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Three Tips for Talking to Your Spouse about Finances – John Elliot (01/16/2019)

A poll by Suntrust bank reveals that 60% of couples don’t reveal their finances before walking down the aisle. 51% do talk to their prospective partner about money before marriage. But only 36% reveal the total size of their debt. Suntrust Bank’s researchers also point out that 70% of couples argue about money. The more frequently a couple argues about money, the unhappier the marriage will be. 

I assumed that all Millenials talk about their student loan debt. Almost all of them have it, with some credit card debt thrown in. But apparently, not everyone can or will talk about their debts. 

Money magazine provides an example of this. 

Being honest about finances was tough at first for Chicago couple Erica and Wade Loewe, 35 and 38, respectively. “We had to overcome a great deal of fear and shame,” says graduate student Erica, who worried that Wade might judge her for her debt. Wade, a service technician, felt uncomfortable because money wasn’t discussed in his family. But “it wasn’t as scary as we thought,” he says. “Once we knew what each other owed and had, we could focus on making a plan and tackling our debts.” Eight years after the wedding, they have paid off more than half the debt that Erica brought into the marriage.

Joe Sicchitano, the head of Wealth and Planning at Suntrust offers three tips for couples who have difficulty discussing their finances with each other.

1. Establish some basic rules

Rather than setting rules on all financial decision making, start smaller and discuss guidelines together for what size purchase requires a discussion before it is made.

2. Get your finances organized – as a couple 

Discuss which bank accounts you will combine. If you moved, identify all the accounts for which you need to update your address. Set an appointment to introduce your future spouse to your financial advisor, if you have one. Talk about who will help you complete your tax returns now that you may be filing jointly. Discussing the actions you can take now and in the future allows you to broach the topic without seeming like you’re investigating the past.

3. Use “We-talk”. 

When speaking about the past, saying ‘I’ or ‘you’ may be appropriate. But as you plan for your future together, couples should talk about money decisions as ‘we, us, our’. Language matters, if there are past decisions one partner regrets, couples should talk about how ‘we are going to make decisions together in the future;’ not ‘how are we going to fix what you did.

The first rule may prove more difficult for couples who both have jobs which have allowed them to make major purchases. If one partner assumes that Brooks Brothers is the appropriate store to look for suits, while the other starts with Good Will, then they will need to agree on spending guidelines.

The second rule is the prerequisite for sorting out financial messes. Get it all out on the table, before the wedding.

The “We-talk” is important. When a married colleague informed me that she had just made a pricey purchase “with my own money”, I knew that her marriage was in trouble. A couple of years later she divorced her husband. She later told me that they had kept separate bank accounts and had constantly fought over money.

These three tips have a wider application. I have been married enough decades to have learned that constant communication about goals, expectations and money are critical for the health of the relationship. A marriage brings together the knowledge, experience and wisdom of two people from two families. That union can accomplish great things, if you are talking to one another. 

[Image Credit:  Tong Duong, USAirForce]

John is a Senior Fellow at Intellectual Takeout. In this role, he is responsible for directing seminars, organizing networking events and mentoring Intellectual Takeout’s journalism interns.

John previously directed the journalism programs at the Institute for Humane Studies and the Intercollegiate Studies Institute. He has many mentees at media outlets in New York and Washington. John got his journalism experience working for Dutch and German television. He covered four presidential elections as well as breaking news stories such as 9/11 in New York City.

John has a Ph.D. in History from Columbia University in New York City and a B.A. in German from the University of Montana. He also studied at the Universitaet Tuebingen in Germany and the Theological College of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands.