Having a Conversation … With Your Spouse or Partner

How to get on the same page about your financial planning with your spouse or partner.

Whatever your conversation styles, it’s important to have honest and regular discussions about money — they keep you on the same page and prevent surprises on important financial decisions down the road.
Has your partner always been the one to handle financial matters? Perhaps that’s your role — or maybe you divide the responsibilities. Or as is the case for some couples, like Lonnie and Neil Serdinsky, the roles shift over time.

“My husband traveled Monday through Friday, so I took care of three kids, my job, and the daily finances,” says Lonnie, 65. “Since we retired, he takes care of all of it.”

After handling the family finances for years, Lonnie was more than ready to defer the responsibilities to her husband. “He really likes investing and doing all the research,” she says, “And I’m just not as interested as he is.”

Lonnie says her decision to turn everything over to Neil wasn’t based on a lack of confidence in her financial skills. “I know I should be more into finances, and I could handle it myself if I had to,” she admits, “But honestly? I find it boring.”

Though Neil has taken the lead in family finances, the Serdinskys continue to talk things over as a couple. “I know it’s important that we discuss things, and we do,” she says — though she’d prefer their conversations were shorter and less detailed. “He’ll try to talk to me about finances, but he is into the details and I only want to hear about the big picture,” she admits.

Lonnie says that’s not the case for most of her friends: Some don’t discuss finances with their spouses or know anything about their financial situation. “That’s not us,” she says. “I do know what we have. I’m organized, and I know where everything is. And if something was to happen to my husband – I know I would be in good shape – we definitely have planned the best we could for the worst case scenario.”

Whatever your conversation styles, it’s important to have honest and regular discussions about money — they keep you on the same page and prevent surprises on important financial decisions down the road. A mutual understanding of shared finances can help you maintain a healthy relationship.

Sit down with your spouse or partner to sort out your financial goals and decide how you’ll meet them. Consider these tips:
  • Set the ground rules
    Money issues can be emotional, so agree upfront to treat each other with respect and kindness. Hold your discussions at non-stressful times, and plan to have several shorter conversations rather than one long one. Listen carefully to your partner’s point of view, and ask the same in return. Be specific about what you want the conversation to be about. Also try to be as prepared as you can before you sit down together. And even if one of you is more interested in finances, make an effort to look for opportunities to discuss them.
  • Take stock of your situation
    Review your financial information. List your assets, income sources, and debts. Examine last year’s expenses to determine how much you’re spending on housing, food, entertainment, vacations, and other items. Even broad, top-line reviews of your situation have value.
  • Talk about your goals
    Plan to have several conversations about your retirement, charitable giving, and estate plans, as well as your strategies for addressing financial setbacks. If your visions or communication styles are different, you might consult a financial advisor about how to reach common ground. “We work with an accountant who I really like,” says Lonnie. “I know she’s there if I have questions.”
  • Reevaluate your strategies
    If you’ve discovered that you aren’t saving enough to finance your retirement, discuss strategies for building your savings. To achieve your goals, you might choose to work for a few more years, rebalance your stock portfolio or trim nonessential purchases such as expensive vacations.
  • Focus on milestones
    Having shared financial goals gives you the motivation to celebrate milestones as well as make adjustments to keep your plans on track. If your goal is to start a new career, you might need to evaluate your finances to make it happen. Regularly discuss saving and investing practices, and potentially tweak your strategies to meet your goals.
For more information on retirement planning, visit Beyond Today.

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