Unforeseen expenses can derail the savviest budgeter. Managing your own money is difficult enough without a big avoidable surprise handed to you by your partner. Tell your partner about your monthly income and expenses. If a new financial burden may arise, don’t hide it. Your partner has a right to know. A simple text to your partner before spending over $100.00 dollars is a simple way to avoid fighting over expenses in the future.
DESIGN A BUDGET, TRACK A BUDGET, AND ADJUST A BUDGET
Design and follow an agreed-upon budget. I like to use MINT.COM. However, you can use Excel, a pad & paper, or even marked envelopes with some cash in them. Use whatever works for your relationship/life. When things change in your budget due to an unexpected obligation, such as an invitation to a destination wedding, or unforeseen necessity, such as using a rental when your car breaks down, talk about the change with your partner and adjust the budget accordingly. Track your progress and see how your are doing. If you succeed with your revised budget, reward each other! It is important to have positive reinforcement (as long as it is within the budget, of course).
Everyone spends money on unnecessary stuff. I spend too much money on entertaining, and eating out. It’s true! So I budget for those extravagances. Some people may want Bills tickets, season ski passes, monthly messages, a personal trainer, or lottery tickets! Wildly enough, each one of these activities is equal and valid! Everyone has the right to spend their money on what they want. We’ve earned it, (and hopefully saved 10% of it), and what’s left is the fun part. In a relationship, each individual is going to have different financial priorities. Each priority is going to have a different price tag. As long as it’s doable, and within the agreed-upon budget, let your partner have the freedom to spend. It’s REALLY important.
These rules are gender and income neutral. The key is to allow change to happen within a relationship without letting financial responsibility slip through the cracks. It is not a husband’s job to maintain financial stability nor should the burden automatically be defaulted to the highest income earner. Partnership is the key foundation of a successful and stable financial home.