Why Couples Need to Get Financially Naked
Katy Klein and her fiancé, Charles Hagman, both 30, began opening up about salaries, savings, and student loans just nine months into dating. The topics came up naturally as the Seattle couple figured out their plans for attending a pal's wedding.
"Some of our friends were going early and renting a home by the beach," says Klein, who works in PR. "So we had a conversation about whether that was in our budget … which spurred other conversations."
Hagman, a software engineer, had intended to dig into those issues anyway. "I wanted someone who had similar savings goals," he says. But for Klein, it was new terrain: "I'd never laid it all out." Now that she's done so, however, she says that financial transparency has set a solid foundation for their marriage.
Experts would agree. "Couples have less conflict about money when they share information," says Terri Orbuch, a Detroit family therapist and the author of 5 Simple Steps to Take Your Marriage From Good to Great. Knowing where you stand and what you want to accomplish builds trust and a sense of teamwork. Plus, getting on the same page gives you a better shot at hitting your goals and less risk you'll unwittingly work against each other, she says. Thus, it's crucial for married couples—and those headed to the altar—to open their books.
A new Money poll of boomer and millennial couples suggests that both generations are on board with baring all. When it comes to what partners should discuss before marriage, boomers and millennials both say the docket should include debt (78% of both groups), savings goals (69% and 74%, respectively), and amount saved (63% and 56%).
And yet other research suggests that few married couples truly practice transparency in their daily lives. A few years back, an American Express poll found that 91% of people avoid money talks with their partners; another from last year revealed that only 52% have financial conversations at least weekly. Worse, one in three adults in relationships say they lie to their partner about money, the National Endowment for Financial Education found.
As part of a monthlong series on Love and Money, we'll be digging into our survey data and suggesting ways that couples can strengthen their unions and their finances. First step: Get financially naked. Here's how to do it.
Choose a happy moment. Start the transparency conversation around the time of a positive event, like a promotion or a wedding, or at least when there's an absence of major problems. "Finances are much easier to talk about when you are flush and happy," says Mary Claire Allvine, a financial planner in Atlanta and the author of The Family CFO. "And opening up in good times makes it easier to talk about money when life changes for the worse."
If you're starting in a void, point to an article you've read, like this one. Say something like, "It made me realize I don't know where we stand. Maybe we could take a look some night this week?"
Go full frontal. Crack open a bottle of wine and start opening your books. Begin by making a net-worth statement. This summary of assets and liabilities gives you a framework toward your common goals. It can also help you uncover flaws in your strategy, like debt growing as fast as savings. Use an online net-worth calculator like the one at Bankrate.com or an Excel spreadsheet. Plan to update your numbers quarterly.
If you have the energy, make a list of monthly expenses—review the last few months of bank and credit card statements—so you know where money is going. Or upload your accounts to an online money-management tool like Quicken or Mint, says Miami financial planner Ashley O'Kurley.
Find out your mate's musts. Setting goals together begins with understanding your partner, says Patrick Wallace, a financial planner with Higher Strata Wealth Management in Hurst, Texas. He suggests you both answer these questions: What are the three most important money lessons you learned growing up? What are your three biggest money worries? What are your three biggest goals? What are the three most important ways you want to use money to leave a legacy? The answers will help your spouse understand what is important to you. "Your goals may still be in conflict," says Wallace, "but it will be easier to compromise."