Finances came up early in my and Mrs. Frugal Rules’ relationship. In fact, I remember it coming up often as we were going through pre-marital counseling sessions (I believe they were 6-8 weeks in length) with our pastor. Those sessions forced us to become financially naked with each other; to ‘bare all’ about our financial debt, outlook, mindset, habits, goals and expectations.
Having just started to see the light at the end of my debt tunnel, I’m thankful for those discussions. We were taking two backgrounds that were completely different and putting them together as one. It was during that time that we got on the same page financially and began to take seriously the role of money in our new marriage.
Money and relationships are an important topic, regardless of when they are held. However, with nearly half of all weddings taking place over these summer months it’s an opportune time to discuss the subject. Here are seven non-exhaustive steps to get on the same page financially with your spouse so you can hit the ground running as you start your new life together.
Table of Contents
Step 1: Start Talking
This was the first point driven home to us. We needed to talk money together regularly. It wasn’t something to be shifted to one person. It wasn’t something to ignore. It was something to tackle head on as a team because, after all, you’re now a team – right? In short, it’s an equally held and shared responsibility that works towards a commonly held goal.
A team communicates and gets on the same page. Without that consistent and regular communication, your actions will not complement each other and, ultimately, will hold back your team. That is the last thing you want. I know you may not know where to start. That’s ok. Simply talking regularly about money is a great way to build a solid financial foundation together.
Step 2: Be Transparent
Transparency is the crux of getting on the same page financially with your spouse. There are a few reasons for this, namely, how can you truly build something without transparency? It’s not possible, in my opinion.
There’s another reason why transparency is so important. Financial infidelity is a real thing. I’ve seen it in my extended family and it’s not pretty. In fact, Experian reports that 33 percent of newlyweds are surprised by their spouse’s financial situation.
Additionally, they report that 36 percent don’t know about their partner’s spending habits. Imagine how scary that’d be to get into a relationship, or marry someone, and discover that they have a crazy spending habit or a truckload of debt they haven’t told you about. Unfortunately, that’s only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to financial infidelity.
Step 3: Get Financially Naked
How is financial nudity different from transparency? It’s the ultimate end of transparency. You want to show your partner your attractive traits and your blemishes. You want them to be able to know and see everything about you financially.
I know this sounds painful. It can be. I remember telling Mrs. Frugal Rules about my debt. Even though I was actively working to pay it off I was still ashamed. I feared she’d judge me, think less of me, or worse yet, not want to be with me.
Thankfully the rest is history, but it was a painful experience for both of us. That pain was short lived as it gave us something to build from, not to mention a sense of complete transparency. Don’t let the short-term pain hold you back from long-term gain.
Step 4: Set Expectations
Now that you’ve set an expectation of transparency and financial nudity, it’s time to set expectations. This includes many things, such as:
- Whether or not you’ll have joint bank accounts
- Whether or not you have a spending limit – an amount both partners can spend without discussing it with the other first
- What goals you want to begin working towards together
There may, and likely will be other expectations you want to set. That will depend on your particular situation. This is where you begin to see the power of open and honest communication; it’s important as you form expectations for both partners to feel all in.
Step 5: Make a Money Mindset
Making a money mindset flows naturally out of setting expectations. You want to work towards the strengths of each and find something that will work for both partners. Your shared money mindset will include things like:
- Determining whether or not you’re going to live on a budget – here are some free budget software tools to consider using
- How you will track spending
- Who will be responsible for what areas – i.e. paying bills, investing, etc.
Setting this money mindset will not only give a sense of ownership to both partners, it will also give you both common goals to work towards.
Step 6: Talk Regularly
If you’re supposed to communicate wouldn’t you be talking? Yes, but the point here is to set a time to discuss your financial lives. When Mrs. Frugal Rules and I first got married we did this weekly. Now, it’s more on a monthly basis.
You need to do what’s best for your particular situation. Like other points above, meeting regularly will help grow the transparency and provide better opportunity for positive growth. I know it may seem tedious. It doesn’t have to be – remember you’re working as a team to hit your goals.
Step 7: Focus on Long-Term Goals
All of the above steps help you reach your long-term goals. Since you’ve established a financially naked relationship you know what each partner wants and have arrived at common goals.
That may be related to paying off debt, saving for retirement, working towards buying a house or something more – it doesn’t matter. The goals may seem far off, but knowing them helps you know what you need to do in the day-to-day to hit said goals. These goals may, and likely will, change over time but thanks to the open lines of communication you’ve already established, it’ll be simpler to identify those together as they arise.
Share, Share and Share Some More
This is the purpose behind practicing open communication and transparency. You want to share – heck you want to over-share. You want to be on the same page and that requires sharing. That’s sharing of opinions, actions, etc. but also of responsibilities. Do that and you’ll set your relationship up for success now and in the future.
Find Your Comfort Level
You both bring different financial experiences, beliefs and situations to the relationship. As you meld those together you want to find a comfort level for both partners. This, again, requires communication and honesty. The last thing you want to do is open yourselves up to a risk with which one partner is not comfortable. This may require compromise on both parts, but that’s ok as comfort will help breed confidence and teamwork.
This should be obvious, but sadly many times it’s not. Remember, you’re in a relationship and you want to be loving towards your partner. Money does funny things to people, and people do funny things with money. When love isn’t in the equation it can have ruinous effects on a relationship. I’ve seen it in my extended family and it’s not good.
Learn From Each Other
As you begin to manage finances as a couple you’ll likely notice you have different strengths. This is a good thing as together, you’re stronger than you are apart. For example, I manage most of the investing in our family. I’m comfortable with it and come from the investing industry so I manage it for the family.
Mrs. Frugal Rules, on the other hand, is much stronger staying on top of our day-to-day finances so she manages that for the family. That’s not to mean we leave the other out, but it allows us to learn from each other while also utilizing the strengths of the other partner. That way, if one of us were to have to take over everything, we could.
Act as a Team
Remember, you and your partner are a team. You want to use the strengths of each member, but you also want open honest communication – really full transparency. When you act as a team and have full transparency you not only benefit both players, but you also benefit the team as a whole – which, really, should be the end goal.
How do you and your partner stay on the same page financially? Are you financially nude with your partner? How do you and your spouse divide financial tasks?
I’m John Schmoll, a former stockbroker, MBA-grad, published finance writer, and founder of Frugal Rules.
As a veteran of the financial services industry, I’ve worked as a mutual fund administrator, banker, and stockbroker and was Series 7 and 63-licensed, but I left all that behind in 2012 to help people learn how to manage their money.
My goal is to help you gain the knowledge you need to become financially independent with personally-tested financial tools and money-saving solutions.