February is often the one month each year that brings consistently cold and gloomy weather. Even though the shortest month of the year packs in some doom and gloom, there are some things to get excited over. It’s the month dedicated to celebrating black history, women’s heart health awareness, bird-feeding, leap day and, of course, February’s darling: Valentine’s Day. The month of February has long been recognized as the month of love. So, in keeping with this month’s theme, let’s talk about love and money.
How many of you have thought about the role money plays in how happy you and your significant other are? I suspect that most have at least fleetingly considered the idea. As unsexy as it sounds, money really is a defining factor in whether your love relationship will flourish or flounder. In a 2012 study of 4,500 couples, fighting about money early on in a relationship was by far the most accurate predictor of divorce, regardless of income, debt or net worth. Researchers found that no matter how long the relationship had lasted, if there were monetary disagreements early on, there was a good chance that the overall satisfaction with the relationship would be poor. So, if money plays such an important role in our relationships, what can we do about it?
Understand your partner’s money story. In most situations, we would do well to gain a little more understanding. Relationships and money are no exception. To communicate effectively, you have to be willing to both listen and share. The first step would be taking a few minutes to do a little introspection. Ask yourself the following questions:
- How did my parents talk about money to me? To each other?
- What is my first money memory? Was it accompanied by any particular emotion?
- How did my parents manage money? How did that shape my relationship with money?
Once you’ve been able to gain some clarity on your own money story, approach your significant other and ask them the same questions. Be prepared to feel uncomfortable at first if this isn’t something you regularly talk about together. Just don’t give up. It may take several attempts before you’ve gained some understanding, and that’s completely ok. After you and your partner learn more about how the other views and interacts with money, move on to the next step.
Discuss your obligations. This is important for any couple, but even more so if you bring monetary obligations, such as alimony or child support, with you from past relationships. These things need to be discussed early on to avoid any feelings of resentment from your partner.
Create your financial roadmap for two. This is where the big bad “B” word comes into play: budget. If budgeting is something new to you, consider reaching out first to our local financial counseling non-profit, OnTrack of WNC. They provide free and confidential budgeting sessions and classes. Looking at your collective spending habits will help you figure out what you have coming in versus what is going out and, if you realize that you are overstretched, allow you the opportunity to tweak your spending. Once you’ve taken a look at your current spending habits and created your spending goal, make sure you are regularly checking in with each other by having “money dates” once or twice a month. This is meant to be a low pressure, casual time for you and your partner to check in financially. Make sure you’re both in good spirits beforehand, and spend no more than thirty minutes talking shop. After the “money date” is over, do something fun and relaxing together. This is supposed to be a way to connect, not a recipe for an argument.
Set your eyes on the prize. It’s no fun to pinch pennies just because. That’s why having a shared financial goal is so important. This part takes a whole lot of dreaming and a little common sense. What would you and your partner do if money wasn’t an object? Start there and back into what a reasonable financial goal is for you in your current situation. When you have identified one, or several, collective goals, write them down! Research has shown that if you write down your goals on a regular basis, the likelihood of achieving them goes up by almost 50%.
Even if you have experienced a failed relationship due to money tension, or those troubles have crept into your current relationship, you can still impact your future with the actions you take today. Creating new habits is hard and uncomfortable, but that’s a choice we have to be willing to make. The good news is that each and every one of us is capable of making the decision to create those habits and start the journey to a harmonious financial future with our partners.
“A dream you dream alone is only a dream. A dream you dream together is reality.” – Yoko Ono