YOUR MONEY: The most romantic thing of all: Talking dollars and centsthe best thing for your relationship. So says Eleanor Blayney, a consumer advocate in Washington, D.C., who has counseled couples and written about money and marriage for years
By: Claudia Buck, McClatchy Newspapers
Talking about money doesn't sound even remotely romantic. But it could be the best thing for your relationship.
So says Eleanor Blayney, a consumer advocate in Washington, D.C., who has counseled couples and written about money and marriage for years.
In an interview last week, she offered some heartfelt advice:
QUESTION: Talking about money on Valentine's Day doesn't seem particularly romantic, does it?
ANSWER: Fighting about money isn't very romantic either, and if you don't communicate, you're bound to disagree. I'm not recommending that you replace the dinner out with a financial summit at the kitchen table, or the roses with a subscription to Quicken (software). But how about talking about your vision for the future: where you want to be in so many years. A financial planner calls that "setting goals," and it is the first fundamental step of planning.
Q: Why is it so hard for some couples to discuss money?
A: When you think of the three most volatile issues in relationships — money, sex and in-laws — money is well above the other two. Why? Because it's a daily presence in our lives ... and it's such a highly charged subject. Money is symbolic. To some people it's evil; to some, it's power; to some, it's happiness.
Q: What's meant by "financial infidelity"?
A: The term is new, but the practice of keeping a sum of money secret from your partner is not new at all. In my 20-plus years of practice, I've heard from women who keep a little stash, often in cash, so there is no tax trail. ... If one of the partners has a business, he or she might keep extra funds in a business account to avoid bringing it home to share. Coming into a serious relationship with a lot of debt is another type of financial infidelity. You're suddenly facing an aspect of a person you didn't know about. Secrets are really what any infidelity is all about. In finances, it can be disastrous.
Q: You advise looking for financial characteristics in someone you're dating: whether they're stingy tippers, living beyond their means, etc. What should be done with that information?
A: So often, in the first blush of romance, we check off all the things we have in common as "proof" that the relationship will work: "We both like kids," "we both want to live in the city," "we both love to travel." But beneath these similarities there is a financial aspect that will determine whether these will keep you together or drive you apart. If you both love kids, but he lavishes them with toys, clothes and gadgets, and you believe that less is more in (child-rearing), you could have a problem on your hands. These differences are worth exploring as you decide whether to get more serious.
Q: Do you believe in premarital money counseling?
A: Yes. Disagreements about money — how it should be managed and who manages it — are one of the biggest potential areas of conflict faced by most couples, so it just makes good relationship sense to deal with it upfront.
Part of your marriage preparations should be exchanging credit scores. I am serious. Sure, it's unromantic. ... But when you get serious, what you're really doing is beginning to see your future together ... (and exploring) the financial wherewithal to make that future happen.
Q: What about couples who've been together for years?
A: It's never too late. It's possible to have two very different money temperaments: He may be the investor, counting all the pennies; she may be the (shopper). One's a saver; one's a spender. Sometimes that's very functional. But if it gets too emotional and you can't focus on those future goals, talking to a professional can be very beneficial.
I had a couple who were temperamentally at odds. Every time she spent, he considered it a (personal) affront. Every time he saved, she felt he was too grim, not living in the moment. They kept everything separate because they were unable to agree about money. At tax time, they filed a joint return, but deciding who got what portion of the tax refund was always very divisive. So we turned everything upside down and ran everything through a joint account where they paid the agreed-upon bills (retirement, house payment, etc.). What was left over, they divided into separate accounts: She got hers to spend, he got his to save.
Q: Typically, most men earn more than their female partner. But the recession has turned that upside-down in some cases. What about couples where the woman makes more money? Does that inherently cause friction, and should it matter who earns more?
A: It shouldn't matter and it shouldn't inherently cause friction, but it often does. My observation is that it is often the woman who earns more who fears the effect on her husband and does not like to talk about it. This may be generational and more characteristic of an older couple. Younger women are far less bashful about their professional ambition and their value in the workplace.
Q: Any sweetheart advice for couples?
A: Keep the focus on your shared dreams for tomorrow, not on the financial sins of yesterday. Keep money in its place as the means, not the end, to that future.